Okinawan Sumo (Shima)

I wrote about the term tegumi as used by Funakoshi Gichin in 1956. It is the first written use of the term tegumi that I was able to confirm. The next verified source to use the term tegumi is Nagamine Shōshin in his 1986 book, an English translation of which first appeared in 1998.

As regards terminology, the English translation uses the header “Tegumi and Master Grapplers of Okinawa,” whereas the Japanese original clearly says “Okinawa Sumō and Master Grapplers” (Okinawa Sumō to Meijin Rikishi). Therefore, I wonder whether the English translation generally substituted the word sumō of the Japanese text by the term tegumi, or only sometimes, and if so, where exactly. In short, I wonder whether today’s perception of what tegumi was is a modern invention. Also, there are expressions in brackets which I am unsure if they are part of the Japanese original or whether they are additions made to the English translation.

Anyway, there are several instances of Okinawan sumō mentioned already in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Below is a chronological table of both Okinawan and Japanese sumō performed between 1894 and 1912. The data is from Maeshiro et al. (1993). In his data, Maeshiro unmistakenly defined sumai 角力 as a “traditional competitive sport of Okinawa,” while he defines sumō 相撲 as a “traditional competitive sport of Japan.” In short, in this chronological table, sumai 角力 refers to Okinawan wrestling, while sumō 相撲 refers to Japanese wrestling.

While both sumai 角力 and sumō 相撲 are used in Japan, Maeshiro used it here to differentiate between Okinawan sumō and Japanese sumō. I surmise this was indicated already in the original newspaper articles of 1897-1912.

Well, Nagamine used the term sumai 角力 and it seems that this word became corrupted to shima シマ in the Okinawan language, which is the name of Okinawan sumō. Accordingly, the Okinawa Prefectural Sumō Association also uses the characters sumai 角力.

The following list shows the practice of Okinawan sumō and Japanese sumō in chronological order.

1897/05The athletic meet of the Normal School (racing, baseball, sumai (Okinawan sumō), etc.)
1898/06/25The sumai (Okinawan sumō) tournament in Makishi village
1898/09The athletic meet of the Normal school (racing, sword fencing (gekken), baseball, sumai (Okinawan sumō), tug-of-war, etc.)
1899/02/10The Amateur sumai (Okinawan sumō) tournament
1899/11/05, 07, 19Discontinuation of Japanese sumō and sword fencing (gekken) matches at the memorial service for fallen soldiers
1900/04/19Japanese sumō at the Shikina horse-riding ground
1901/02/19, 21The amateur sumai (Okinawan sumō) tournament at Tondō
1901/09/11Sword fencing (gekken) and Japanese sumō as a sideshow during the social gathering of the Land Organization Bureau
1902/05/19Japanese sumō, archery (kyū), and horse racing as sideshows at the Nami-no-ue festival
1902/09/05Sumai (Okinawan sumō) as a sideshow at the Harayama contest
1903/05/19Japanese sumō and horseracing as entertainment at Nami-no-Ue festival
1903/06/01Dragon-boat race, Japanese sumō, and horseracing as entertainment during the opening ceremony of Meiji Bridge
1903/07/03Horseracing, boat regatta, Japanese sumō, etc. as a sideshow at the Harayama contest
1907/10/27Showing off jūdō, kendō, karate, and sumai (Okinawan sumō) as entertainment at the General Youth Meeting of Shimajiri County
1908/05Horseracing, Japanese sumō, tug-of-war of adolescents at the in athletic meet of the Gechi elementary school of Miyako Island
1908/09/06Tennis, sword fencing (gekken), jūdō, and sumai (Okinawan sumō) thriving at the Normal School Alumni Association of Nakagami County
1909/05/18Japanese sumō at the festival sideshow of Nami-no-Ue
1909/08/30The Kinjō Japanese sumō tournament at the Shikina-en horse-racing ground
1909/11/05The dragon-boat race, tug-of-war, and sumai (Okinawan sumō) tournament in Kunigami village
1909/11/05The Japanese sumō tournament inside Shuri castle in celebration of the Emperor’s Birthday (national holiday held from 1868 to 1948)
1910/11/03The Japanese sumō tournament donated to the Nami-no-Ue festival by the Shuri district
1911/01/20, 24First newspaper publication of Kyūshū Japanese Sumō Announcement and Results
1911/05/17Sumai (Okinawan sumō) as a sideshow at the Nami-no-Ue festival
1911/06/04Sumai (Okinawan sumō) at the ceremony of completion of Katsuren town hall
1911/06/05Sumai (Okinawan sumō) at the opening ceremony of the Mawashi Young men’s association
1912/05/28Opening of the Kunigami County Young men’s association (racewalking and Japanese sumō as sideshows)
1912/05/26Japanese sumō at Nami-no-Ue festival

In other words, this raises a question, namely: While Okinawan sumō and Japanese sumō existed side by side already at the turn of the century, there is no mention of tegumi. There might be several reasons for this. For instance, tegumi might have been simply a colloquial term used to describe an innocent form of wrestling done as a play and to have fun by kids, as anywhere in the world, including “rules” preventing unfair tricks such as striking or hair pulling. Funakoshi’s description confirms this.

In any case, Okinawan sumō was a traditional pastime already at the turn of the century. As reported in 1909 in the Ryūkyu Shinpō, the Young Men’s Associations of Shimajiri County intended to promote traditional (!) sports and pastimes such as horse riding (jōba), tug-of-war (tsuna-hiki), dragon boat races (hārī), staff fencing (bō-odori), and also Okinawan sumō. I hope with more information becoming available, a new assessment of the term, development, and transition of tegumi will be possible in the future.

© 2022, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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