Being a world champion in anything requires immense discipline and training. However, Bum-Erdene Tuvshinjargal, a seventeen-year-old sumo champion from Mongolia, has to hack much more than discipline and training.
Tuvshinjargal’s chosen sport technically does not even allow women in the ring. Rooted in ancient Japanese tradition and dating back over 1,500 years, this branch of wrestling considers women “impure.” The sport is based on the sacred Shinto rituals performed for the gods. Until the 19th century, women weren’t even allowed to watch sumo; it was believed that they would desecrate the Samurai ritual — especially if they touched the dohyō, the ring in which sumo bouts are held.
Women can now watch or practice sumo on an amateur level (and they prove to be some of the most avid fans worldwide), yet they cannot become professionals. Tuvshinjargal, who fell in love with the sport while watching Japanese wrestlers on television as a child, has always wanted it to be something more.
She began practicing sumo in 2015, and since then she has passionately worked toward her goal of excelling in the sport. Tuvshinjargal has already won several international championships, and she has quickly risen up in the amateur league; her coaches believe she has a rare talent for sumo. Despite all of this, Tuvshinjargal cannot expect to become a professional fighter because of her gender. Meanwhile, male sumo wrestlers can make millions a year in the sport.
We followed Tuvshinjargal throughout her daily practice in her hometown of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and talked to her about why the sport’s male-centric traditions won’t stand in the way of her dreams of becoming a professional athlete.
After a day at her university as an international communications student, Tuvshinjargal enters her sumo gym. Her training day begins as the sun sets behind the snow-peaked green hills of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital city. For the next several hours, she’ll work on perfecting her fighting technique, as she has for the past two years.