The road to me becoming a sumo wrestler wasn’t exactly straightforward.
In the 1980s I was actually learning Judo from a former British Champion, Tony Street. It was Tony who then took me to the local wrestling club in Greenwich.
I was taught to wrestle and went on to get my black belt and win a silver medal in the English wrestling championships.
But it all changed in 1992. The UK was invited to send a team to the first ever World Sumo Wrestling championships in Tokyo – and I won the selection.
I found myself in Tokyo, fighting against some of the best sumo wrestlers in the world, with very little instruction and knowledge about the sport (Photo: David Severn)I found myself in Tokyo, fighting against some of the best sumo wrestlers in the world, with very little instruction and knowledge about the sport. I beat an Australian and an Argentinian but lost to the Japanese competitor (and eventual winner) in the quarter finals.
After that I was hooked. I defeated the then world champion to win the Swiss Open in Geneva and I won a bronze medal in the world championships at the home of sumo, the Tokyo Kokugikan.
Sumo wrestlers (Rikishi) need to be strong, have a fighting brain and a good sense of balance, but determination is most important.
In training you may get knocked down 50 times but you must have the desire to train harder and eventually beat those who have beaten you. Size isn’t everything but fighting spirit is.
Size isn’t everything but fighting spirit is (Photo: David Severn)My daily routine begins at seven in the morning. I have a breakfast of six eggs and coffee then play a few games of chess before riding my motorbike to Clifford’s Gym in Long Eaton.
As I get older I find I need a sauna, steam and a good old fashioned soak to recover from the weights.
I have a carvery lunch most days and go for a walk afterwards, usually by a canal or through woods, which I find very calming.
From four onwards I usually coach some youngsters with their parents for free – youngsters love to exercise given the opportunity and I never charge them.
Derby City Council have been good to us and I like to give something back to the community. My gym has ropes they can climb, a climbing wall and those old school gymnastic vaulting horses.
In the evening I let some older people train and from eight I’ll usually wrestle for an hour.
The greatest misconception about the sport is that you have to be huge (Photo: David Severn)The greatest misconception about the sport is that you have to be huge. Sumo does have different weight categories but when I beat the world champion he was 300kg against my 115kg.
In fact, I’d much rather fight a heavier guy as lighter wrestlers are very tenacious.
The best part about being a sumo wrestler, apart from competing, is meeting people. Not only famous people, but everyday people, young and old, who simply love sumo.
I remember walking through Ginza shopping district in Tokyo and there were hundreds of thousands of people milling around. Out of the throng this Japanese fan says, ‘Hi, Steve’ and takes me off to a very expensive bar where Gaijin (foreigners) are not normally welcome.
My strangest sumo experience actually involves Joan Collins (Photo: David Severn)I have met some famous people through sumo, too: my strangest sumo experience actually involves Joan Collins.
I met her on The One Show and I can now say I’ve had Joan Collins give me a hand in putting on my mawashi – the gear that us sumo wrestlers wear during competition.
It was very surreal considering I used to watch her as a child on those big American soaps.
Sumo also really does take you places. I started in Stockwell and I have been to Brazil, Russia, Japan, America, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many other places. It’s a great life.
Any man or woman who wants to take up sumo can come to Derby and I’ll train them for free. All you need is some cycling shorts or a leotard to wear under the mawashi.
Adele Jones, who I coached, even went on to win the silver medal in Japan a few years ago.
Give it a go – you could surprise yourself.
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