Sumo Returns

Thanks to retired grand champion Musashimaru, sumo returns to Hawaii for the first time since 1993 — in a ring made of special soil from Waianae

Friday - June 08, 2007
By Chad Pata
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It’s common for sumo competitors to get ‘in the face’ of opponents
It’s common for sumo competitors to get ‘in the face’
of opponents

This weekend Honolulu welcomes back not just the sport of sumo, but also its local spirit with the return of Musashimaru as the tournament’s official spokesman.

The Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawaii will be the first sanctioned match on Hawaiian soil since 1993, when local sumo fans remember fondly that the young upstart Musashimaru (Fiamalu Penitani of Waianae) took down the great Akebono (Chad Rowan of Waimanalo) in the finale.

While there is no possibility of another Eastside/Westside showdown since there are no local fighters participating this year, there should be plenty of compelling drama as the field is comprised of the top 40 ranked fighters worldwide and will be the first match on U.S. soil since the Las Vegas tournament in 2005.

Tops on this list is the newly crowned Yokozuna, Hakuho, who became the second Mongolian ever to reach the holiest title in sumo when he toppled Asashoryu in the final bout of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament. It just so happens that Asashoryu was the first Mongolian to become yokozuna, and both are getting top billing at the Blaisdell this weekend.

Also this tournament will mark the final return of Jesse Kuhaulua in an official sumo capacity; he plans to retire in 2009 on his 65th birthday. Kuhaulua blazed the way for many Hawaiian wrestlers, moving to Japan in 1964 to pursue the sport. He became the first foreign-born fighter to win a tournament championship in 1972.

After retiring in 1984 he followed the path of many wrestlers and opened his own stable, named Azumazeki Beya. After taking care of the raising and training of wrestlers for more than two decades, his life in sumo is coming to a close, but not before helping oversee this tournament in his native land.

The ancient Japanese sport of sumo is as much about tradition and ritual as it is wrestling
The ancient Japanese sport of sumo is as much about
tradition and ritual as it is wrestling

Preparations have been going on for more than a year as Musashimaru has been flying back and forth not just trying to garner sponsors, but seeking out the perfect soil for the dohyo (the ring).

“We tried some from Waimanalo, but it’s all too red over there,” says Musashimaru, who retired from wrestling in 2005 because of a chronic wrist injury. “We settled on some from Waianae; it had to be nice and moist. It’s dangerous if it’s dry; you want it to be moist so your feet can grip.”

Small surprise that he found the perfect sumo soil in his hometown. It was on this soil that he grew up from age 6 when his family migrated to Hawaii from Samoa.

His mother would wash this soil from his Searider uniforms after football practice where he played ball at Waianae High School at a svelte 290 pounds.

And it was this soil he walked away from at 18 to go to a foreign land to try his hand at a sport he’d never attempted, with no indications if he would even be any good at it.

“I never thought nothing,” says Musashimaru, in a Westside pidgin that 18 years in Japan has done nothing to lessen.“I just went out there and told myself ‘I’m staying, I’m staying.’ I never know I was going to go this far, but you know, I stayed and practiced hard and had to beat everyone around me. I had to work seven days a

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