Sumo Wrestling in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Sumo Wrestling in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This article appears in Volume 26: The Nostalgia Issue

does a landlocked country with a population of three million
manage to hold its own against gargantuan neighbours like Russia,
and Japan? This is
the question that the photographer Catherine Hyland sets out to
explore in her project on Mongolian sumo wrestlers, a sport that
has been an astonishing success story for the country. Between 2003
and 2014 Mongolia has produced successive sumo champions (or
yokozuna in Japanese) and in the process made sumo wrestling into a
path to fame, riches and glory for many young boys in Mongolia, a
tough yet climatically fragile land.

The roots of
relationship with sumo wrestling lie in its history.
The traditional practice of bökh wrestling is viewed as the most
important of Mongolia’s “Three Manly Skills”, ahead of horse riding
and archery, and can be seen in cave paintings dating back to the
Neolithic era – Genghis Khan also used the practice to keep his
armies ready for battle. Mongolian wrestling remains the most
popular national sport in the country.

When it comes to sumo Davaagiin Batbayar, a sumo champion who
has returned to Mongolia to pursue a career in business and
politics, believes that traditional Mongolian nomadic lifestyles
have contributed to the success of the country’s wrestlers. “While
Japanese kids can just go and open the fridge to get what they
want,” he explains, “Mongolian kids have to go and get ice from the
river, boil it into water, chop firewood and coal and ride their
horse to herd their livestock. Because kids wrestle naked in
Mongolia they are usually adapted to wrestling in cold and hot
weather, which also gives them an advantage.”

@cathyland1 |

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