June 24th, 2011 @ 11:30am
By Kristi Grooms, ksl.com Contributor
Discipline, honor, and excellence. That is what Josh Petersen practices and preaches. He is the dean of faculty at Broadview University, a local career college, where he teaches students serious life skills. In his spare time he belongs to a brotherhood of sumo wrestlers that train and compete.
“I realized about a year ago that I needed a sport that worked with my size,” said Petersen, who is 6-foot-8-inches and 405 pounds. “Not that you need to be big to compete, but at the time I had just seen a documentary on sumo and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
He researched the United States Sumo Federation and found the closest club in Idaho. His wife was skeptical and his co-workers thought he was joking.
“After the first tournament, though, my wife really liked it,” Petersen said. “After my second win I think I got a lot more traction with the people I work with. They know it’s not a joke but a real sport I’m competing in.”
Some students admire Petersen for his hobby, as well.
“It’s pretty awesome that someone can have a professional career and extracurricular activities on the side,” said Nokie Pheuahakphay, a health management student at Broadview University. “I think it encourages students to be more well-rounded.”
After connecting with his partner, Wesley Allen of Logan, Utah, they decided to start Northern Utah Sumo.
“People are looking for something fun to do that tests their abilities,” Allen said. “Sumo is a great way to do that.”
Sumo in the United States isn’t all that different from Japan. In fact, the wrestlers wear the same traditional “mawashi,” Petersen said.
“I’m not really shy about it,” he said. “I do wear spandex underneath right now, but that’s because my mawashi is new and would chafe me really bad. Once it gets worn, I’ll go traditional. I figure professional sumo wrestlers go that way, why not me?”
The mawashi is strategically wrapped and folded for maximum comfort and wear.
Competition is also no joke to a dedicated sumo wrestler.
“The basic rules are very simple,” said Trent Sabo, vice-president of the United States Sumo Federation. “Force your opponent out of the dohyo (sumo ring) or cause them to touch the ground with any part of their body other than the soles of their feet. There are no rounds or periods, no points. It’s do or die.”
Though the rules are on an amateur level in the U.S. and allow women, they follow the age-long Shinto traditions. Once in the proper attire, two men or women stand outside the 15-foot dohyo and bow to each other. Then they step inside the ring and squat while symbolically washing their hands. They raise their hands together and clap to please the Shinto gods. They raise their hands again to show they have no weapons and walk up to their line to stare down their opponent. They make their last minute preparations before the referee says, “hakkeyoi,” and the “tachiai” or bull rush starts the match.
“In the West the emphasis is often on changing our external surroundings,” Sabo said. “In the East, however, the emphasis is to change yourself. This is the idea in sumo, to create a situation that is so intense, your mind, body and soul will become focused like a laser allowing you to perform at a super human level.”
Petersen has seen the benefits from his involvement in sumo.
“The sport is about quiet dignity and control,” he said. “I walk a little taller and feel more confident. I’ve noticed my body feels better even after getting bruised, shaken and even thrown.”
The educator in Petersen shines through as he discusses his desire to share the virtues of this sport with others. He plans on promoting it in middle and high schools, using it as a tool to teach students why they need to stay in school, stay out of drugs, and have respect for others as well as for themselves.
Kristi Grooms has a bachelor's of science in architectural studies from the University of Utah. She started writing for the Deseret News in high school and hasn't been able to stop freelancing since.
Salt Lake Tribune (July 11th, 2011)