Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sentoryu from Sen-to-Ru-I-Su Our Town's Henry Miller Is a Really Big Man as Sumo Wrestler in Japan

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sentoryu from Sen-to-Ru-I-Su Our Town's Henry Miller Is a Really Big Man as Sumo Wrestler in Japan

Article excerpt

IN THE BLINK of an eye, a 310-pound sumo wrestler changes himself into a casual St. Louisan.

He slips out of his straw sandals and unravels the big sash neatly holding his cloth robe together to reveal the informal attire of shorts and a tank top. Then he kicks back, relaxes and travels unnoticed - except that his size is hard not to notice.

That scene unfolded recently on a Tokyo-to-St. Louis flight as sumo wrestler Sentoryu was transformed back into hometowner Henry Armstrong Miller. It's not that the only American sumo wrestler from outside Hawaii doesn't like adhering to the strict public dress codes and countless other traditions of Japan's national sport. He just also enjoys a rare chance to let his hair down - literally, from its flipped-up, top-knotted chonmage hairdo to one closer to what he wore here. When Miller traveled in his sumo outfit on a trip to St. Louis four years ago, he was stopped at the immigration counter and told to get in the line with the foreigners. "I said, `Hey, I'm an American,' " he recalls with a chuckle. "But they said, `You don't look like an American. Let's see your passport.' I was really mad." Miller was born at Yokota Air Force Base outside Tokyo on July 16, 1969, to James and Toshiko Miller. His father is African-American, his mother is Japanese. July 16 was blast-off day for the Apollo 11 space flight that resulted in Neil Armstrong's historic walk on the moon four days later. James Miller, in honor of the lunar landing, gave his son the middle name Armstrong. Henry was 6 years old when the family moved to St. Louis, where his father got a job with McDonnell Douglas (he's now a senior operator of text-editing equipment). Henry did the rest of his growing up in Ferguson and attended McCluer High School. As a junior fullback-linebacker for the Comets in 1985, he was named to the Suburban North all-conference team and drew interest from recruiters at the University of Missouri and Iowa State. In the 1985-86 wrestling season, Miller qualified for the Class 4A state final at 167 pounds before a knee injury forced him to drop out. By the time Miller graduated in 1987, his dream of a college football scholarship had vanished. He suffered a knee injury early in the '86 football season and underwent surgery. A metal staple was inserted in his left knee. He held a variety of odd jobs and worked on bodybuilding before Seichiro Mitake, an old friend of the Miller family in Japan, came through St. Louis on business and was impressed by Henry's size and athleticism. Mitake, who is now 90, is an avid fan of sumo; more importantly, he's a member of the Tomozuna Beya supporters group. He offered to introduce Miller to sumo. In May 1988, Miller arrived in Tokyo unable to speak Japanese and with no familiarity with sumo. By then, he was a 205-pounder. Mitake gave Miller his sumo name, Sentoryu - three characters meaning "fighting dragon." The string of characters comes as close as possible to sounding like the Japanese pronunciation of the Gateway City's name, " Sen-to-ru-i-su." After a grueling 6 1/2 years of training and moving up through the countless layers of the sumo ranks, Sentoryu achieved his crowning moment in November 1994. He became only the 10th foreigner in Japanese sumo history to rise to the level of sekitori, a full professional rank. He remained in juryo, the lower part of sumo's upper division, for two tournaments, but fell back because of injuries. Sentoryu has struggled with a series of injuries over the last two years, which have prevented him from returning to the juryo level. …

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