Sao Paulo, Brazil:
If the word “sumo wrestler” conjures up images of a massive Asian man in a loincloth, Valeria and Diana da Orio, a mother-daughter sumo team from Brazil, have a message: Think again.
Dall’Olios are used to being told that they are too small, too fragile or too feminine for the kind of sport usually associated with bulky Japanese men.
But they say that when they enter a “dojo,” or ring, it’s just fuel for their fighting spirit.
“There is a lot of prejudice. When you say you practice sumo, some people think you have to be fat,” Valeria, 39, told AFP as she prepared for a match at a public gym in São Paulo.
“Women are always under the microscope in martial arts competitions because the sport is usually limited to male fighters.”
She started learning martial arts at an early age, learning judo and jiu-jitsu.
In 2016, she fell in love with the sport of sumo, brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century.
In no time, she was winning fights – all the way to the Brazilian National Championship, which she won three times (2018, 2019 and 2021) in middleweight (65 to 73 kg, 143 to 161 lbs).
She added the South American title to the trophy in 2021.
“I try to balance my different lives: housewife, mother of two. I don’t have much free time,” Valeria said.
Japan bans women from professional sumo wrestling.
In its birthplace, the highly ritualized sport has more than 1,500 years of ties to Shintoism, whose adherents have traditionally considered women impure or sumo bad luck.
In the past, women were banned from competing or even touching sumo wrestlers.
However, since 2001, the International Amateur Women’s Sumo Championship has been held. Organizers hope to one day make it an Olympic sport.
Being allowed to play “was a real victory for us,” Valeria said.
“We are more combative than men, and men are usually not used to fighting on as many fronts as we do.”
Diana, 18, said she never had much interest in wrestling until she was drawn to the speed of sumo.
In bouts, wrestlers compete to throw or push each other from a round, dirty floor ring, bouts rarely last longer than 30 seconds.
Strength, strategy and technique are everything.
Diana donned a “mawashi” or sumo loincloth for the first time in 2019.
She now competes as a lightweight (under 65kg).
“You can feel the bias,” she said of people’s reactions to her chosen movement.
“A lot of people say, ‘Women are vulnerable, they get hurt and they quit,'” she said.
“It’s one of the things we’re learning to fight. Our generation is rising.”
fight for respect
Oscar Morio Tsuchiya, president of the Brazilian Sumo Federation, said sumo has grown rapidly in Brazil, largely thanks to women.
Women make up about half of the country’s 600 sumo wrestlers, he said.
“Women can’t even get into the ring because of Shinto rituals, and many traditionalists start out intimidated. But those barriers are being broken down,” he said.
At their São Paulo gym, the Dall’Olios brushed the dirt off the dojo after a tough day in which Diana won one of her three bouts and Valeria lost her only, rival It’s 18-time Brazilian middleweight champion Luciana Watanabe.
Watanabe, 37, is the face of sumo in Brazil.
She shares her passion for the sport by teaching it to children in Suzano, a small city 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside São Paulo.
“Usually men teach sumo,” she said.
“But I think when I show kids my work, I inspire them.”
She also said her goal was to “break down prejudices”.
“I wish people had more respect for the sport,” she said.
“A lot of people still think it’s just fat people’s sport. Sumo is for everyone.”
(Aside from the title, this story is unedited by NDTV staff and published via a syndicated feed.)