III MEF News Search

Pseudo-sumo wrestlers test their might in contest

4 Jul 2013 | Lance Cpl. Natalie Rostran

HENOKO, Japan - The competitors are quiet and focused as they grab hold of each other’s belts. The bout begins and ends in the blink of an eye, and the crowd erupts with cheers as sand flies through the air.

The victor rose from the ground, helping his opponent up in the process. They bowed to each other and returned to their respective sides to anxiously wait for the next round while the crowd continued cheering.

This is an example of Okinawa-style sumo wrestling, and it should not be confused with the traditional Japanese-style of sumo wrestling with its world renowned, large statured competitors. Here, the athletes vary in size and compete under a different set of guidelines.

Marines and family members of Camp Schwab participated in the Henoko Okinawa-Style Sumo Tournament June 22 at the Mae-No-Hama Field in Henoko. The Henoko Young Men’s Association hosted the tournament, which has taken place annually for the past 50 years.

“Okinawa-style sumo, also called kakuriki, closely resembles a combination of western wrestling and Okinawa-style grappling, known as tegumi,” said Fumio Iha, the community relations specialist for Camp Schwab. “The athletes in Okinawa sumo wear a gi with either red or white belts. While it used to be practiced on beaches, most tournaments are now held at sandy pits, called dohyo.”

The objective is to get the opponent on their back without the participants letting go of each other’s belts or using any kind of striking technique.

“For the trained athlete, the focus is on strength and the ability to off-balance the opponent,” said Masakazu Tokuda, president of the Henoko Young Men’s Association.

Marines and their families were invited to participate in all four categories of Henoko’s tournament including the children’s matches, friendly matches, challenge matches and championship tournament.

“It was fun, but hard,” said Preston D. Flinders, 10, the son of a Marine, after his first match. Preston would continue on to reach fourth place in his group.

As the tournament progressed to the 11 year-old and up categories, techniques began to take precedence over strength and for the first time in the tournament’s history, two Americans took first and second place in the children’s age group.

Riley Inns, 13, also the son of a Marine, took first place, and Tyler S. Flinders, 14, and Preston’s older brother, earned second.
“It felt good to win because some of those competitors are really good,” said Inns.

During the challenge portion of the competition, members of the audience could challenge anyone else in attendance. If the attendee accepted the challenge, they would participate in one bout for fun.

“I can now say I have wrestled in an Okinawa-style sumo tournament,” said Pfc. Danielle A. Auld, an ammunition technician with 3rd Supply Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, who was challenged twice and won both bouts. “It was amazing to be able to experience so much of their culture. It was fun, and I hope to be able to do more events in the future.”

The championship tournament began with 22 participants, including seven Marines from Camp Schwab and one U.S. Department of Defense civilian contractor, according to Pfc. Gabriel J. Fennimore, an ammunition technician with 3rd Supply Battalion. Although the American participants did not place in the championship tournament, they all took something away from the competition.

“It was cool to be a part of their traditions,” said Fennimore. “It is something that is very important to them, and they take Okinawa-style sumo very seriously. Their sportsmanship is awesome, and it was a great way to introduce us to their customs.”

As the evening came to a close, Tokuda addressed the audience and emphasized the importance of fostering good relationships between the residents of Henoko and the Marines, sailors and their family members at Camp Schwab.

“We are very pleased to have this competition, especially with the participation of the Camp Schwab Marines,” said Tokuda. “We’re always happy to see them coming to our events, and we hope they know that they are always welcome to compete.”

Read more: