2019 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) Martins Licis has been traveling the globe, discovering unknown strength rituals and events. His latest adventure to Japan encompassed his lift attempt of the chikara ishi — power stones. On Nov. 12, 2023, Licis shared his documentary-style traverse through Japan on his YouTube channel.
These “power stones,” scattered across the country, are a Japanese tradition created to demonstrate brute strength. As machines were implanted more and more to replace human strength, the power stones’ usefulness waned, as did a common need for brawn. Licis’ first full day in Japan consisted of a three-hour drive to the Soja Shrine, where stone lifting competitions for all ages were held. Licis tied the record hold length of 57 seconds with the Yokozuna stone — a 180-kilogram (400-pound) legendary implement. Watch Licis’ feat of strength below:
What Is Chikara Ishi?
Licis called stone lifting a “brand new ancient sport.” The first stone was dedicated to the Soja Shrine in 1847. It is said that sumo wrestlers traveled to the shrine during their national tour and threw the stone into the lake for entertainment. The shrine features 23 stones of varying weight, including the Yokozuna stone and the Ozeki stone. The Yokozuna stone is the heaviest, and competitors attempt to hold it for time.
The Chikara Ishi Soja competition began in 1994 and continues to the modern day. The contest touts an ideology of “growing and staying healthy,” with a strong connection to nature. Licis and his crew lifted the stones in the shrine’s courtyard using ropes. Licis tied the record hold time on the Yokozuna stone.
Martins Licis Visits Multiple Shrines
Licis and company went to the Usuki Hachiman shrine, which features a commemorative statue of the iconic Japanese stone lifter, Unosuke Sannomiya. At the base of the statue are all of the shrine’s chikara ishi. The high priest of the Usuki Hachiman shrine explained that some of the stones were used for circus-like feats, including pressing the stones overhead. The high priest said Japanese people have been lifting heavy objects for centuries, preserving “Japanese culture, history, and way of life.”
Licis strict pressed one of the storied stones while his crew lifted other stones to their shoulders. The professor who has made it his mission to preserve these stones delved into the concept of “rikishi,” which uses Japanese characters that mean “strength” and “man.” Therefore, rikishi was used to describe sumo wrestlers and strongmen as “a man who displays his strength.” Stone lifters had a similar ranking system to sumo wrestlers. In the 1800s, strongmen would come to lift the biggest stones possible, earning their rank.
Sobatsubu & Martins Licis Lift Stones Together
Licis met a Japanese man who was introduced via his handle @Sobatsubu2021. @Sobatsubu2021 was interested in the chikara ishi, saying, “I felt like stone lifting would train my whole body at once. I learned about the history and all the different lifting styles and got even more interested.” @Sobatsubu2021 had been lifting stones for two years at the time he and Licis met. @Sobatsubu2021 and Licis lifted stones together at the final shrine.
At the final shrine, @Sobatsubu2021 and Licis came across an actual Sobatsubu stone, where the Japanese stone lifter acquired his nickname — Mount Sobatsubu is among the Akaishi Mountains. During the stone lifting, Licis came to respect the community of stone lifters, appreciating the culture furthered by the few. As a strength athlete, Licis is proud that everyone he encountered, from priests to professors to construction workers, mobilized to move the chikara ishi legacy forward.
Featured image: @martinslicis on Instagram
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