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Sumo School

In this rare opportunity, Photographer Daniel Ali captures the lives of young sumo wrestlers in training.

  • Photography by: Daniel Ali

Before there was the nation of Japan, there was sumo.

Japanese Proverb

The Life of Young Sumos

It is early morning in an old fishing town located along the west coast of Japan’s Niggata province. At Kaiyo High School, a group teenage wrestlers shuffle sleepily into the school’s sumo training quarters. Still a few years away from entering the business of professional wrestling, the junior wrestlers in-training will manoeuvre through years of theoretical and physical conditioning to prepare them for the road ahead. This morning, the boys initiate a ritualistic cleansing of their training space – sweeping the five meter clay ring with branches and purifying it with sprinklings of salt. Light streams through the bare windows of the empty hall, and the room soon bursts into a lively percussion of slaps and shuffles. Some amateur fighters jostle and practice grappling, others charge into a traditional wooden post (teppo), a foot wide tree trunk. A few of the smaller boys are pitted against their more developed peers to improve and strengthen their aptitude in the ring. 

Many of these young sumos routinely live and interact within the closed quarters of the school. Studies, mealtimes and even sleeping arrangements are precisely organised around a deeply regimented routine. This prescriptive discipline is vital to the efficacy of training in these crucial years. To compete at the highest level of the sport, many experienced trainers and coaches recognise the imperative to start conditioning the athletes young. This includes developing bulk and power. For a sport that pits one body mass against another, the larger the fighter, the greater the odds of winning.  Traditionally, wrestlers have been encouraged to consume the daily requirement of 8,000 to 10,000 calories to reach ultimate fighting weight.  To achieve this, amateur sumos will sit consuming large portions of food for an average of two hours longer than their regular high school peers.

Beyond their years at training school, young fighters will enter a cycle of professional conscription. Once they reach the age of seventeen, prestigious wrestling training stables will recruit more promising athletes for a career in professional sumo. Within Japan, the nobility of this sport rests in the ways sumo honours the spirit and traditions of a culture. This alone prompts many to rally behind the continuing legacy of the sport.

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Daniel Ali

Daniel Ali is a photographer and videographer based in London. Born in 1985, Daniel’s earliest memories are of him behind a camera.After graduating with a Masters in Artists’ Film, Video and Photography, Daniel has pursued his interests in the documentary world producing several photographic projects.  Visit his site here for more information.

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