Sumo wrestler shines at Asian Festival

A medley of cultures worked together to form an entertaining and knowledgeable event during this year’s Asian Festival at UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures.

The annual festival, which occurs during the week of the Chinese New Year, brings music and dance performances, food and arts and crafts from countries such as China, Japan, India, Korea and others.

In one day, a sightseer could meet a Kayan woman wearing stacks of golden coils wrapped around her seemingly elongated neck or accessorize themselves with a detailed but painless Indian henna tattoo. Different foods from around the world are seen along the row of food booths serving eatables like Pakistani Baklava with cream cheese, kabobs from Thailand, Chinese chicken and fried rice and other Asian-inspired finger foods. The more exciting and interactive displays took place on the outdoor stages. Martial arts performers showed their skills in battle scenes like those seen in Kung Fu action movies.

Sensei or instructor, Tom Zabel, teaches his students about Japanese tradition through Sumo wrestling. Zabel is president of the United States Sumo Federation and Lone Star Sumo, a non-profit corporation where he offers sumo instruction and training. Students that feel comfortable with their skills have the opportunity to compete with other wrestlers in the United States and even internationally.

Zabel found his interest in sumo while living in Japan, on a United States air base in the 80’s. He heard about the sport from another soldier and began to follow the famous high-ranking wrestler, Chiyonofuji. Later Zabel moved to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, where he got the chance try sumo himself and eventually join an American team that trained off base in the city. After the first season he had to return to the United States, but came back to Japan in 1994 to wrestle on the sumo team for 5 more years.

Zabel received sumo training first hand in the most authentic of forms. He learned about the history of sumo wrestling and how it has changed. Sumo is definitely not just a physical sport. Japanese sumo embraces traditions from the Shinto religion and is consisted of highly regimented rules. Athletes eat heavy meals that promote size growth like thick beef stew loaded with carbs and protein. Many wrestlers are even persuaded to take naps after eating so that the ingested food is stored to increase their size. Japanese culture and traditions are preserved through the art of sumo within the wrestlers’ daily routine, dress and rituals.

Sumo wrestlers of a particular size have an advantage, but to be successful you have to have more. Competitors must be strong, conditioned and have a stable center of balance. They endure long practices where they are constantly in an athletic position, low to the ground and powerful. The wrestler must be quick on his feet to avoid falling when the opponent begins to push back. During his performance at the Asian Festival, Zabel showed volunteers sumo techniques and let them practice in the Dohyo, or ring.

Lone Star Sumo accepts anyone who wants to try sumo at any level of interest. Zabel urges everyone to come check out his class on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. They have a need for more wrestlers, and Zabel urges men and women of all ages and sizes to try it. The practice of sumo has many benefits. A mixed martial arts fighter can find sumo techniques beneficial to have in his attack arsenal. Athletes who specialize in other sports can also use sumo training in their own field. Zabel urges off-season football players, especially linemen, to come and learn the low-to-the-ground powerful lifting and pushing techniques that would surly be useful in a football game. Training is also perfect for someone who is interested in other cultures and looking for a new exciting way to stay in shape. To find out more about Lone Star Sumo, Tom Zabel can be reached at [email protected] or (210)-478-2267.