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Hair-stripping fungus threatens future of judo and sumo

Martial artists felled by itchy foot to the head

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Japanese academics have warned that the national sports of sumo and judo are under threat of extinction because of the rapid spread of a fungal infection that is making participants' hair fall out.

The All Japan Judo Federation has commissioned research into the spread of Trichophyton tonsurans, The Times reports, amidst fears that it is sapping the strength of the nation's martial artists.

The fungal infection is similar to athlete's foot, but causes itchy red patches on the neck, face and upper body, and can attack the hair follicles, causing icky flakes and ultimately baldness.

Unsurprisingly, the fungus has spread like wildfire through a sport that centres on close-quarter grappling, throwing and choking, rather than the more theatrical long distance kicking and striking found in other martial arts. A third of adult judo clubs and half of high school teams have been affected, and there are fears that the country's entire judo sector could be wiped out if the fungus is not obliterated first.

Striking even deeper at the Japanese psyche, the fungus is rife amongst sumo wrestlers, with baldness not even an option amongst the top-knotted man mountain practitioners.

This could leave ju-jitsu, judo's somewhat rougher ancestor, as the sole grappling art in Japan, if only because it augments the throwing and grappling of judo with punching, kicking, gouging and the use of weapons, making hair loss the least of its practitioners' worries.

Apparently the infection was first brought to Japan by judoka who were grappling in Europe and the US. The disease apparently originated in Cuba, spreading with the exodus of refugees to the US after the Castro revolution. ®

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