Life as a Sumo Wrestler – for a Westerner

Takanoyama Shuntaro (aka Pavel Bojar) is one of few foreigners competing in Japan’s sumo series. He was born in the Czech Republic and discovered sumo after years spent learning judo.

After years learning the ancient sport of sumo Bojar placed third in the Junior World Sumo Championships. He then made the biggest decision of his life and left his homeland to live and train in Japan.

Foreigners get a rough time in the sumo schools. Like all novices they begin at the very lowest rungs in the order. At this level they receive training, but act as servants to higher sumo and doing the most menial of tasks.

“Westerners who come to train in Japan need to know that they’re (Japanese sumo) going to go twice as hard on you as they normally go,” Harley Flanagan, another Westerner to live and train in a sumo school, said about the attitude towards foreigners.

Pavel Bojar. photo: revistatip.uol.com.br

Pavel Bojar. photo: revistatip.uol.com.br

What made it all the more difficult for Bojar was that he was a 98 kilogram man in a world of 150 to 180 kilogram giants.

Avoiding training injuries in this type of situation is a real skill. To that end Bojar has implemented a lot of judo technique to use the bulk and force of his opponents against them. To lift and throw an athletic guy who weighs half as much again as yourself would otherwise be impossible. In 2011 Bojar broke through to the Makuuchi division – one of only 42 men able to do so. However, he struggled against these opponents who were as well-skilled and wily as they are big and powerful. Bojar has since bounced between the second and third divisions of the sport.

But Bjar is loving his life as a sumo in Japan, “Whether I win or lose,” he told The Mainichi Daily News in 2011, “I’ll just keep trying to perform good sumo.”

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