When Traditional Wrestling Goes Global: “The Great Sandstorm”
Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, now known as ”Osunaarashi” (Great Sandstorm) arrived in Japan two years ago after winning sumo competitions in his home country of Egypt. During his time training at the home of sumo, Osunaarashi, has been promoted to the”makuuchi” (elite) division. With this promotion, he becomes the first sumo wrestler from either the African continent or the Arab region to earn this honor.
The makuuchi division is made up of 42 wrestlers including two grand champions (yokozuna), both of whom are Mongolians. “I am not so happy, as I feel tense,” Osunaarashi recently stated. “I still have a lot of work to do because wrestlers are strong at the makuuchi level,” said the 6’2″ wrestler who weighs in at 322 lbs.
Excerpts from a recent interview Osunaarashi did with “Daily News Egypt” earlier this month:
How did joining the federation affect you?
The first time I went to the club where they train, I found the players half my size. The coach at the time told me to give it a try on the matt. I was sceptical and told him, “I will kill him [out of sheer size].” The coach insisted. I found myself being thrown around by a guy who is barely 70 kilograms, over and over again; I did not have the athletic culture of the game. I started training and reading online about Sumo, the history, the techniques to enhance my knowledge of the game. Then I started competing as an amateur then as a professional and winning [the heavyweight gold-medal at the national championships] in Egypt in 2008 and abroad [in the world championship tournaments].
Was your moving to Japan planned?
It was my dream to move to Japan. I found out that only seven Japanese Sumo clubs are allowed to have a foreigner each to compete as part of their teams.
After competing internationally, I started meeting international coaches. When I expressed my intention of becoming a professional wrestler in Japan, many mocked me and questioned my ability to do it. Some said, “Why would an Arab, a Muslim want to live in Japan?” Others ridiculed of me, calling me a “terrorist” who would only cause trouble.
How did your parents react to the news that you wanted to move to Japan?
My father told me to pursue what I want, since it’s my life. My mum cried, wondering why I wanted to leave them, but I told her how much I loved the game and saw a future for me [as a professional wrestler].
What does your training schedule look like?
Our day starts early at 6am. We spend half an hour doing stretches and then special exercises to strengthen our lower bodies; then we have matches among ourselves with the same intensity as a competitive match. We can have up to 30 matches a day, and the training usually lasts between six to seven hours daily.
What are the main challenges of living in Japan?
Where I live, the Japanese people cook almost everything using pig meat or grease. [Being a Muslim], I cannot eat this. Also, I have only travelled back to Egypt once since 2011 [because of the competitions].
What will you do when you retire?
I will return home, spend time with my family and hopefully help spread knowledge about Sumo in Egypt.
It’s fantastic to see traditional indigenous sports becoming popular in new corners of the world. We wish the Great Sandstorm lots of success in his new home.
A handful of Osunaarashi’s matches: