Sumo Ring

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”  Psalm 77:19


If you ever watch or attend a sumo tournament, your attention will be naturally drawn to the behemoth wrestlers in the center of the ring. There, the two contestants skillfully grapple with one another until one wrestler loses by either stepping out of the ring or touches the dirt with any body part besides his feet. Often unnoticed in the midst of this exciting activity are assistants hovering attentively off to the side. These are the yobidashi (呼び出し), the handymen employed by the Japan Sumo Association to perform a number of key tasks essential to the success of every sumo event.

Among their many assigned chores, yobidashi play taiko drums outside to attract customers, display banners before the match, attend to the various needs of the wrestlers and judges, hand out prizes and make certain announcements. However, their chief responsibility entails the proper construction of the elevated sumo ring (dohyō) and they must diligently maintain it throughout the tournament. As part of the maintenance routine, the yobidashi frequently sweep the ring to remove all marks so the judges can readily determine if a wrestler has touched the dirt when the outcome of the contest is uncertain.

The term yobidashi means “to call, or to summon,” which can refer to their role of calling out the wrestlers for a match or to their position of being “on call” for various tasks associated with a sumo tournament. The yobidashi, like the wrestlers themselves, operate within a strict hierarchy, often entering their unique occupation as teenagers and steadily working their way up through the ranks. No more than 45 yobidashi are employed at any given time and they are carefully trained in their techniques with the goal of becoming almost invisible on the sideline as they carry out their duties.

Other sports around the world similarly employ an army of workers and tools for a variety of tasks related to sporting events. Consider the instant replay booth, which helps verify a wide range of actions that take place on the field of competition. Like marks left in a recently swept sumo ring, these technological advances provide additional evidence of what actually transpired, even when such actions escape notice of the human eye in real time. In the same way, the works of God and His activity in the affairs of the world around us, often remain unseen to us. This does not mean that God is not proactively engaged in the things that concern us, but rather, we often fail to perceive it. Therefore, we are instructed to “live by faith and not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7); evidence of God’s handiwork is often not readily apparent to us.

Sometimes, the absence of such “marks” can lead us to speculate as to what God may or may not be doing as we seek to faithfully fulfill His purposes here on Earth. But every once in a while, we are provided glimpses of God’s power and grace in our lives like a mark left in the sumo ring before the passing of time sweeps it away. Such “footprints” (Psalm 77:19) serve as reminders of God’s presence and power as we journey by faith in a world full of uncertainties.

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