The sun burned down on my skin as I walked through the crowd. My teenage daughters had gone off with friends as soon as I parked the car. Glancing around, it appeared that many people were heading towards a spot under the trees beside a park building. The minute I stepped into the shade, a lovely, cool breeze refreshed me.
A young boy ran to a couple walking nearby. He said, “Mom, Dad…you have to come with me to see this! They’re doing sumo wrestling.”
“Sumo wrestling in Wisconsin?” I thought with surprise. Without research, I knew two things. First, sumo was a Japanese grappling sport. Secondly, I knew it was done by extremely overweight men wearing nothing, but tiny loin coverings. Curious, I slipped this way and that through the crowd to get a front row view.
There was a large, soft mat on the grass. A man holding a microphone announced, “Next up wrestling will be Tiny Tim and Big Jim.” It was hard to hear what he was saying, despite the amplification. Somewhere nearby, outside my line of vision, someone was using an air pump.
After the pump stopped, the announcer asked, “How’s it going Tim and Jim? Are you about ready to compete?”
In answer to his question, two men waddled into view. The crowd erupted into raucous laughter. Each was enveloped in inflated plastic suits that made them resemble huge beach balls. They were obviously not beach balls, though, because the plastic suits were flesh-colored with tiny thongs painted where the behemoth’s privates would be. Bright-red, protective helmets strapped to their heads completed their look.
I smiled and shook my head in amazement. It was hard to believe what I was watching. The men’s feet and arms were tiny compared to their inflated bodies as they ambled forward. Reaching the center of the mat, they turned to face one another. With elbows out and clenched fists in, they tried to crouch and look fierce. One growled, “Rahr.” The other sneered. Sticking out his tongue, he went, “Yaaah!” From the sidelines the announcer instructed, “Go at it, boys!”
What followed was better than a Laurel and Hardy slapstick comedy. Rushing together to grapple, their huge plastic tummies collided before their arms could touch. Bouncing away from the contact, they lost their footing and began rolling around on the mat. Small feet were kicking wildly; neither was able to get back upright. They needed help from the crowd. The sheer ridiculousness had everyone roaring with laughter.
That night I did research and discovered that sumo wrestling has been practiced for many centuries in Japan as part of the Shinto religion. To this day each match is proceeded by elaborate ceremonial ritual. The goal of a sumo wrestler is to wrestle their opponent out of the fighting circle or to get them to touch the ground with anything other than their feet. Most wrestlers are of great girth, a winning factor in sumo.
The life of a sumo wrestler didn’t sound like much fun to me. From what I read, they live apart from society in a communal sumo training stables called a heya, where they rigorously train…and apparently rigorously eat to gain great size.
I remembered the silly sumo match at the park recently, when I was writing out my Thanksgiving menu. For the yearly feast, I usually buy one of the largest turkeys I can find in the grocery store freezer section.
The only thing I dislike about this tradition is the ritual the night before Thanksgiving. After sumo turkey has defrosted in the refrigerator for no less than four days, I wash it, wrestle the giblets out of its still half frozen cavity and season the meat.
Although no longer alive, the bird always resists my efforts. My annual tussles are epic. Using all of my strength, I push, pull, pry and gouge out things the butcher left behind. By the time the huge bird is in the cooking bag and ready to spend the next day slowly roasting in the oven, I am exhausted, bruised and weary.
I’ve decided that this year I’d do things differently. Sumo wrestlers train, they have rituals, have rules and a clear definition of what constitutes a win. My cleaning and lifting the overweight bird out of the freezer would all be a part of my rigorous training plan. Before the match with my opponent, Tremendous Tom, I’ll sit down with my daughter to have a ritual glass of wine. The winner of the match will be the one who eventually ends up inside the cooking bag…and I’m hoping it won’t be me.