Give me sumo that Christmas spirit

No, I'm not going to write about last-minute shopping or the true meaning of Christmas or any of those other topics upon which columnists traditionally wax eloquent this time of year. Instead, I'm going to talk about another beloved holiday tradition: sumo wrestling.

That's right. While I was out west last week attending my son-in-law's graduation, I also had the opportunity to take in an amateur sumo wrestling tournament held at the junior high gymnasium in Rigby, Idaho, population 2,998.

The card featured a number of the, uh, biggest names in the sport, including 430-pound Kelly Gneiting, the three-time U.S. champion who also happens to be my daughter's mother-in-law's second cousin. I am not making any of this up.

I admit, I didn't know much about sumo wrestling before last weekend, and I would have been perfectly happy to keep it that way. But on a December Saturday night in Rigby, Idaho, when the temperature is 4 degrees, there aren't a whole lot of choices. We could either go see the sumo wrestlers or drive down the street to watch the neighbor's synchronized Christmas light display - which, by the way, we also did, after the match.

No doubt you too may be laboring under a number of misconceptions about the ancient and noble sport of sumo wrestling.

For instance, you may have thought all sumo wrestlers are Japanese. Not so. It's true that Japan is the home of professional sumo, but amateur associations thrive in the U.S. and more than 85 other countries.

You may also have assumed that all sumo wrestlers are big fat guys. Not true. Some of them are little fat guys. OK, I'm kidding - kind of - but the fact is, many of the contestants in the lower weight classes (who knew sumo had lower weight classes?) actually look a lot like out-of-shape former high school jocks, which no doubt is exactly what they are.

And then there's that diaper-thingy they wear, formally known as a "mawashi," which in Japanese means "diaper-thingy." No doubt some of you are uncomfortable with the idea of seeing a real live sumo wrestler, because you're afraid his buttocks will be half exposed. But you would be wrong. His buttocks will be fully exposed.

And finally, you may have always thought the point of sumo wrestling is for contestants to bump each other with their large stomachs. That's not quite accurate. There is clearly some technique involved, some grappling and holding that's not too far removed from what most Americans would recognize as wrestling (although not as rasslin').

The stomach bumping is merely a by-product of the fact that, for many contestants, their abdomens protrude farther than their arms.

So next time you're in Idaho in December, I encourage you to take in a little sumo wrestling. It beats the heck out of last-minute Christmas shopping.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.