Local sumo wrestlers place second in nationals


     Tifton- A group of locals defy stereotypes in sumo wrestling and prepared for the United States Sumo Nationals North American Championships World Team Trials. The competition took place on Feb. 9, in St. Joseph, Missouri.   

     The group trains out of Redemption Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Tifton. The head trainer at the gym, Joshua Clements, added sumo wrestling to the list of fighting sports that the gym has training sessions for. When Clements met Eric Griffin, a passionate sumo enthusiast, the two worked together to bring sumo wrestling to Tifton.

     After Griffin’s coach moved to Florida, he was left with the leadership of the Atlanta Sumo Club. In need of a proper training facility, Griffin met Clements through a sumo demonstration at a jiu-jitsu tournament. Griffin came with the knowledge and training in the sport of sumo, and Clements gave him a place to train with others who were interested in the sport.

     Eric Griffin remembers being interested in sumo wrestling from an early age and watched the sport on television every chance he had. “I used to joke that I would move to Japan and become a sumo wrestler, but I had no idea that there were people in the U.S. that actually do sumo,” said Griffin.

Head Coach at Redemption Jiu Jitsue Academy, Joshua Clements (left) stands with the Tifton Sumo Club. This is the only sumo club in South Georgia. The closest club to Tifton is in Atlanta. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

      A training session at the gym consists of stretching and warming up. Then the wrestlers go over techniques and ceremonial procedures for a sumo wrestling match. Afterward, the club starts constantly rotating in the ring, lining up against each other.

     The closest sumo wrestling club around, besides Tifton, is in Atlanta. However, Tifton has more sumo wrestlers than the Atlanta club. The club in Atlanta has three people, and the Tifton club has over 10 people.

     A year and a half later, Clements has seen some people sumo wrestling as an activity, but most people enjoy watching it more.

     “It isn’t like watching jiu-jitsu, where you have to know something in order to understand what you’re seeing. In sumo, it doesn’t require you to know anything about the sport for people to understand what is going on in the ring,” said Clements.

     This was their first time competing in Sumo World Team Trials. The event hosted over 5,000 people in the arena comprised of wrestlers and spectators. Both Clements and Jacob Gill placed second in their weight class. The wrestlers from Tifton could represent the U.S. in the 2019 World Sumo Championship in Hawaii if something kept the first place winners from competing.

     After starting in Japan over 2,000 years ago, it began flourishing as a spectator sport until the 1600s. It is Japan’s national sport, and there has been a push to get it added to the Olympics.

     Clements is proud to bring some Japanese culture to Tifton. “What’s really cool about doing what we do is, we are bringing a small part of Japanese culture, Japanese art to Tifton and to the South Georgia area.”

     Professional sumo wrestlers compete in one general open weight class. Wrestlers could potentially go against somebody twice their size, but proper technique and form are the ultimate deciding factor more often than weight.

     An example of technique overcoming weight happened at the U.S. Sumo Open in 2013. The 175-pound American wrestler Liz Seward defeated a 400-pound British wrestler named Sharran Alexander. Seward demonstrated that sumo wrestling isn’t all about how much you weigh; it’s about using your strengths to overcome your opponent’s weakness.

Joshua Clements wrestles against Jace Nipper during sumo training before the national competition. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

     According to Clements, the medium size wrestlers do better in the open-weight division. “They are big enough to push around the light-weights and fast enough to out-maneuver the heavy wrestlers.”

     Amateur sumo wrestlers are split into weight classes, both males and females compete against each other. The group from Tifton that competed in Sumo Nationals focused on the amateur competition.

A round usually lasts anywhere between 5-15 seconds, but can potentially last several minutes. The sport is all about tradition, spirituality, technique and raw physical power.

The winner is decided by pushing the opponent outside of the ring, or by forcing the opponent to touch the ground with anything other than the foot.

While the group was in Missouri for the competition, a youth wrestling tournament was held close-by. The group participated in a youth outreach program to get children interested in sumo wrestling.

In Japan, the sport of sumo wrestling has declined in viewership as it competes next to western sports, such as basketball and baseball. The same cannot be said for the U.S.

Redemption Jiu-Jitsu Academy recommends the sport of sumo to all ages. The sport is suitable for children and can be a strong confidence-building activity.

“When we have kids in the gym training, they always ask ‘can we sumo wrestle today,’” Clements said when explaining that this was a child-friendly sport.

If anybody at ABAC is interested in sumo wrestling, you can email Clements at joshua.clements@abac.edu to find out more.

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