John represents Roscommon at World Sumo Championships

Roscommon was well represented at the recent World Sumo Championships in Thailand through the efforts of Castlerea’s John Gunning. Unfortunately, John made an early exit from the championships, being beaten in the first round, but this has not daunted the 34-year-old Roscommon native in any way and he hopes to continue his sumo career for another few years. A native of Cahir, Castlerea, John’s first forays into the amateur club scene resulted in little success. In fact his injuries to date have included broken teeth, broken ribs, sprained fingers, a broken arm and concussion, but that has not put off the Castlerea man and he continued with his preparation, spending two hours a day in the gym, practicing special sumo exercises, eating protein to help build up his strength.  John’s lead-in to the World Sumo Championships was far from ideal. Two years ago he suffered a serious break to his arm and it took eighteen months to heal, which hampered his training efforts for the recent championships. All of this was explained by John in a recent interview with RTÉ radio 1’s Drivetime Sport, which was broadcast on Tuesday last. He pointed out that to get into a proper rhythm, sumo wrestlers need to train every day for at least six months. He also acknowledged that his broken arm was suffered in a bout of sumo wrestling with a 120 kgs 13-year-old two years ago. So, how did a man from Castlerea end up competing in the World Sumo Wrestling Championships in Thailand? John emigrated to Japan seven years ago, after spending time in Italy and the US. He took up a post in Tokyo teaching English as a foreign language. In he spare time he started watching sumo on television and when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to give the sport a go at a local club. He retired from soccer and started his sumo training.  Sumo wrestling is an integral part of Japanese culture and has been a part of the country’s history for 1,500 years. According to John, training methods have changed little in that time and he stated that you can feel the historical nature of the sport as training methods are passed on from trainer to pupil. Indeed, the father of John’s trainer was a professional sumo wrestler in the 1920s and his techniques are passed on through his son to the Castlerea native.  One aspect of sumo wrestling that John enjoys is the fact that the fighting is done only in the ring. Once a fight has finished, opponents demonstrate respect for each other and animosity is not brought outside the ring. On the face of it, sumo is a simple sport, the rules are very simple, but for competitors the sport can be very technical. John likens it to judo, which many Irish people will be familiar with. ‘In judo you have a lot more manoeuvres, in sumo you have to master strength and power along with balance and restraint.’ While John is a major sumo enthusiast, he acknowledged that it can be ‘bloody painful’ at times. One of the first things that new recruits are taught to do is the splits – and then touch your forehead on the floor! If the thought of that isn’t painful enough, just imaging that in your first few attempts, when you can’t manage it, a few kind sumo colleagues will come over, jump on your back and force your head down to the floor. ‘They jump on your back and push you down, that’s the only way you can do it.’ An increasing number of foreigners are taking part in sumo wrestling, meeting mixed reactions from the Japanese. Europeans and Mongolians are particularly prominent and John likened it to the All Ireland hurling final being won by a team from outside Ireland.  In the run-up to the recent world championships, John received many messages of support from his friends in Castlerea. He recently took over as President of Sumo Wrestling Ireland and is now preparing for the World Sumo Wrestling Championships in Estonia, when he hopes that Ireland will be represented by a team, including women. There are also hopes that sumo wrestling will be made an Olympic sport. How long does John intend to keep going at Japan’s favourite sport? ‘I intend to keep going on as long as I can,’ concluded John.