New generation of sumo wrestlers fights to revive a tradition in Hawaii

New generation of sumo wrestlers fights to revive a longtime tradition in Hawaii
Updated: Mar. 5, 2018 at 9:58 AM HST
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By Kainoa Carlson

(HONOLULU, Hawaii) HawaiiNewsNow - Throughout the 90s, Hawaii sumo wrestlers rose to prominence in Japan, two of them captured the coveted title of Yokozuna.

It is the highest honor a sumo wrestler can receive.

Although it has been many years since Hawaii's last champion, a new stable of sumo wrestlers are getting ready to continue Hawaii's great sumo tradition.

Kena Heffernan, a national champion sumo wrestler, is at the forefront of the resurgence of sumo in Hawaii. He is the vice president of the Federation of Sumo, and alongside his father, Roger, hosts free Sumo classes every Sunday at 11:00 at the UFC gym in Honolulu.

With over 30 years of sumo experience, Heffernan has a deep understanding of the sumo legends to come from Hawaii and is hoping to train the next great.

"Whether your talking Akebono, whether your talking about Musashimaru, whether your talking about Ozeki Konishiki. I mean these guys were the pioneers for us, can we get back there? Who knows," said Heffernan.

The classes range from ages 5 to 15, and adults are also welcome to attend.

Heffernan has been holding the classes for the past two years and has seen the interest grow tremendously.

Next year for the first time ever, the World and Junior World Championships for Sumo will be held in Hawaii.

Heffernan hasn't yet secured a venue and date for the tournament but is expecting a massive outpouring of sumo competition.

"Its going to be a big event. Were talking anywhere from 60 countries up to 107 countries coming to Hawaii to compete," said Heffernan.

Athletes from many different sports have come out to take part in Heffernan's free sumo classes. Thirteen-year-old Akamu Moeava has been doing sumo for two years.

Moeava believes that many of the lessons he has learned in sumo have translated to football and life.

"It's really good, it's been helpful for football and through life, it teaches you discipline, hard work," said Moeava.

The classes are not just meant for boys either. Heffernan's classes feature a handful of young girls eager to learn the sport.

Eight-year-old Kulia Heffernan has been doing sumo for one year and she has already learned lessons about discipline and culture.

"Sumo showed me self-protection, balance, and it helps me keep my strength and speed up," said Heffernan.

Students of the free classes don't only learn the art of sumo but also the culture that surrounds it. They continue to learn the techniques and strategies of the present while holding true to the values and foundation built from the legends of the past.

The next generation of great Hawaii sumo wrestlers has arrived.

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