Scenes From Sumo Practice

In this mesmerizing series, photographer Daniel Ali aims to combat Western stereotypes about sumo wrestlers.

When most people imagine their dream honeymoon, it probably doesn't involve spending a week with teenage sumo wrestlers at a remote high school in Japan. Yet that's exactly what London-based photographer Daniel Ali wanted to do. Ali was curious for an inside look at the culture surrounding the traditional Japanese sport—a competitive form of full-contact wrestling that originated centuries ago as a ritual of Japan's Shinto religion.

While traveling in Japan for his honeymoon in the spring of 2014, Ali visited the Kaiyo High School in the coastal town of Nou, where students have the opportunity to practice sumo in addition to their academic studies. Interested in confronting Western stereotypes about the sport, Ali spent a week documenting the sumo students' intense training.

At Kaiyo, boys typically start sumo training at age 12 or 13, and their schedule is rigorous: they spend the morning training, and focus on academics after lunch. "It's part of their daily routine," Ali explains. "For children their age, they're so serious and dedicated. It wasn't until I went to eat dinner with them at night that you'd see they're just regular kids, joking around."

Ali says he was most struck by the sense of serenity that pervaded the practice. "Even though it's an aggressive, full-contact sport, it's really quite calming and soothing to be around. It's a really respectful atmosphere," he says. The training room has a clay floor, and a damp, cool feel. "Everyone bows as they go in and pays respects. As soon as the session begins, there's a sense of calmness. There's an air of spirituality that was nice to be a part of," Ali says. "Even the colors and tones—everything was neutral and soft, gentle and relaxed. That's what I wanted to capture."

Here, Daniel Ali shares an intimate look at the sumo wrestling rituals at Kaiyo High School.

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"The students arrive around 7:30 in the morning, and they shower and tie their loincloths. They also take care of the studio where they wrestle. Throughout the practice, they'll be sweeping, both to remove debris, and to spread sand from the local beaches evenly across the clay floor, which allows for movement and grip."

"This is on their first day of practice. One of the coaches has just written up who they'll be having their first bouts against."

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Yasutoki Kayo, 14.

"They use these wooden logs to practice their pushing technique. It allows them to practice by themselves, and it also helps toughen up their hands and strengthen their arms and their stance."

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"This is the ring after they've prepared it for the start of the session. In the top right you can see a wooden structure, which is a shrine, and there are tributes hanging by the window."

Ohashī Ren, 15.

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Here, they're free training, which is an opportunity to stretch out, or use rocks, weights, or tension springs to do different weight training exercises. They bring up rocks from the beach to use as weights."

"They've all got bikes. They all live by the beach, and the school is on top of a big hill. In the morning they'll walk up, pushing their bikes, and at the end of their sessions they all sit on their bikes and ride them back down."

For more of Daniel Ali's photography, visit danielali.co.uk.


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