One of the huge storylines coming out of Haru basho was that Terunofuji is back. We get a bit more of the back story from an article, written by Muto Hisashi and published in Mainichi a couple of days ago. It’s a much longer article than the usual one or two paragraphs, and it’s fascinating. The topic is the “tsukebito” system. Makushita and lower rikishi serve as assistants to those in Juryo and above (sekitori). You often see them carrying the cushions and accompanying top ranked wrestlers as their entourage.
This headline is a quick one: Gaining synergies, “Tsukebito” by Muto Hisashi. The important term here is (付け人). I’ve never had to use the word “synergy” in English but this is what it is in Japanese: (相乗効果).
In the business world, particularly the entertainment industry, the core talents have personal assistants. They’re called “tsukibito.” For some reason, the sumo world has adopted a more positive turn on it and they refer to it as “tsukebito.” They say that there are synergies gained as younger, lower ranked wrestlers gain experience by training with the higher ranked wrestlers.
In the article, Muto highlights the relationship between Terunofuji and one of his tsukebito, Shunba. Usually these assistants are indesputably junior to the sekitori. However, occasionally some wrestlers are so good and progress so swiftly through the ranks that they seek out veteran tsukebito who act more as advisors than as assistants. Shunba fills this role for Terunofuji.
In the interview, Shunba reveals that there were deeper matters troubling Terunofuji. The injuries were serious but he had much more on his mind…the specifics of which he would not reveal. Muto interviewed Shunba in the weeks after Terunofuji’s dismal 4-win Hatsubasho where he went kadoban again. Despite the poor performance, Shunba was very confident that Terunofuji would do well. Apparently, Terunofuji had been keeping things bottled up and he had deep conversations with his tsukebito that seemed to bring about a lot of relief.
So while still hampered a bit by injuries, notably after the Endo bout, he was dominant. Not only did Terunofuji almost win his second yusho…in an awesome, fearsome manner enjoyed by us and many of our readers…Shunba went 6-1 in makuushita, at his highest rank ever. I’m eager to see him climb up the banzuke. I will be following both wrestlers and hope to do a deeper profile of Shunba and these assistant wrestlers in the future.