World Games representative Thomas Traill on the power, technique and challenging outfits used in sumo wrestling. By Jack Kerr.


Sumo lovin’: Thomas Traill, 18, sumo wrestler

Australia is sending two wrestlers from each division over to the World Games to compete. I’ll be in the men’s middleweight, so over the past 12 weeks, I’ve dropped about 18 kilos. I was up to 120, because I got an injury in 2014, came close to losing my leg, was in hospital for months and eating what I liked. But I thought I’d have more of a chance in a lower weight division, and I’m 90 at the moment. There is a lightweight division, which is under 85, but anywhere between 90 and 100 is my range.

Those outfits are good fun, but luckily in the amateurs you can wear bike shorts underneath. You don’t have to go bare-butted. The belt is called a mawashi, and it protects your insides in the stomach. And your manhood. The belt coming undone has never arisen in my time in the sport, which is more than seven years. They are normally tied on pretty tightly, but I do find that after a bout or two it gets a bit loose, so you have to readjust. 

In Japan, it’s very male, and women can’t compete as professionals. That’s why it’s not in the Olympics yet. Women compete at the amateur level. They have to wear a T-shirt, as well as the mawashi. But the tradition is that it’s a male sport, which is one of the issues with getting it into the Olympics. That, and there’s also not enough numbers to field an Olympic-proportioned team in most countries. 

We’ve had the Mongolian women’s team here recently. They are so athletic. They go until they are gone, until they can’t walk and are almost fainting. Their strength is phenomenal, and they have great technique as well, because they’ve grown up playing and wrestling since they were little kids. My uncle, who is a sumo wrestler and is over 120 kilograms, was struggling against them. They can just move you through technique. That’s how important it is – even the winner of the men’s lightweight division at the Oceania Championship can beat 250-kilogram guys, purely with his technique. 

The technique is really intricate. It’s all about your centre of gravity and making sure you’re not too far back or too far forward. If you keep as a tight unit, elbows in towards your body, then you can expel a large amount of power pretty efficiently. You won’t get as tired, because you are channelling the power from your legs through to your hands. That’s why the low squat is also the norm in terms of position for sumo.

You can grab the love handles. But the biggest guy I’ve played was 215 kilos, and normally I like to get my hands inside on their belt, get a nice tight grip, but with him I just couldn’t because of all the fat around him. That’s when you need quite different techniques. 

There’s a spiritual side to sumo. Even the ritual performed before the beginning of the match, all the clapping and the slapping, is symbolically meant to call upon the gods to watch the bout. And it’s supposed to also show your opponent you have no weapons. I’m Catholic, and practising, so I’m not practising Shinto, but I definitely respect the tradition of sumo, which in recent years has become a massive part of my life.

Japan and Mongolia are the main countries. The way the pros go about it in Japan is eat, train, eat, sleep, for hours throughout the day. They are eating before and after training, and then sleeping on the food so they can put on the puppy fat that they want. So it’s obviously pretty regimented. New Zealand is also good at the amateur level. Obviously they have the capacity to go professional, but I don’t think they have as much opportunity.

The pros don’t eat oily gross fat and junk. They eat a lot of this soupy thing with fish heads, vegetable and all this stock, so they are getting all their protein, carbs, vegetables in the one dish. The way I put on the weight was pretty unhealthy. I was eating a lot of crap, like chips and chocolate. But now I don’t eat gluten, sugar or dairy. It’s all just protein and vegetables – the traditional caveman thing. 

Muscle men could go into sumo, easily. One of Australia’s strongest men, Derek Boyer, got involved in sumo purely for its mind-body connection. And since being involved, he’s been able to pack on more mass. Strength, if you can mix that with technique, would be better. As long as you can take the hits.


This week’s highlights…

Badminton: Australian Open – semi-finals and finals

Saturday and Sunday, 1pm (AEST), Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre

Rugby union: Wallabies v Italy

Saturday, 3pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

NRL: Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm

Saturday, 7pm (ACST), Adelaide Oval

AFL: Richmond v Carlton 

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

Soccer: Confederations Cup – Socceroos v Chile

Monday, 1am (AEST), Otkritie Arena, Moscow, Russia

Cricket: ICC Women’s World Cup – Australia v West Indies

Monday, 7.30pm (AEST), The County Ground, Taunton, England

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 24, 2017 as "Sumo lovin’".

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Jack Kerr is a dual Australian Sports Commission Media Awards winner who writes about the business of sport.

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