Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the sumo wrestler

I knew someday, somewhere, someone would come along and beat me. I have known for some time that I was not unique – just very very lucky. In fact, some days I prayed to be honestly beaten. Maybe then the cameras, with their crushingly loud flashbulbs, and the reporters, each talking at their cameras as I tried to concentrate on the match, - maybe they would all go away once I was soundly beaten. I was tired of being their frog in a jar. Especially because this is not what I wanted to do.

I had started out with a stirring desire to go into fencing. I loved the sound of the sword as it swished through the air. I loved the feel of the impact when your sword made contact with the shoulder of your opponent. I loved, more than anything, the reaction of my muscles as my sword and my opponent’s sword would meet and the opponent would attempt to strong arm my sword out of the way, my wrist trying to spring one way as my arm fought to keep the direction of the sword moving in an opposite direction of the where the other sword was sending it.

But just like why I can’t enjoy Wednesday night Country Dancing in town, I could never get my feet work down. Every instructor I knew told me it was just a count. You count in and you count out. Each step, each lunge, each retreat was a count. Just like every step at country – slow slow fast fast. How ever was I going to enjoy the girl I was with if the whole time I was in my head counting. How ever was I to know what my fencing opponent was going to do next if the whole time I was counting in and counting out. For a lunge I had to count three, but if at two I heard my opponent breathe in sharply, I knew I had to be defending, not attacking, so I would count out, but only to the point that I was sure I was clear of the opponent’s lunge. Then I would need to start again. But I often forgot where I was in my counts and so I would misstep and down I went.

Each time my feet would lose me a match, I would get depressed. Each time I got depressed I would eat. With the added food, came added weights and my fencing game slowed down. Eventually, I was too fat to fence. So my thoughts turned to the question “What do fat people play?” One day the thought occurred to me – Fat people sumo wrestle. So I started researching Sumo wrestling. It is played in a circle and the circle is raised up some how so you always knew where it was. There was a white line on the ground where you stanced as you prepared to throw the other fat guy out of the ring, but beyond that the rules were pretty simple. So I put my shift that way. Every day I ate and I trained. Some days I trained and I ate. But either route was a way to prepare for the first time I stepped into the ring.

Because I was not a Japan raised sumo wrestler, and because my training was not done in one of the Japanese stables, I was ignored by the international sumo wrestling championship. The media referred to me as the “Sumo Cowboy” or as “Sueme Sumo.” (Evidently America’s lust for lawsuits had been picked up on by the foreign media as well.) For my first match – I was on the losing end. The guy moved so quickly and just tossed me out of the ring like I was a rag doll. I was shocked.

But I also learned. I learned to pick up the clues. As I replayed the tossing in my head over and over again, I tried to focus on what sounds my opponent made right before he attacked. I listened for the point that his hands touched the mat and the point the ringmaster commenced the attack. I listened for the tightening of his muscles or the grunt as he projected his one ton weight toward me.

Much to the annoyance of my trainer, I refused to step into the ring again for months. Instead I had him gather up all of the videos of sumo matches he could find and we sat and studied them together. And I learned, and I learned and I learned.

The next time I was in a ring was 9 months after that first match. As the ringmaster commenced, I focused on all of the clues. As this opponent attacked I could tell he was heading to the left. I moved right, grabbed him by the arm and threw him as much as I could over my left shoulder. Before I could turn around to make a second attempt – the crowd erupted with applause. The ringmaster grabbed my hand, flung it in the air, and announced me the winner.

And that was the first of a long winning streak. Each time the opponent was bigger or stronger and each time I crouched before him in my sumo stance, closed my eyes and focused on the sounds that clued me in to this man before me. I knew how to stand up tall and then quickly drop on an opponent that did a full on attack. I knew how to move from one side to the other if the opponent tried to lean and get around me (For some reason they all thought they could sneak past me when my eyes were closed). After six months of winning, rumors started to pour in of other sumo wrestlers trying my technique – closing their eyes for the match. No one could duplicate it though because they were only closing their eyes and not widening their ears.

After 9 months of wins, The Cowboy Sumo was the main attraction. People in the U.S. put aside their basketball, baseball or football to make sure they got a chance to watch me. And I never disappointed. I was also doing cereal ads, car commercials (where I was allowed to stand by the car or ride in the bed of the truck, but never drive the vehicle), and other product endorsements (of course – as a sumo wrestler – restaurants were always trying to get me to promote their food). I was riding the wave. So I of course was not expecting last night.

Last night seemed like every other night. I never paid attention to the hype and my trainer was really strict about me not doing interviews in the weeks coming up to a match. All I knew about this opponent was that he was virtually unheard of and that he had challenged me on his online blog. His cult following of loyal readers promoted it and it got scheduled. I figured I was better because no one had ever heard of this guy. I was wrong.

As we got into stance I quickly realized this was going to be different. Other opponents were breathing through their noses like they were hyperventilating. Not this guy. He was relaxed. His muscles weren’t cracking or pooping with building tension. No – instead he was just relaxed. I made the wrong assumption that he was unprepared and would be an easy take, but when the ringmaster granted us on, I got taken.

Unlike others, I was the first off my mat and at him. Every other had attacked first and I had defended. He waited for my attack and then he defended. I found out quickly that I didn’t know how to attack – I only knew how to defend. He used this to his advantage and tossed me out of the ring. I was shocked, and devastated.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that the match loss really took on much meaning. I knew he was like me, but to the extent that he was like me was amazing. It turns out – the only way to beat a blind wrestler was with a man as blind as I am.

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