Sumo in Japan traces back to 700 A.D., but Czech sumo dates back only to 1997, explains Poriz, with wrestlers practicing in city parks until the Strahov training center was built. Since then, the Czechs have opened 10 clubs all over the country, from Prague to Moravia and northern Bohemia. Czech wrestlers place each year in amateur world tournaments. In 1998, Poriz took a Czech team to Japan and practiced at a professional sumo stable for a month, the first foreign team in 5,000 years to be allowed such privilege. One of his students currently works in Japan as an apprentice, and recently has turned professional. A Czech tournament center and hotel in Jilemnice, a small mountain town near Poland, is the only one of its kind in Europe.
Despite all these accomplishments, the idea of a Czech sumo juggernaut has somehow escaped most of the Czech population. Before meeting up with Poriz, I spent a week in Prague and asked locals if they had heard of this sport sweeping their nation. Some laughed out loud at the idea. Others were astonished something would even exist. "It sounds interesting," one woman told me, "but it's not something I'd be interested in."
Poriz returns to our breakfast table with two fresh beers, and I venture a theory that Czechs gravitate to sumo because a majority of men might be overweight? No, he says, most Czechs are small in size. Are the Czechs naturally aggressive? Poriz roars with laughter. "Czech people are timid. The Czech character is like, we always yield. We're unlike the Poles. The Poles always fought every invasion. The Czechs never fought anything. They gave up."