Is Sumo A Good Base For MMA?
What Kind Of A Martial Art Is Sumo
Japanese media is highly fad driven. If you write a good manga about oranges, or incestuous sex, or tennis, you can light a fire in the hearts of the Japanese people leading to insane demand for tennis lessons, vitamin C, and life size PVC renditions of favorite characters. In 2014 somebody did this with Sumo, so now we all get to learn about Sumo’s noble tradition.
My first intimation the sumo fad was coming was the latest story arc in Grappler Baki. Baki was my favorite manga as a preteen, despite the fact that it’s openly written for poorly educated homosexual men in their late 20’s. Today, I read Baki for nostalgia and because it’s one of the few “grownup” manga written at my level of Japanese literacy. The current antagonist is a Sumo wrestler, and Itagaki Sama is doing a decent job of making Sumo seem intimidating. Over the holidays, several smart and good-looking friends recommended Hinomaru Sumo to me and I realized I was looking at a Sumo trend.
Sumo hasn’t been taken seriously in the west. Clearly, most of the derision comes from “fatists” who have a western notion of what an athlete should look like. Not all cultures preserve the Greek ideal that physical dominance is synonymous with beauty and health. Americans do and this bias makes Konishiki’s super-athlete status a tough sell. Furthermore, Sumo is one of these sports who’s confusing tournament structure makes it impossible to watch unless you add the element of gambling. None of this can negate the fact that Sumo is a legitimate form of grappling, with some unique properties.
As pointed out by the author of Baki, the downfall of Karate is it promises too much. Arts like Karate sell themselves as unarmed forms of self defense which can withstand not only other Karate practitioners but also every species of combat athlete, criminal, and drunken brother in law. The art is also supposed to provide self defense under unknowable “street” conditions. That’s way to harsh a standard for any art.
Modern Judo, BJJ, and freestyle wrestling focus primarily on beating other practitioners of the same skill level and size. They only claim to teach a limited range of techniques and really deliver on what they promise. You can’t walk onto a college wrestling mat with zero experience and hope to “get lucky”.
MMA is somewhere in between the catchall claims of traditional martial arts and the focused specialization of sport arts. The difference is that although MMA fighters take responsibility for knowing every aspect of unarmed fighting, they don’t actually claim to have mastered all aspects. MMA is a game of strategy, and the interactions between the various elements ensure that “anything can and does happen”. Nobody loses an MMA fight and says, “I guess MMA doesn’t work”.
Sumo defies classification on the above continuum. There are less than 100 official Sumo techniques, and simply touching the floor or stepping out of the ring is an automatic loss. Sumo has greater specialization than Judo since fewer moves are allowed and more chaotic uncertainty than MMA since it is so easy to lose. Like traditional martial arts, there are no weight-classes, and the sumo practitioner is expected to deal with opponents of any size and weight.
Sumo promotes physical strength, surprising flexibility, a competition mindset, solid take-down defense, and great mental toughness due to it’s sadistic training practices and the fact that palm strikes to the face are permitted. When you combine the above with the fact that most Sumo wrestlers are thrown out on the street in their mid-twenties after they’ve outlived their usefulness, Sumo could provide Japan with an excellent source of MMA fighters. The question is whether Sumo athletes posses the mental flexibility to learn grappling and striking techniques necessary to become rounded MMA fighters. My guess is that most Sumo wrestlers who make a run at MMA will simply be thrown out in the street in their mid-thirties after they’ve outlived their usefulness. No shame in that, it’s what happens to everyone else anyway.
Also, Maenoumi is an extreme outlier. He would have dominated at any combat sport he took up. Since you read through this article, let me show you this video, so I don’t feel like I’ve wasted your time: