MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa, Japan -- Though Navy Lt. Peter Dahlstrom had no experience in Okinawan-style sumo wrestling, he was calm and laughing before his bout; that is until his opponent stepped into the ring.
His attitude quickly changed when he found himself standing face-to-face with a 250-pound former high school sumo wrestling champion.
Putting aside his apprehension, he stepped up, grasped the belt of the former champ and waited for his opponent to do the same.
Next, Dahlstrom remembers trying to breathe as all the air was being squeezed out of him as the former champion cinched down and adjusted his grip. Once the two were in place in the middle of the ring, the referee tapped their backs to start the match.
Dahlstrom lasted about six seconds. But considering his reason for competing was to learn more about the Okinawan culture, he felt that he did pretty good and is looking forward to doing it again next year.
Dahlstrom was one of six service members who participated in the Okinawan-style sumo wrestling friendship matches as part of the annual sumo wrestling tournament in Henoko May 26. Since 1972, Marines and sailors from Camp Schwab have been invited each year to watch and participate in the tournament.
Most of the American participants and spectators were not familiar with Okinawan sumo wrestling and were surprised to learn it was different than what they expected.
Most people are familiar with the sumo wrestling practiced in mainland Japan where wrestlers win by forcing the opponent out of the ring or by having them touch the ground with any part of their body other than the soles of their feet. By contrast, Okinawan sumo wrestling involves two wrestlers who try and take their opponent to their back to score a point. To win a match, a wrestler must score two points.
“I was completely thrown off when I learned exactly what Okinawa sumo wrestling was,” said
Cpl. Nathan Stuhr, an engineer equipment operator with Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base. “The Okinawa style is entirely different, and I found it to be a fun, exciting experience.”
The sumo wrestling tournament is one of the many community events that take place in Henoko each year, according to Capt. Erik Smith, deputy camp commander for Camp Schwab. With Schwab being Henoko’s 11th residential district, service members from Schwab are always included events such as these.
“It is always a pleasure to attend the events because of how nice, friendly and welcoming the Henoko people are,” Smith said. “It also helps to foster a great relationship between Okinawans and the service members and it gives the military members a great chance to experience the culture.”
Cpl. Nathan Stuhr, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Calhoun, Lance Cpls. Rubiel Mendoza and Kevin Raith also competed in the competitive portion of the tournament. Stuhr and Calhoun each won their first bout but were not able to pull a win off in the second round.
Mendoza and Raith lost their initial match against tough, experienced opponents.