From the Weeklies

What do sumo wrestlers have to go through before you see them triumph in the ring? And the hermaphrodites among us, fighting for their place in the sun. Those are some of the interesting stories in the weeklies.

This week Kvety magazine opens up a whole new world to its readers. Like most Europeans, Czechs know little about sumo wrestling, for the most part only what they see in the ring during international sporting events. Thanks to 27-year-old Jaroslav Poriz, one of the first Europeans to be admitted to Japan's School of Sumo, the weekly has a captivating report of what goes on behind the scenes. Poriz describes the training which future Sumo champions get from an early age--between 5 and 14--as pure torture.

"All family bonds are severed, and the tutors are unquestioned authorities. The sumo training group is your whole world and your tutor is God. If he tells you to jump out of the window, you jump," Poriz says. "Of course you can walk out, but you only walk out once and then you live with the humiliation of having failed for the rest of your life. It is something the European mind finds difficult to comprehend," Poriz says, "which is why there are so few European--or indeed non-Japanese--sumo fighters.

"The training is enough to kill you. The idea is to break you physically and mentally and see if you have the strength to get up and go on. The trainees are up at five for rigorous exercise. But no jogging or weightlifting. Just combat and special exercises. At nine they are joined by their tutors, who have the privilege of sleeping late. A tutor will pick a trainee and beat the living daylights out of him for two hours."

Poriz recalls how sumo champion Konishiki, who is a personal friend, described the agony of training. He would be lying on the floor bleeding, barely conscious after having taken a three-hour beating, and his tutor would start smashing beer bottles on his body. "You have to touch rock bottom in order to test the extent of your strength and harness it," Konishiki told him.

The tutors do not recognize injuries; torn muscles or torn ears make no difference. There are no meals all morning, Poriz says. At midday the trainees help their tutors wash, cook lunch for them and serve it. They themselves are not allowed to wash or eat until after the tutors have left for an afternoon break. The favourite food is chankonabe, a mixture of meat, vegetables, mushrooms, rice and tofu. The tutors, who weigh between 120 and 230 kg, will eat as many as 40 helpings downed by 20 beers. Extra weight is an asset since Sumo is about maintaining your balance and the heavier you are the easier that is.

There is a lot of flexibility training and various moves designed to take your opponent by surprise. One of them is the densha-michi, also known as "the moving train". This moves involves head-butting your opponent to send him reeling out of the ring.

Poriz, who stuck it out and survived, now weighs 120 kg. He says if he had twenty kilos more his stability would be better. However, Poriz is not just a good sumo fighter. Out of the ring, he happens to be deputy editor-in-chief of the Czech financial daily Hospodarske Noviny and his doctor has little sympathy for the idea of him putting on weight to improve his balance. Still, he needn't push himself to the limit, since he has already got several promising successors.

In 1997, Poriz founded the Czech Sumo Association which now has over 200 members. Its brightest star is Pavel Bojar, who came third in the juniors' league at the Sumo World Championship. The Japanese have allegedly made a bid for him which is the highest compliment he could get.

As for Poriz, well, one hates to think of what he's doing to those trainees when he's not at work. As a tutor he could sleep until 9 and get a few of them to wash him and cook lunch - but somehow I doubt the editor-in-chief of Hospodarske Noviny would allow that!

Just one more thing. For some reason sumo really seems to have caught on in this country. There's even a special sumo hotel in the Krkonose mountains, boasting a top-notch sumo training centre, the only one of its kind in Europe. So if you're attracted to the sport--and weigh enough--you know where to go.

Most people would have little trouble explaining what a hermaphrodite is, and some will even know that the word comes from Greek mythology. When the fleet-footed Hermes mated with the goddess Aphrodite the baby was a child that resembled both the mother and father in equal measure, and was duly named Hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodites' body later coalesces with that of a nymph who asks the Gods that she might never be parted from him.

What few people realise is that hermaphrodites live among us and struggle for recognition in society. Every year, one baby born in the Czech Republic is born both male and female. Doctors, who are unable to tell parents what the child's sex is, advise them to give the baby a unisex name.

'Nicola' was born in 1967, to devastated parents. "My father especially was heartbroken and pretended the problem didn't exist," Nicola confides via the Internet. Baby Nicola was born with a womb and falopian tubes as well as the beginnings of a penis. Doctors decided the baby came closer to a girl and suggested that its parents agree to an operation to change its genitals. But Nicola's parents didn't have the courage to make this decision, and asked for more time.

In the next few years Nicola seemed to identify more with the male sex. A visit to the doctor at age six showed that his outer genitals had developed to some extent and an operation might later be possible. He started receiving regular injections of testosterone.

At 14, he was attracted to the opposite sex. But his problems were only just beginning. His body was producing not only plenty of male hormones but enough female hormones to launch the process of becoming a woman. To his utter dismay he started to menstuate and grew breasts. "The day I first passed blood was the blackest day of my life," Nicola confides on his Internet page. Thereafter he stopped fighting his body, refusing to have an operation and getting a job which affords a high degree of privacy and no socialising.

I've come to terms with my body, he told Tyden magazine. In fact I even derive a certain bizarre satisfaction out of being both a man and a woman. As part of this self-acceptance process Nicola even accepted an offer to pose for nude photographs in the States. Part of his thirty-thousand-dollar fee went to buy a fake penis. "It was expensive, but I never gave the money a second thought," Nicola says. "Deep down I haven't given up hoping that one day I'll meet a woman who'll want me the way I am".

And finally, Lidove Noviny magazine has zeroed in on a new trend in Czech show business. Stripping off in order to be seen. It's not just models who are showing off their assets, but the younger and middle-aged generation of actresses, singers and even weather presenters.

Twenty well-known Czech stars and starlets agreed to pose in the nude, or topless, for a book now out on the bookshelves. They got twenty thousand crowns each for strutting their stuff. That's less that two average monthly salaries. Do well-known actresses and singers really need to do this? Obviously, they're not doing it for the money. And given the fact that most of them always leave something to the imagination, it's not exhibitionism either.

The reason they do it, Lidove Noviny says, is to remain in the limelight. Sex sells, and for some singers and actresses being seen and being in demand is what keeps their phones ringing. Lubos Cernohlavek, editor-in-chief of Czech Penthouse, agrees. It's those who are out to make it and those who are struggling to remain at the top who agree to pose nude and even pay to get them published, he told the magazine. For them nudity is a business asset which they sell carefully bit by bit. The ones who made the mistake of revealing all in their first photos are no longer in demand. The smart girls know that.

Writer Barbara Nesvadbova--who appears in the book of nudes--counters "So what? We just did it for the fun of it. I sent half the fee to charity and I would easily have agreed to do it for free."

If that were really the case there would be no problem, the weekly says. Maybe the day is not far off when we'll all celebrate World Nudity Day together. But for the present, few people in film and show business are doing it "just for fun". Stripping is the price for remaining on stage, selling CDs, being talked about, and being seen. Nudity is just a commercial commodity, sold to the right buyer at the right time.