Sumo is known throughout the world as one of the most unique and exciting full-contact sports in existence. Sumo wrestling is a match of two large men facing off in a circular ring (dohyō). The man who can force the other out of the circle is the victor. A wrestler can also win by making his opponent touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottoms of his feet. Japan, the country that created the sport of sumo wrestling, is the only country that supports professional matches. Sumo is considered by most to be one of the gendai budo (modern Japanese martial art), but the long history of the sport means that that classification is not correct.
Sumo includes many elements of ritual including the use of salt for purification. This comes from the time when sumo was practiced as part of Japan's Shinto religion. A sumo wrestler leads a highly-regimented life that is ruled by the Sumo Association's laws. It is required for most of the wrestlers to live a communal existence with their fellow fighters. The heya (sumo training stables) is a place that respects the strict traditions of the sport and controls most aspects of the wrestlers' daily lives, including their meals and clothing.
Sumo has six divisions. These divisions are makuuchi, which can include forty-two wrestlers, juryo, which can include twenty-eight wrestlers, makushita, which includes one hundred and twenty members, sandanme, which has two hundred wrestlers, jonidan, which includes two hundred and thirty wrestlers, and jonokuchi, which has eighty wrestlers. Each wrestler enters the professional sport in the lowest division, which is jonokuchi, and works his way up from division to division. The wrestlers who make up the highest two divisions are called sekitori. The wrestlers Of the lower divisions are called rikishi.
Fans of the sport pay the most attention to the makuuchi division. It also has the heircharchy that is the most complex. Most of the wrestlers are called maegashira. They are a rated, with number one being the best and number seventeen being the worst. There are three champion ranks that are above the prestige of the maegashira. These are known as the sanyaku. From the highest to the lowest, these champion ranks are the komusubi, the sekiwake, and the ōzeki. The very top rank is yokozuna. These are the grand champions. They are expected to win the top tournament titles. Naturally, it is very difficult to make it into the Yokozuna. The criteria for a member of the ōzeki to be considered to join the yokozuna is winning two consecutive championship titles or to achieve some sort of equivalent performance. The Grand Sumo Tournaments (honbasho) are the only matches that are used to determine distinctions. Exhibition matches have absolutely no bearing on how a wrestler is ranked.
The amazing exhibition of physical power and the unique dedication to ancient ritual make sumo a very interesting and exciting sport to watch, whether on television or in person.