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Sumo Wrestling Rules: A Beginner’s Guide

 A sumo wrestling match is arguably the largest sporting event in the world in terms of human size. There is a lot to appreciate in a sumo wrestling match. The variety of ceremonies as well as the graceful movement around the ring. The crowd interaction throughout the event. Yet, what is even going on? This person gets his own ceremony but he didn’t even win the tournament. What is a sumo wrestler’s salary? What are all of the sumo wrestling? Don’t worry, there are a lot of things involved with this sport. We will teach you the basic sumo wrestling rules.

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     What Are Rikishi and Gyoji?

    The wrestlers, or rikishi, are impressive athletes that weigh an average of 330 lbs (150kg). In fact, the heaviest sumo wrestler, Orora Satoshi, weighed as much as 650 lbs, or 295 kg!! A mawashi is the uniform that a rikishi wears around his waist during a match.

    There are ten ranks in professional sumo wrestling:

    • Yokozuna

    • Ozeki

    • Sekiwake

    • Komusubi

    • Maegashira

    • Juryo

    • Makushita

    • Sandanme

    • Jonidan

    • Jonokuchi

    The top six divisions (yokozuna, ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, maegashira and juryo) are also known as sekitori and represent the top 70 rikishi in the association.

    As a result, all of these matches are televised, the salary is significantly higher than the lower four divisions, and they have assistants from the stable for matches and everyday routines.

    In contrast, the rikishi in the lower four divisions ( makushita, sandanme, jonidan, and jonokuchi) do not get a salary and these divisions are considered the “minor-leagues” of sumo wrestling.

    The top honor in sumo wrestling ranks is Yokozuna. A Yokozuna is a grand champion of sumo. He have to win two straight tournaments and get an unanimous vote from the Yokozuna Council of the Japan Sumo Association. However, there can be more than one Yokozuna at a time.

    There are five judges and one referee, or gyoji, in a sumo match. The gyoji wears colorful clothing, carries a wooden fan called a gunbai, and declares the winner of the match with his gunbai.

    The judges do not impact a match unless they call mono-ii. When a mono-ii occurs, the five judges meet in the center of the dohyo and discuss about the match.

    At the end of the meeting, they must decide on a decision:

    • agree with the gyoji’s decision

    • disagree and overturn the decision

    • undecided; request a rematch between both rikishis

    What Are The Different Sumo Wrestling Suits?

    The color of the gyozi’s robe signifies the rank of the gyoji. Moreover, the highest ranked gyoji wears purple, which symbolizes nobility in Japanese culture. 
    Sumo wrestlers will wear a mawashi for their matches. Furthermore, rikishi in the top two divisions wear a second type of mawashi during the ceremonies. It contains sponsorships, flags, and other items on the ceremonial mawashi. 
    Yokozunas wear white robes and have their own special ceremony at the beginning of each tournament, or hon-bansho.

    When Are Tournaments and How Do Rikishi Earn Prize Money?

    There are six tournaments, or hon-banshos, every year (January, March, May, July, September and November).

    These events are where the rikishi can earn sponsor money from winning matches. However, depending on the performance, the sumo wrestling association will promote and relegate rikishi in the divisions.

    Sponsors provide the prize money for the match and the winner of the match receives the money in envelopes. The more money from the sponsor, the more money a rikishi can win from a match.

    A tournament is 15 matches long for the top division and 7 matches for the lower divisions.

    The rikishi with the best record after 15 days (or 7 days) is the winner. If two rikishis have the same record, they have a match to determine the tournament winner.

    How Long is a Sumo Wrestling Match? What Is the Size of The Sumo Wrestling Ring?

    A dohyo is a clay surface that is approximately 4.55 m in diameter and about a meter above the ground. There is no official time limit for the match and it can last from a few seconds to several minutes. In fact, the longest match on record went for 32 minutes!!

    What is a kinjite? How Does A Rikishi Get Disqualified?

    In the fast-paced world of sumo wrestling, matches pass by in a flash. Therefore, it is crucial that rikishi adhere to the strict rules to ensure a fair and honorable contest. When a violation occurs, the consequences are immediate: disqualification from the match. Forbidding these actions, referred to as kinjite, help ensure the integrity and safety of the sport.

    Here are some of the acts recognized as kinjite in the realm of sumo wrestling:

    • Punching

    • Kicking

    • Grabbing the groin area

    • Pulling hair

    • Extreme slap to the face

    • Choking

    • Eye Poke

    • Pulling back fingers

    • Kicking above the kneecap

    Additionally, a rikishi must never lose their mawashi (which is a wrestler’s belt) during the match, as it signifies a loss of control and discipline.

    How Does A Rikishi Win A Sumo Wrestling Match?

    In sumo wrestling, there is no best of series between the rikishi. There is only one fight and there are three ways that a rikishi loses.

    1. Any part of his body, other than his feet, touch the ground before his opponent

    2. Uses an illegal and dangerous technique

    3. Loses his mawashi during the match

    There are 82 techniques that result in a winning move, or kimari-te, in sumo wrestling by the gyozi. Nevertheless, here are some of the more common ones:

    • Yori-Kiri – This is a force out where the rikishi grabs his opponent by the mawashi and powers him out.

    • Oshi-Dashi – This is where the rikishi charges through his opponent and shoves him out of the ring.

    • Uwate-Nage – This is where the rikishi grabs his opponent’s mawashi and flips his opponent over his side to the grounud.

    • Tsuri-Dashi – This is where the rikishi lifts his opponent by his mawashi and carries him out of the ring.

    • Hiki-Taoshi – This is where the rikishi counter attacks a charge from his opponent by jumping to the side, grabbing his arm, and pulling him to the ground.

    • Soto-Gake – This is where the rikishi trips his opponent to bring him to the ground.

    • Suso-Harai – This is where the rikishi trips the back of his opponent’s leg to knock him to the ground.

    • Okuri-Dashi – This is where the rikishi will get behind his opponent and push him out of the ring from behind.

    • Tsuki-Dashi – This is where the rikishi is able to have his opponent fall backwards from slapping, pushing, shoving, etc.

    A match between two rikishi, or sumo wrestlers, with the gyoji watching from the side.
    Photo by Bob Fisher on Unsplash

    What Are The Phases Of A Sumo Wrestling Match?

    A sumo match breaks down into three phases: pre-match ceremony, match, and post-match ceremony.

    Pre-Match Ceremony

    When both rikishi enter the ring, they have four minutes to perform the following actions:

    • Shiko – stamping out evil spirits

    • Chikara-mizu- Cleansing mouths with power water

    • Kiyome-no-shio – Purifying the ring with cleansing salt

    • Show opponent that they want to fight fair and without any weapons

    • Attempt to intimidate opponent


    Once the pre-match ceremony is complete, both rikishi will head to the center of the ring and crouch at the line of their side of the ring.

    First of all, the gyoji does not start the match. The match begins when both rikishi place at least one fist on the ground. After this happens, both rikishi can fight each other with the appropriate techniques.

    Post-Match Ceremony

    When the match is over, the five judges will have an opportunity to perform a mono-ii. If none is requested, the rikishi retreat to their sides of the ring and bow to each other.

    The losing rikishi leaves and the shinpan declares the winning rikishi and his winning move to the crowd. Alas, the winning rikishi squats while the gyozi approaches him with the sponsor money on his gunbai.

    To receive it, the rikishi will perform a tegatana motion before picking up the money. The common motion is to move his right hand to the left, right and then finish in the center.


    Woohoo! You came here to learn about the basic rules of sumo wrestling, and guess what? You ended up in the intro to Japanese class! Pretty cool, huh? We hope you picked up a bit about the fascinating world of sumo wrestling. If you had a blast reading this article, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends. If you’re planning to catch a sumo match in Japan, make sure to stay in the loop with future events by checking this out . Enjoy!