Sunday, February 04, 2007

YOKOZUNA

The ancient Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling is as rich in its history and tradition as it is beautiful in its simplicity. Sumo wrestling has found itself in myriad cultural places and settings during its existence. It began as an ancient form of entertainment for the Japanese emperors of old and from there it has progressed through the ages and taken on many meanings that include an essential part of the Shinto religion, to a form of contemporary entertainment for the avid fans of professional wrestling.

I remember that my first real exposure to Sumo wrestling involved the introduction of “Yokozuna” into the ranks of the former WWF (now the WWE because of the conflict with the World Wildlife Fund). He was an incredible man, both in his stature and in his ability to be construed as offensive to the history and tradition of Sumo wrestling. Of course, this understanding of the cultural insensitivity towards Sumo wrestling that the former WWF’s Yokozuna portrayed has come much later in life. At the age of 12, when Yokozuna came onto the scene, it was pure awe and fascination. Thinking back on those times, I sometimes curse the current course my mind is taking. The hyper-sensitivity to everything and everyone that becomes second nature during legal training makes one well prepared to deal with the plethora of people and situations one will deal with in their career, but it also causes a person to lose the part of themselves that can love and enjoy such examples of low brow absurdity.

I digress.

Rodney Anoai burst onto the scene in 1992. A mammoth 600 pound Samoan who suddenly became Japanese and named Yokozuna shook up the former WWF. Yokozuna was given the crafty and dislikeable manager Mr. Fuji, and became an instant villain and someone everyone could agree on hating. In the former WWF there was always a huge need for the fan favorite, such as the Hulkster, Macho Man Randy Savage, etc., but those fan favorites were only a great as their biggest nemesis. Yokozuna, as the “Japanese” Sumo villain, turned out to be a great nemesis and a perfect yin to the American fan favorite yang in the former WWF. (Yeah, Yeah, that would have been a lot more clever if yin and yang were from Japanese philosophy and not from Chinese philosophy. I’m keeping it a part of my blog regardless.) Looking back on his influences I believe he is best described as a potentially misguided, yet amazingly successful, ambassador of Sumo wrestling.

The former WWF fan is generally considered to be a member of what is known as the lowest common denominator in our society. Believed to be a person unable to look past their Bud light and limited intelligence to see anything enlightening in their blue collar entertainment, and thus missing out on the great opportunity to learn an important part of Japanese culture. This stereotype is in my humble opinion is somewhat misguided. (And it is most certainly a stereotype in the pejorative sense, but that is a subject for a different blog.) Maybe the typical WWF fan can’t appreciate the works of James Joyce, the latest tribute to film noir, or the subtle beauty behind a few dissonant key strokes of Thelonious Monk, but the typical former WWF fan also should not be sold short. Although Yokozuna would probably be considered an embarrassment and disgrace to Sumo wrestling by those native to Japan, he created an opportunity for the young inquiring minds of the former WWF to learn about the great tradition of Sumo wrestling.

I digress

I remember when Yokozuna beat Bret “The Hitman” Hart for the former WWF heavyweight title in Wrestlemania 9. Yokozuna finished off one of the most popular wrestlers to date with his infamous and amazingly effective “Bonzai Drop”. A killer finishing move where the gargantuan Yokozuna climbed the ropes and allowed gravity to bring down all 600 pounds of him upon his hapless victim laying in a false state of paralysis upon the mat. After that win Yokozuna became a household name in the households of the aforementioned and inaptly titled lowest common denominators. Mr. Fuji then went on to seal Yokozuna’s fate as one of the greatest villains in the former WWF’s history when he mocked the USA and challenged any American athlete to body slam Yokozuna on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid aircraft carrier. Fervent nationalism was sparked by this blow to the American ideal and pride. Of course nationalism in the early 90s was much less threatening than it is in its current form. This is so even though the nationalism of those days was as equally unfounded as the nationalism of today. (Especially, considering it’s essentially pride and hatred based upon man made geographical boundaries.) The nationalism of those times passed only incited Americans to step up to the challenge of a professional wrestler, not to use fear and ignorance to place us in the midst of an ideological war on terrorism that we are as likely to win as a war on jealously.

I digress.

I sat in a state of what seemed to be perpetual anxiety after challenger upon challenger unsuccessfully attempted to body slam Yokozuna. It seemed like all was lost, and the strength and resolve of America had been exposed as fraudulent. Then all of the sudden Lex Luger jumped down from a helicopter and stepped up to the challenge. I had never been so exhilarated and yet so skeptical at the same time. Luger had a history of being a bum, a part of that aforementioned inaptly titled lowest common denominator, and a perpetual underachiever in the world of wrestling. He couldn’t be our last hope, he just couldn’t be. But this didn’t seem to be the same Lex, something seemed different, and when Lex picked up Yokozuna and slammed the previously immovable man to the ground, the world made sense yet again. What an amazing time to be a wrestling fan. And what an inspiration Lex Luger had become, and maybe, just maybe, you could drink some Bud light, turn on wrestlemania, turn the volume down low and listen to some Coltrane while men resembling the gladiators of old battled for nothing more than pride. (Yes, Yes, we wrestling fans may not enjoy martini parties or Basquiat, but we know the outcome of the matches are fixed, sheesh, give us some credit.) If Lex Luger could change, if Yokozuna and Sumo wrestling could become a part of the “typical” wrestling fan’s interests and intrigues, then maybe anything can cross the cultural boundaries created by our capitalist class systems.

I digress.

Sumo wrestling has become so popular that this traditional style of Japanese wrestling has extended well beyond the boundaries of Japan. Although professional Sumo wrestling is still maintained strictly by the Japan Sumo Association, amateur Sumo wrestling has become a part of many schools and universities in Asia and amateur Sumo clubs are popping up more and more around the United States. There has even been the formation of the International Sumo Federation that is engaged in developing the sport world wide and is working towards having Sumo wrestling recognized as an official Olympic sport. Sumo wrestling is a wonderful sport in that anyone, big or small, can participate. Its popularity is growing every day and all you need is a large floor area, a circle made from tape, and some willing participants to have your own amateur Sumo wrestling fun. Also, one of the beautiful things incident to the growing popularity of Sumo wrestling is the desire more and more people possess to learn about the rich culture and history of Japan.

Now, I’m not saying that the former WWF and Rodney Anoai are responsible for the worldwide popularity that Sumo wrestling is now enjoying, but I’m also not saying that they haven’t had a large impact on America’s interest in the sport. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think being a former WWF wrestling fan has significantly influenced my knowledge and interest in this grand sport, and I would be willing to bet that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

9 comments:

Lord Johnson said...

What a well rounded blog entry. WWF history, cross-cultural puns, and a tape circle on the floor.

So many digressions. so little time.

Lord Johnson

Kara said...

Seems a bit too serious of a topic to me. I don't mind but I hear pirates have a something against seriousness. Don't worry, Yokozuna has our back.

Lord Johnson said...

Did you notice that 'Well-rounded' was a pun too. yi know... cause sumos are fat.

I disagree with your statement alleging that it can be enjoyed by both "big or small." I've found that while both can participate, only one is likely to be very successful.

evan said...

can't enjoyment exist without success. such as the enjoyment i get in trying to coerce kara into bed, even though i am not always successful.

Lady Rivera said...

bed coercions? that doesn't seem right does it? is that how you practice your sumo techniques?

evan said...

ok, maybe coerce was a tad bit too strong of a verb to use in that sentence. if anything, it reflects quite poorly upon me, i swear it's not that hard to get her in the sack, usually mr. boozy does the trick. am i going to far here? yes, ok good.

let's change it from coerce to compel. oh wait, no that won't work, how about browbeat? dragoon? impel?

hmmm, no luck, maybe a change in my line of thinking. trick? hoodwink? bamboozle? yeah, that sounds a lot better. let's change it to "enjoyment i get trying to bamboozle kara into bed."

i'm glad that is taken care of.

Lady Rivera said...

Yes, bamboozle. That is much, much better. Plus it has the word booze in it, which is appropriate given the context. Silent and invisible e at the end of booz.

Heath said...

Here, here, Bamboozles all around! 'Tis the Valentine season.

Oh Lady Rivera, Oh Lady Rivera, where art thou?

Dr. Cereal said...

One of the underappreciated sumo techniques: making babies cry. Check out the gallery here:
http://www.cnn.com/interactive/world/0704/gallery.sumo.crying.babies/frameset.exclude.html

And yes, Lady Rivera and Lord Johnson, where art thou? (Or is it thous? Or is that like Younses?)

When is your next meeting?