Of the many SoCal Connected shows that I’ve worked on, Grappling with Giants is my favorite. It’s a short doc that I produced for KCET about Jim Lowerre, a tech writer from Garden, Grove, Calif. that built an authentic sumo ring (dohyo) in his backyard. Believe me when I say that this is a rare thing since it takes a lot of work to build and maintain a regulation dohyo. Most amateur sumo wrestlers practice on canvas.
I’d met Lowerre at a regional sumo tournament while working on a story for Muscle & Fitness. I was there to interview Trent Sabo, a weightlifter from Oceanside who was working towards becoming a pro sumo wrestler. Sabo’s wrestling club, Oceanside Sumo Kyokai, regularly drove 60 miles north to practice at Lowerre’s “Dohyo of Dreams” which ended up being the perfect setting for the magazine photoshoot. I’ve been wanting to do a separate piece on Lowerre ever since.
A self-described sumo superfan, Lowerre has been trying to promote the sport in America for years. He built his “Dohyo of Dreams” as a destination for sumo clubs and people did indeed come. Wrestlers from all over the state have traveled to compete on Lowerre’s dohyo. The fact that the ring sits in the middle of a wilted and ramshackle suburban backyard doesn’t escape the notice of some skeptical competitors who audibly coo when their bare feet touch the damp sand for the first time.
“It’s the only real dohyo in California,” claims Lowerre, who hand troweled wheelbarrows full of a special sand to create the ring and consecrated it with authentic blessings of dried squid and sake. “Most amateur sumo wrestlers have only practiced on canvas and that is a very different experience.”
Lowerre knows first hand how visceral the experience can be to wrestle on sand. He owns his own mawashi (sumo loincloth) and has been competing in tournaments for years. Unfortunately, back problems have sidelined Lowerre’s wrestling ambitions. He still plans events but has seen participation drop over the years. “I try to put them on but fewer and fewer come every time. But I can still watch them wrestle and I’m happy with that.”
You can see Grappling with Giants here: https://www.pbs.org/video/wheres-nancy-and-the-virus-hunter-moqoom. The segment is in the last six minutes of the episode and is unlisted because it was added at the last minute.