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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yokozuna Musashimaru And Me

When I lived in Japan in 1990 - 1993, there was a sudden rise of the gaijin (foreigner) in the sumo wrestling ranks.

Sumo, despite its recent failings of gambling in the sport, continues to be Japan's national sport.

With what looks like to the casual observer as a whole lot of time wasting before an explosive five-second fight, to myself and the millions of sumo fans, it is poetry in motion. About a 1/4 ton of petry, but poetry nonetheless.

At the time, two Hawaiian-born wrestlers - Akebono and Konishiki - the tallest and the heaviest wrestlers on record, were the dominant foreign-born sumo. Both were popular but despised because, quite frankly they were the chief obstacles to two young, handsome and popular Japanese sumo named Wakanohana and Takanohana - brothers. Both were highly skilled master's of the judo-style, and played havoc with the height of Akebono and the clumsy bulk of Konishiki.

But then along came Musashimaru Koyo - but better known simply as Musahimaru.

The first time I saw this man wrestle - the very first time - I thought to myself and then told every single person out there who would listen, that this guy would one day be a Yokozuna - the highest rank of sumo that one earns and then must still be elected to.

Why? Because we looked like he was square... as wide as he was tall, but not too much of either, but more than the average Japanese sumo. He looked impossible to throw off balance.

He is 6'-3-1/2" (1.92 meters) tall and a tank-like 520 pounds (235 kilograms). Consider if you will that the minimum weight to be a sumo is 75 kilograms and 170 cm... which meant I more than qualified height-wise and was just on or slightly over in weight (at that time).
While 'chanko' is the official stew/food of a sumo - sometimes they can eat a cow.

I called him a tank, and I marveled at his athleticism and quickness for a big man, loved his slapping strength and noted that his judo-like throwing skills were pretty good, but could maybe still improve.

I knew he would make me proud, and I always cheered for him as my favorite.

And - for the record... Mushashimaru was born on May 2, 1971 as Fiamalu Penitani (that's his real name!) in American Samoa. 

And you know what? The Japanese liked him too. Like myself (I hope), he always had a nice smile on his face when not battling or training (though I did neither of those things) and seemed to have a warm personality that the Japanese folks ate up. He was not arrogant, seemed well-spoken and carried himself well as a sumo. These are all important things to the Japanese - especially if you, as a foreigner, want to play in their national sport. Death before dishonor is not just a U.S. Marine's motto.

Still a sekiwake (Sumo's third-highest ranking) in June of 1993, I happened to wander around my home away from home for three years, Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

Antonio Inoki in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in 1993.

What the hell was going on? Hey! Isn't that Antonio Inoki, the famous pro wrestler turned politician? Oh yeah! And... that can't be... it is... Mushashimaru! Holy crap!

I waited a few minutes while the Japanese locals went up to him and chatted with him in Japanese - and he did likewise... and then it was my turn.

"Hey, brother... how are you?"

He did a double-take, cocked his head slightly smiled and stuck out a hand that engulfed me in solid meatiness!

He said: "English! Thank goodness! I haven't spoken it in so long, I thought I would forget how to!" And then he laughed - still holding my hand in a handshake.

He asked me to sit down beside him at the table where people were still coming up to talk and get a picture with him - I wonder how many shots people have of themselves, Mushashimaru and the local gaijin (me)? To be fair, I always tilted back and away for them when they had their photo taken.

I told him how he was my favorite wrestler - and why, and even expressed my concern about needing to be better with the throws, and rather than slap me into unconsciousness, he nodded and said: "I appreciate the love, brah."

It was exciting. We spent 15 minutes together talking about what it's like to be a foreigner in Japan and what it's like to be a sumo, what he eats, what he enjoys doing - he loves the pretty Japanese women!

And then he had to get ready for a sumo demonstration.

A herd (?) of sumo. Musashimaru is next to the guy in the suit.

Adults laugh hideously as a hairy sumo destroys tiny children in diapers.

 He shook my hand and pulled me in for a hug and then as he pulled back, I'll never forget what he did next.

He slapped me on the back of my shoulder with his powerful hand as a sign of respect and smiled at me, bowed deeply and rumbled off like a herd of rhinoceri.

I think I still have an indentation of his hand on my trapezious muscle.

And, in case you were unaware, sumo autographs involve a handprint. I know my buddy Matthew has a few!

I still can't believe I never actually got his real autograph or a photograph of us together - though someone did take a picture of us with his arm around me. I couldn't get my arm around his shoulder! And, no one ever gave me a copy. Zounds!

Oh well.

Should you wish to learn more about Musashimaru, click HERE. His record in sumo is at the bottom of the page. 

Muuuuuu-sashimaru!!! Muuuuuu-sashimaru desu!!!

Andrew Joseph  

1 comment:

  1. Check out the commercial here of Musashimaru-sama:

    I'll also check around to see if I have any pix of you w/the man since I was there with you that day!