In a dusty alleyway in the Senegalese city of Thies, wrestler Shogo Uozumi is face-down in the sand after being tossed in the air by an oversized opponent.
Uozumi then rose to his feet, dusted himself off and rejoined the surrounding group of wrestlers wearing loincloths.
Back in a fighting stance, Uozumi smiled. After competing at the national level in Greco-Roman wrestling in Japan, he swapped Tokyo for Thies last year to master a Senegalese wrestling style known as laamb and to share his knowledge of the Olympic form of the sport with local talent.
“Every time I train, I feel myself getting stronger,”
“I feel a lot of joy and growth within me.”He said, catching his breath.
With roots in ancestral war rituals, laamb has evolved from a post-harvest pastime into Senegal’s national sport. It blends physical combat and acrobatics, with victory marked by an opponent’s back touching the ground.
Uozumi discovered the style of wrestling during a trip to Senegal with Japan’s aid agency in 2017 and was intrigued by cultural similarities between the two nations, including hospitality, known as teranga in Senegal and omotenashi in Japan.
Since relocating to Senegal in 2022, Uozumi has lived with a community of wrestlers in Thies, Senegal’s third-largest city. He has also set up an academy with three dozen students he is helping prepare for the 2026 Youth Olympics.
“He showed me what it means to commit oneself, to leave one’s country without being well-paid, knowing that he would only have enough to live on, to develop our sport,”
“I would help him whatever it cost me.”Said Cheikh Badiane, a laamb wrestler and one of Uozumi’s closest friends.
At an Olympic-style national competition last month in Saint-Louis, Senegal’s colonial capital, hundreds jostled for views as Uozumi and Badiane coached their wrestlers from the sidelines.
One of their students went home with the silver medal in her weight class.
“Senegalese people live together, with their families, their friends, and they all support each other in this way,”
“That’s my kind of culture.”Uozumi said after returning to Thies from the competition.