When I saw Sumo: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport by David Benjamin at the library, I picked it up thinking it would be a serious guide to sumo wrestling. I enjoy the spectacle and history of the sport, and I'm always open to learning a bit more about it. I quickly discovered (by page eight, which is the start of the first chapter), that "serious" is the one thing that I would *not* find in this book. Instead, it's an irreverent and funny look at the sport through the eyes of a westerner living in Japan. Mind you, it is informative, but it strips all pretension and pomposity away, leaving the core of the sport, which can be quite funny when you get right down to it.
Contents: The Pit; Big Al, Mad Dog, Tokyo Rose and the Silver Spoons; The "Grouping Urge" - Blubberbutts and Thoroughbreds; Backstage - Choking Up in the Church; The Sumotori Rag - Pose-striking, Time-killing and the Eight Forms of Screwing Around; Tachiai - Hookers, Bulldozers, Boxers, Stranglers, Matadors and Low-down Yankee Liars; The Fistfight at the Malamute Saloon and Other Japanese Cultural Treasures; The Ripsnorter in Nagoya; Afterward - "Keep Up Appearances Whatever You Do"; The Basho Beat - "Give That Rhythm Everything You've Got"; Tank This One for the Gipper; The Statistical Imperative; Wither Sumo... Especially With All These Gaijin?; Acknowledgments; Glossary; Index
Actually, I should have guessed by reading the table of contents that this was going to be a radically different look at sumo than I was used to. Benjamin *is* a fan of sumo, but to understand it he had to examine it using his own context and reference points. For instance, blubberbutts and thoroughbreds was his way of classifying the body types of the wrestlers. He saw that there were generally large obese wrestlers who overwhelmed opponents due to their size, and other wrestlers who actually had a level of athletics skill and muscle tone. Each type has advantages, and there are ranges and blends in the spectrum of body types. But still, it's a useful way to sort wrestlers... you just won't hear any "proper" fans refer to them that way.
I found the most useful information was on the different strategies, such as bulldozing or boxing. The general impression is that a sumo match consists of five seconds of two fat guys belly-bouncing each other out of the ring. In reality, there are actual methods and strategies involving holds, strikes, and movement. Once you understand the preferred method of each wrestler, it becomes more interesting to see how certain matches play out. Besides, a western mind understands a boxer strategy, where tsuppari and hataki mean nothing.
A drawback that bugged me is that this is the second edition of the book, and the updating is somewhat uneven. The first edition was in 1991, with the second edition coming out in 2010. Some of the more prominent rikishi in the book seem to be mired in the past, while other parts of the book are more current. I would have liked to have not even noticed that an update had occurred but it didn't flow as well as it could have. Even so, it's not a major distraction to the core of the material... just one of those things I noticed.
So long as you're not offended by an irreverent look at what some people take *very* seriously, Sumo is an enjoyable read that mixes in good information while having fun.
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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Sumo is a fresh and funny introduction to the fascinating world of sumo, Japan's national sport. Author David Benjamin peels away the veneer of sumo as a cultural treasure and reveals it as an action-packed sport populated by superb athletes who employ numerous strategies and techniques to overcome their gargantuan opponents. Sumo provides an engaging, witty, behind-the-scenes look at sumo today.