Marines take to sand during Okinawa sumo tournament

by Lance Cpl. Tyler Ngiraswei, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

KIN TOWN ATHLETIC FIELD, OKINAWA, Japan -- Two competitors dressed in “gi,” a traditional martial arts outfit, make their way onto a ring made of sand and bow to judges sitting at a table near the edge of the ring. They turn to each other, bow and say “onegai shimasu,” a Japanese phrase which can mean, “please do your best.”

The competitors then run their hands through the other’s cloth belt worn around their “gi.” One competitor wears red and the other white. They both ensure they have a tight grip. The referee gives them a tap on the shoulder and yells, “yosh,” which signals them to start grappling in an attempt to topple the other over and pin him to the ground.

Members of the Kin Town community and Marines with Camp Hansen participated in the 35th annual Okinawa Island-Wide Sumo Tournament during the Kin Town Festival July 26 at the Kin Town Athletic Field.

“Events like this help our relationship (with the local community) because we get to experience each other’s cultures,” said Lance Cpl. Carlos M. Sanchez, a Naples, Florida, native and field artillery fire control man with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the unit deployment program.

Okinawa-style sumo wrestling is different from traditional Japanese sumo which starts off at a distance and involves tackling and pushing, according to Nakama Masaki, a native of Kin Town and competitor in the sumo event.

“This sumo is really different because it is not about pushing your opponent out of bounds,” said 1st Sgt. Richard E. Mauro, an Orlando, Florida, native and battery first sergeant with the battalion. “It’s about getting him on his back.”

Many of the Marines who participated have a history in wrestling, according to Col. Sean M. McBride, the commanding officer of III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF, and camp commander for Camp Hansen. The sumo tournament presented a unique opportunity for them to participate in a little piece of Okinawan culture that very few Americans have experienced.

For some of the Marines, this was their first time participating in an Okinawa sumo competition, according to Masaki. Some of them were able to defeat their first opponent and advance to later rounds.

Competitors were separated into three different categories: lightweight, medium-weight and heavyweight. There was a different champion for each weight class. Four Marines competed in the lightweight class, three in the heavyweight along with one civilian contractor assigned to Camp Hansen who also competed in the heavyweight class.

As the event came to a close and awards were being presented, one Marine stood out from the rest of the participants, according to Kayo Takayuki, an Okinawa City, native and community relations specialist for Camp Hansen. Sanchez was awarded the “kanto-sho,” for his fighting spirit. This was one of three special awards given after the sumo tournament.

Although none of the Marines placed as champion, their attendance greatly supported the relationship of Camp Hansen with the local community, according to McBride, a Butte, Montana, native. By being active with the local community, Marines are able to increase the friendship and mutual trust between Kin Town and Camp Hansen.

“I think it’s important we get to know and get more comfortable with each other in case something happens,” said McBride. “We’re one natural disaster away from a tsunami, earthquake or a similar event and this island is in a vulnerable location. The local community can support us, and we can provide a safe haven within the camp.”

It is further beneficial for Marines to participate in local community events because it is a good way to work together and see that the community members and Marines have a great deal in common, according to Masaki.

“I encourage Marines from across the island to keep an eye out for these festivals,” said McBride. “It’s really important to the local communities. This is my third time attending, and it’s always been a great opportunity because of the great people, culture and food.”

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