Sixty-nine-year-old Douglas Arruda, left, spars with a sumo wrestler from Japan at Waiakea Recreation Center
Twenty-four years after he retired from sumo wrestling, Douglas Arruda was back in the ring Sunday with some of Japan’s finest.
The 69-year-old Keaau resident put on his mawashi and stood in Hilo’s last sumo ring, or dohyo, where he sparred with a man much younger, and perhaps a bit larger, than himself.
But, as he learned early, size doesn’t always matter, even in sumo wrestling, which he demonstrated by tossing his opponent to the ground. Arruda would admit, though, that the wrestler from Niitaidai University in Tokyo was going a bit easy on him.
“Maybe that big guy I pushed, he was playing with me,” he said.
“He was going easier. He knows I’m old.”
Arruda, who grew up in a family of sumo wrestlers during a time when the sport was much popular in Hawaii, still couldn’t help but smile after wrestling for the first time since 1991. He traveled to Japan several times in the 1970s and ’80s to compete with his brothers and father, who had made a name for themselves in the sport.
“It feels good,” he said with a chuckle.
“I think I can do it (again). But I got to practice.”
Arruda’s sparring partner was one of nine wrestlers from Niitaidai, the reigning champions at the college level, who put on a demonstration at Hilo’s Waiakea Recreation Center before dozens of Big Island residents.
The wrestlers, some large and some small, each showed their athleticism through warm-up routines and short clashes in the ring.
The dohyo was once one of three in Hilo back in the peak of sumo wrestling here a few decades ago.
Arruda said people lost interest over time, possibly due to tournaments being held only once a year, while practicing can be a daily event.
“I’m all for it,” he said, “to bring it back here.”
But that has to start with the kids, Arruda said.
“Now we got to get the children involved,” he said. “Then we can bring the sport back.”
As far as Sunday’s event, the wrestlers appeared to be the biggest hit with the keiki, who, while lacking size, showed plenty of determination in trying to push the athletes across the ring.