The Red Bulletin September 2019 (UK)

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Sumo

“Sumo is the hardest

sport in the world.

It’s just brutal”

US hopeful Jose

Galindo takes a

tumble in the men’s

heavyweight final

or MMA fighter, but once you accept that isn’t going to happen,

this is a good step down.”

Feeling inspired a year ago, McKnight built a ring in his

backyard and has been practising with his roommates ever since.

This will be his first competition. “I love the traditional side,” he

adds. “In my mind, sumo is like American professional wrestling,

in that it’s a theatre show. It’s nice to see something where the

old ways are respected, even if they no longer make much sense.”

Heavyweight Jose Galindo, meanwhile, got into sumo after

watching Ulambayar body-slam an opponent on YouTube.

Born and raised in Utah and Los Angeles, Galindo used to play

semi-professional football. He’s now a chiropractor by trade

and appears for his weigh-in covered in red cupping bruises.

Like McKnight, this will be his first tournament. “I started

participating a month and a half ago,” he says. Now, having

filled in the entry form and paid the $30 fee, here he is. “It’s

been a baptism of fire,” Galindo admits.

Not every American competitor will be making their debut,

however. Heavyweight Kelly Gneiting is a legend in the sport

and has claimed the US national championship five times.

Gneiting, who weighs in at 197kg, originally got into the sport

after becoming too heavy to compete in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Now 48 and sporting a grey beard, he’s also the only competitor

here to have competed in the very first US Sumo Open in 2001.

The highest truths are hidden from people,” he says,

philosophically. “One is that sumo is the hardest sport in the

world. It’s just brutal.” He recounts a story of how, during his

time in Tokyo in 2004, he was beating a champion when the

president of the sumo team gave his opponent a signal, which

led to Gneiting taking a palm to the eye. “You don’t do that in

sumo,” he says. “It felt like the kitchen sink had fallen on my

head. Things they wouldn’t stand for in the US or the UK, over

in Japan it’s normal.” He claims that the Japanese team didn’t

like a foreigner muscling in on their sport – an attitude that

Gneiting says was once widespread in professional sumo.

Over the years, though, he believes the Japanese have learned

to “release their baby”.

Andrew Freund is the founder and organiser of the US Sumo

Open and has the frantic energy of the sleep-deprived. Having

spent time in Japan in the early ’90s, Freund began putting on

sumo events in California as a hobby, before organising the

first US Open in 2001. The mix of competitors, he says, has

traditionally been 50 per cent American, 50 per cent foreign.

And 90 per cent of the time it’s the foreign competitors who end

up on the podium. “The US is a little behind the curve in terms

of international amateur sumo,” he shrugs.

Freund explains that the dichotomy between Japanese and

non-Japanese sumo is not really the focus of division in the

sport; the largest contrast is between professional and amateur

sumo. “Professional sumo in Japan is its own entity entirely,” he

says. “When you join pro sumo, you don’t have a vocation, you

don’t have a holiday, you don’t have your own place. You wanna

go somewhere for a day? You have to check with your coaches.

Most of these guys are training 365 days of the year. It’s not like

THE RED BULLETIN 63

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