Sumo Wrestling is the ugly red-headed stepchild of GURPS grappling skills. It really doesn’t get much love in character design from what I can tell.

So, is that bad? Or is it appropriate to relegate Sumo to the dustbin of skills that should be eliminated, replaced, or otherwise shunned?

Sumo! Huh! What is it good for?

Slams and shoves are strikes, and so were not included in Technical Grappling’s consideration of combat grappling skills. And yet, Sumo Wrestling is the only such skill that adds to that damage. It contributes its training bonus to slam and shove damage using Sumo on the fast progression, like wrestling. So if you’re rockin’ Sumo at DX+7, you get a +4 bonus to Trained ST, and that doubles at ST 20-29, triples at ST 30-39, etc. If you like simple scaling as a multiplier, consult Harsh Realism: Scaling Trained ST on p. 7.

Sumo is the only skill that breaks into two progressions – perhaps another reason, though a new one, not to like it much. But what it’s good for is some pretty core stuff: making and resisting grapples, slams and shoves, breaking free, forcing a posture change, and sweeps. Everything else – such as locks, throws, position changes, and pretty much anything not on the “approved” list, uses the slow progression instead.

Staying Upright

Any time you go to the ground in GURPS, you’re going to be at significant penalties unless you’ve had the foresight to buy off Ground Fighting. That’s a very smart investment of 5 points to cancel offensive penalties and leave the defensive penalties at -1. Or you can spend an extra 2 points to buy Technique Mastery (Ground Fighting) and another single point into Ground Fighting itself, which gives 6 points in the skill, buying off the -3 penalty to defend on the ground completely. So, for 5-7 points, you’re as good on the ground as you are standing up.

That’s a pretty good use of points . . . if you want to go to the ground with your foe.

But in a swirling melee, especially an armed one with many foes, you often do not want to do that. The limited mobility can be a killer – literally.

With Sumo, a lot of the moves you will do once you get your foe down are on the slow progression, and often one or two points of Trained ST lower than the fast one. In reality, that’s probably only 1 CP different, but it will be 2 points different in Contests of Trained ST, so there’s that.

In any case, what can you use Sumo for? Getting someone on the ground while you stay upright.


The most basic is to grapple someone on one attack, and do a takedown (Force Posture Change) on the next attack. This could be done with the always-risky All-Out Attack (Double), as well as Rapid Strike. If you’ve got 25 points to burn, you can pull it with an Extra Attack . . . but you can also buy +6 to skill with those points, and just throw the Rapid Strike by itself and all other stuff with that skill.

The next one is the Sweep, which is done at Sumo Wrestling-3, and just dumps them in one move, with no grapple needed, and the contest can leverage Trained ST or Sumo Wrestling-3 on the offense (or Sweep if you’ve bought it up) on the offense. If you do grapple first, you can spend those CP to get your foe down, and since Sweep doesn’t retain CP, you should do this.

Finally, slams and shoves. If you do more damage than your foe, he has to roll DX or fall down, and he automatically goes down if you do 2x his damage. So this is a nice option with Sumo, since it can inflict actual injury, and might knock him down regardless. A shove will push a foe back one yard for every ST-2, and again, if any knockback is suffered, there’s a DX-type roll (check p. B378 for details) or fall down.

Instant Takedown, Just Add Weapons

Combining Sumo Wrestling and a good weapon skill can be all kinds of fun, especially with the right weapon. A “bearded” axe (or maybe any axe) can probably be considered a Hooking weapon (TG, p. 15) and be used at +2/die CP to perform an armed grapple. Shoving someone out of CC or Reach 1 to your preferred Reach (say, with a Bill or dueling bill), then using hook to grapple and perform a Force Posture Change using the extra CP boost from a rigid melee weapon on top of Sumo Wrestling can just be an exercise in badassery. The question of “how do I prevent someone from closing to Reach C or 1” can be answered with a Sumo Wrestling shove, or you just embrace it, grapple from Reach 1 using Committed (Long), or step in and grapple and takedown . . . or just sweep . . . with your unarmed grappling skill.

Parting Shot

I said this in TG, and I’ll say it again now: if you really want to be a weapon fighter, but want to have a good close combat option while remaining a weapon fighter, Sumo Wrestling should probably be your go-to choice. It’s not well known, but with the right tactics, it should be a devastating combination.

Hmm. I will test this, and make my upcoming Dwarven Loremaster with this ability. +Christian Blouin is using the TG rules in his game(s), so I’ll get the opportunity to see how this plays out, maybe even this Tuesday!

5 thoughts on “Combat Sumo Wrestling

  1. Add to Sumo's benefits that Extra HP Perk. If you were planning a large character anyway and your GM isn't lowing free and/or direct access to Special Exercises Sumo can be an attractive way to get your HP over a breakpoint (like 20 or even 30).

    My Orion Space Horde culture prefers sumo over straight Wrestling for the reasons you outline. In a Military HtH going to the ground impacts your situational awareness as well as mobility. In most military situations what you want to do in response to a Grapple attempt is reject of break it and push the enemy far enough back to shoot him.

    As a technical note it's possible that the appropriate Skill for Greco-Roman Wrestling should be Sumo rather than straight Wrestling. Greco-Roman ahs no ground fighting component. Indeed it ahs a number of rules in common with Sumo about touching the ground.

  2. I was recently linked to this, and re-reading the "Instant Takedown, Just Add Weapons" section, I'll admit I don't actually see what Sumo adds here. MA112 says I can roll against Polearm for a shove, and add the weapon's reach to my "damage." If I'm not rolling against Sumo, I can't claim its damage bonus, can I? Also, I assume the Shove with Weapon is reach C, because you're holding the weapon across the body. If those are both true, I don't think Sumo helps the axe/polearm-armed fighter open space.

    And after space is open, MA's Hook is capable of achieving takedown on its own, and TG's Hook… actually, I'm not clear on whether or not it can (TG38 says you can use techniques that default to ST after Hooking, and Force Posture Change does not), but regardless, I don't see how Sumo factors into it.

    So, it seems likely that I'm missing how Sumo helps here. What am I missing?

    1. If you dump all your points into your weapon skill, then the utility of Sumo will be low. If you eschew a real grappling skill, then yeah, Sumo adds nothing, because you've not trained it.

      But if you do want a grappling skill and you expect to fight with weapons, I'll still maintain that the extra (often per-die) bonus to shoves that you get from Sumo and Trained ST for grapples on the fast progression for a lot of the stand-up stuff is a good compromise.

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