Sumo wrestlers and jujitsu masters delighted a crowd of hundreds this past Friday as part of TsunamiXF’s Martial Arts Expo which included dangerous stunts involving beds of nails and flaming hammers.
The event at Earl Warren Showgrounds showcased over 15 bouts in the sumo ring, traditionally called the dohyo, featured jujitsu demos and submission wrestling matches. While the sumo wrestling was the main attraction, other highlights included traditional Taiko drumming and the breaking of wooden and cement blocks. The match also featured ring girls, sponsored by Harley-Davidson of Santa Barbara.
TsunamiXF founder and event promoter Jack Sabat said he was pleased with the tournament’s outcome.
“The event went very well,” Sabat said. “I thought it was super. The jujitsu went a little slow, but the marital arts … went well and got the crowd on their feet. The Taiko drumming got people going early and the sumo really finished it up. That’s what the event was all about. Sumo is a very difficult art that is unknown to many people in our culture and I’m glad so many people came out to share it with us.”
Five world-class sumo wrestlers made the trek out to Santa Barbara for the expo, including current World Sumo Heavyweight Champion Byambajav “Byamba” Ulambayar from Mongolia. Other wrestlers included current and three-time U.S. Sumo Champion Kelly Gneiting and California Sumo Champion Dan Kalbfleisch.
While the event was not an official tournament, the wrestlers seemingly gave it their all to come away with a win. It was Byamba, however, that came away victorious, beating each opponent twice and not losing a single match.
Gneiting said he was very happy with the event and was actively recruiting new members to his sport.
“If you’re over 265 pounds, Sumo is the only wrestling sport out there that you can be involved in,” Gneiting said. “So if you got gut, come on out.”
When asked how he managed to get his body weight up to the 410 pounds he now carries, Gneiting said he exercises vigorously.
“I’m probably one of the only guys over 400 pounds that works out five days a week for 45 minutes each day,” Gneiting said. “But I also eat a lot. In sumo, that’s the combination you need. As for how much I eat, I have been known to eat seven Big Macs in one sitting.”
The traditional Taiko drumming opened the night and was followed by jujitsu matches, where fighters from local groups demonstrated the art of chokes, grappling and submission. After the slower-paced jujitsu, submission wrestling took center stage, which resembled Americanized wrestling.
The event also included martial arts demonstrations, such as sword fighting as well as “the bed of nails.” Sabat laid down on a bed of nails and then had stacks of cinder blocks placed on his chest and thighs. Once the blocks were in place, another individual came out carrying a large flaming hammer and broke the cinder blocks over his chest.
“It’s not easy,” Sabat said. “You have to remove yourself from the conscious plane so you can lay on those nails. It’s almost like you’re not really there. You have to calm your mind so you can stand the pain.”
The event concluded with an opportunity for audience members to take on a Sumo wrestler in the ring. Two men heeded the call, the first of whom was Steven Golis, who said he has trained extensively in the martial arts and was still defeated.
“These guys are exceptionally strong,” Golis said. “I’m a third degree black belt but that doesn’t mean anything against sumo [wrestlers].”
In addition, the four ring girls took the challenge, but were easily rounded up and pushed out of the ring by 350-pound Kalbfleisch.
Dirk Sommers, a 450-pound sumo wrestler hailing from Los Angeles, said he was excited to compete in Santa Barbara.
“I think this has been a great event,” Sommers said. “I just really want to thank Jack Sabat and TsunamiXF for putting all this together so that people can get a chance to see sumo. … [Now] I’m really looking forward to going to Freebirds.”