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The Rules of Sumo

The sport of sumo has very few rules, which can result in some exciting bouts. Sumo takes place in a ring approximately 15 feet in diameter that is raised about 2 1/2 feet off the ground on a huge block of clay called a dohyo. A light sprinkling of sand is applied inside of the ring. The edge of the ring is made of tightly wound straw bands called tawara and rises up about 3 inches out of the dohyo. A new dohyo is created for each tournament. Five judges, or shinpan dressed in black kimono, sit below the dohyo and around the ring. These judges are former rikishi themselves. A referee, or gyoji, dressed in an elaborate kimono stands at the edge of the ring and officiates the bout. At the end of the bout, the gyoji points to the winner. In a particularly close bout, any of the five judges can dispute the call made by the referee. In this case, a conference, called a mono-ii, is held inside the ring with the gyoji and five shinpan to discuss the match. In modern times, television instant replay is used to determine the actual outcome of a match when in dispute.

A rikishi loses a match when any part of his body other than the bottoms of his feet touches the dohyo or when he is pushed or thrown outside of the ring. In the middle of the ring are two white lines called shikirisen. These lines are the starting points of each rikishi for each bout. When a judge gives the signal for the rikishi to fight, both rikishi crouch behind their respective shikirisen and face each other. When both rikishi place both hands clenched in fists on or behind the shikirisen, the bout begins. The tachi-ai, or initial charge, is extremely important in gaining the advantage and momentum over your opponent.

During the actual bout, a rikishi may use any technique or maneuver except pulling his opponent's hair, hitting his opponent with a closed fist, boxing his opponent's ears, choking his opponent (although he may push at the throat), or grabbing his opponent's mawashi in the crotch area. Rikishi use all sorts of techniques during the bout; however, a rikishi's style can usually be classified as one of two styles: oshi-zumo, or a tendency to push your opponent out of the ring, and yotsu-zumo, a tendency to grab your opponent's belt and force him out of the ring. The truly best rikishi are adept at using both styles to beat their opponents.

At the end of each bout, a kimarite, or winning technique, is announced informing the spectators exactly what method was used to win the bout. While there are over 60 official kimarite, only a dozen or so are seen regularly. Perhaps the greatest advantage a rikishi can gain over his opponent is to reach around and grab his opponent's belt thus keeping his opponent's arm pinned near his body. This technique is called uwate, or outside grip. Maintaining the outside grip, a rikishi commonly throws his opponent down (uwate-nage), or uses his position to force his opponent outside of the ring (yorikiri). As a sumo fan, understanding the different kimarite and techniques used by the rikishi, greatly enhances the viewing experience.

At the bottom of this page is the complete list of kimari-te.  Close attention should be paid to the smaller rikishi, especially the Mongolians, as their small statures force them to resort to a wide variety of moves. The names of the kimari-te are usually compound words that combine two or more techniques together to explain the method used to win. Here are some of the more common compounds:

oshi = push with elbows bent
uwate = outer grip on belt
otoshi = drop
tsuki = push with elbows locked
shitate = inner grip on belt
hineri = twist
yori = lean or force with one's weight
kiri = literally to cut, or force out
k/gake = trip
okuri = send out of the ring
nage = throw
dashi = send out of the ring
soto = outside
taoshi = knock down to the ring
hiki = pull down
uchi = inside

abise-taoshi forcing one's opponent down inside the ring with the body.

ami-uchi forcing the opponent down to the ring by grabbing his arms, spreading the body out, and then pulling him down.

ashi-tori lifting the opponent's leg up forcing him to topple to the ring floor off balance.

chon-gake tipping the opponent's opposite side leg by the ankle (e.g. right leg tips right ankle) making it aloft, then pushing opponent down.

fusensho winning by default because your opponent didn't show up for the bout—usually because he is injured.

gassho-hineri gripping the opponent's head with both hands and twisting him down.

hansoku winning by default because your opponent performed an illegal maneuver.

harima-nage rear-belt throw.

hataki-komi pulling one's opponent down to the ring by the head, neck, or shoulders

hiki-otoshi pulling one's opponent down by the arms.

hikkake grabbing your opponent's arm from the inside and using the other hand to grab the opponent's other hand or arm and pulling or twisting him down.

ippon-zeoi dodging an opponent's tsuki, grabbing his stretched arm over the shoulder and hurling him over your body (this is a throw frequently seen in judo).

isami-ashi winning because your opponent accidentally stepped outside the ring while on the offensive.

izori dodging opponent's charge by crouching down, then grabbing his leg with both arms and mounting him on your back, then leaning back making him fall first.

kaina-hineri taking opponent's upper arm with one arm, placing palm of other arm from above and pressing down causing the opponent twist and turn over.

kake-nage locking one arm around the opponent while wrapping one leg around his leg, then swinging the off-balance opponent down.

kake-zori leg-kick sacrifice throw.

kata-sukashi putting one arm under the opponent's same arm (right arm to opponent's right arm, etc.) and while pulling forward slapping down on the shoulder with the other hand.

kawazu-gake in self defense wrapping a leg around the back of the opponent's leg and wrapping the arm around the opponents neck causing both to rikishi to fall back with the counter-attacker on top.

ke-kaeshi foot-sweeping the opponent's ankle and pulling him down to the ring floor.

keta-guri kicking the opponent's ankle from inside out while he is charging causing him to topple over.

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