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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Education comes first at Nakamura stable

The Nakamura Beya stands out among the 55 stables in Japan's indigenous professional sumo world for its personal computers for sumo wrestlers to take correspondence courses on the Internet.

Five PCs are kept at a corner of a large 45-mat room on the second floor of the stable in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward that serves as the quarters for the 13 junior wrestlers, ranging from jonokuchi (lowest division) to makushita (fourth lowest division) on the ranking list.

Stable master Nakamura, 57, is particular about putting his followers in strict training and recruiting only middle-school graduates.

It is rather unusual for an ex-top knotted sumoist to practice what he believes in this day and age when there are not many boys fresh out of middle schools who are willing to become sumo wrestlers.

Powerful yokozuna (grand champion) Asashoryu joined sumo after high school.

Nakamura let all his men in the stable take high school correspondence courses two years ago. His wife Tsugiko, 53, who studied education at a graduate school, helps them out. They sit in front of computer screens to study during their free time in the afternoons.

Usually, the wrestlers, ranging from 16 to 29 in age, study after rigorous workouts that last from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m.

Nakamura, who rose to sumo's fourth highest rank of sekiwake (junior champion) in the elite top division before his retirement, watches practice in the ring and tells them to "push" or "move forward."

Nakamura, whose sumo name was Fujizakura, was known as a "Tokkan Kozo" for his fierce thrusts. He and opponent Kirinji exchanged ferocious thrusts in their match during the 1975 summer tournament and pleased then-Emperor Hirohito, an avid sumo fan.

Hardly built as an active sumoist and lacking in strength, Nakamura worked his way up to become a sekiwake through hard training.

Makushita Ichinotani, 28, who was demoted from the juryo division, the ranking below the top division of makuuchi, said, "Oyakata (the stable master) is very strict both in normal life and practice. At first, I didn't know why (he was tough) but I learned that he wanted us to become strong."

Middle school graduates once accounted for almost all boys coming to the sumo world. Now, foreigners like Asashoryu and university graduates make up two-thirds of the sumo wrestlers in the makuuchi division.

Yet, Nakamura has consistently been looking for middle-school graduates. "It's very interesting to teach sumo to children who are still on their way to full growth."



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