Hakuho – Onosho Butsukari

Found in the depths of YouTube, some kindly fan shot a rather excellent butsukari session during the jungyo sumo PR tour last week. It appears to show Yokozuna Hakuho in an extended butsukari session with rising star Onosho.

Onosho has turned in back to back 10-5 records in his first two tournaments in Makuuchi, and it’s clear he is a young man driven to succeed. If you have the patience to watch the whole thing, Hakuho is really working him to exhaustion (the point of butsukari). At the end, its awesome to see Onosho rally and really push with renewed vigor.

Note as Onosho reaches exhaustion and wants to give up, Hakuho first taunts him, then gets the crowd to cheer him on.

For those not used to sumo training, this interaction may seem odd or even somewhat like hazing, which it is not. I also note that Hakuho really seeks out the hard-charging young rikishi who are working to make the best of their sumo career, and works them hard.

20 thoughts on “Hakuho – Onosho Butsukari

  1. My late sister would have called this “an anthropological experience”. It’s the sort of thing that, when you watch it the first time, you ask yourself “whet the hell did I just watch?”.

    What it reminded me of is boot camp. “Do that again, private”. “Yes, sir!”. “Not good enough, give me 20”. “Yes, sir!”. But while in the military it makes perfect sense to drill respect for rank into what would usually be rebellious teenagers (or in my case, a bunch of self-absorbed university students), it seems to make little sense in the context of individual sports. I mean, it’s not as if obeying those senior rikishi is going to save the juniors’ asses in money time. In fact, if you learn to fold before a senior when you drill, you may end up yielding bouts to seniors, which means they are learning a habit which they’ll have to kick if they want to get anywhere in their profession.

    Japanese culture is cursed with deference to hierarchy. I think these drills could be more effective if they dropped the whole “know your place, underling” part of the ceremonies.

    Anyway, it seems like each senior has his own style. Kakuryu seems not to like kicking very much. Harumafuji seems to want any part in the “This is my crotch. Respect the crotch” act, and just sends his aite to do the ape walk around the dohyo unaccompanied. But pulling at your aite’s chon-mage seems to be a unique Hakuho innovation. Or perhaps he learned it from Asashoryu.

    • There’s lots in sumo that is about having the younger guys show respect for their seniors, but butsukari really isn’t about that, at least not in the way you allude to. High-ranking guys like Hakuho don’t *have* to spar with the up’n’comers, and when they do it’s their choice as to whom to do it with. Onosho is being honoured by getting chosen for such a session, and the only measure of respect he owes to Hakuho in that situation is to not waste the opportunity he’s given.

      Sure, there’s a bit of a humiliation angle to it here, but by sumo standards that probably rates at most 3 on a 10-point scale (2 if there weren’t 1000+ people watching), and as the rest of Hakuho’s demeanor shows, it was arguably as much about giving the audience a show as anything. Heck, I suspect it wouldn’t even rate more than 5 on a comparable 10-point scale for NPB or any other high-level Japanese sports environment either…

      Asashoryu by contrast wasn’t known for doing the butsukari thing, preferring instead to deal with guys through “practice bouts”, i.e. mostly him tossing them around rather mercilessly. It may not look too different from the outside perspective, but the guys themselves know which approach is about creating a teachable moment and which one was just about intimidation.

      • I’m not saying it’s entirely about humiliation. By the way, boot camp isn’t, either. It’s about changing people’s attitude into something useful and their behavior into something predictable. Though some commanders abuse their power, obviously.

        I’m saying that the hierarchy part is built into the system. I watched several of those butsukari sessions already. And actually, that includes one by Asashoryu. The rules of engagement seem to be the same when the butsukari is in front of a show audience and when you are in your own heya. Push the senior all the way, good for you. If you can’t go all the way, you get thrown to the ground. And then you may get to do the ape walk for a while. Lie on the ground too long, and you get kicked until you get up. Finally, when you’re done, you knock on the senior’s chest, and get thrown down one last time. Now, since it’s the same for everybody, and all the throws and the kicks are not really vicious, I agree that nobody is being singled out and mistreated. Well, generally speaking. I’d like to hear the apologetics for this one at around 04:59.

        The thing is, the whole script is written so as to show who’s boss, rather than to make the exercise as efficient as possible. Kakuryu, by the way, seems to do away with much of the inefficiency – many times he doesn’t throw the guy down, just calls him back to the starting point. And both Hakuho and Kakuryu seem to be lenient about the required crouch-bow at the end of successful pushes (like Harumafuji makes Terunofuji do in this one).

        • That doesn’t look like a bow to me — that’s a squat. It looks a bit like practicing the motion that rikishi sometimes do at the edge of the dohyo to stop their momentum after a successful push-out .

          • I don’t think his head is down like a bow — I’d tip my upper body forward when squatting like that too. Terunofuji’s hands on Harumafuji’s belt or body help to keep T steady during the motion.

          • He makes him do the squat – sometimes without the hands, but mostly with, throughout that session. Take a look at the push after the one you noticed. He succeeds in pushing Harumafuji again after he tells him to complete the move from a lower position. Harumafuji gets outside the tawara, then presses first Terunofuji’s head down (to squat), and his shoulders (to get his hands in fronts of his face). Then proceeds.

        • Thanks for posting that – it is so damn cool to be reminded of a healthy Kakuryu and a healthy Ichinojo. Ah, what could have been!

    • So I will confess to similar training situations in the USMC during my time with very short hair. That’s why (at least to me) I have a totally different reaction to this than my wife does. This video is yet another one of the things that most sumo fans outside of Japan have little or no chance to encounter, and it really gives us a nice insight into both Onosho and Hakuho.
      I am greatly impressed that Hakuho takes this much care to train someone like Onosho, and I am equally impressed that Onosho makes the most of it. I think the comments here echo one of my ideas that Onosho, if he can stay healthy, has a chance at going pretty far in sumo.

      • I read yesterday that Onosho is only the seventh wrestler to win two consecutive double digits upon his Makuuchi debut, and that the other six include names like the first Wakanohana and (the only) Hakuho.

        • Given what IKSumo cooked up for a banzuke, Aki basho is going to be a awesome test for Onosho. I am planning to follow him closely across the basho, so expect Onosho overload on my posts.

          • Onosho at M3e is one of my higher-confidence predictions. The slots above that are full, and there are no remotely comparable candidates below.

          • Very excited we get the official banzuke a week from right about now. I think that Onosho ends up as M3 we are going to see him have some very steep challenges, which will be great.

  2. Nikkan Sports reported that Onosho faced off against Takayasu 7 times in recent training bouts, and won all 7. Even though these were training bouts, you better believe Takayasu did not want to go oh-fer against the young man. To destroy the Ozeki in that fashion is beyond impressive, and I believe we can expect big things from Onosho very, very soon.

    • I wonder if that was before or after Takayasu complained that he’s not getting enough challenge in this tour?

    • Yeah, thanks for reminding us about that – I saw that too. I think it was actually before, and it was the catalyst for that comment. Truth be told (and we spoke about it early and often here on Tachiai), with Kisenosato in dry dock, Takayasu is going to wither a bit. Much of what he was able to achieve was because he had the great Ozeki to train against with very high intensity and persistence.
      It is my opinion that Kisenosato and Takayasu operate as a binary, and with one of them diminished, the other suffers.

      • So looking at the articles’ dates right now, it turns out that Takayasu has been inviting Onosho for serial bouts ever since the tour went through Sendai. So one day it was 10 bouts, the next it was 12 bouts (of which Takayasu won 8), at which point Takayasu made his complaint.

        The 7 consecutive wins were when they got to Aomori, which happens to be Onosho’s home town and he had the crowd behind him.

        I’ll be looking for videos of these san-ban matches, as some articles say he won on the Tachiai, which would be impressive against Takayasu, and some say he won with his favorite pushing-and-thrusting technique, which is certainly not what Takayasu is used to.

        Anyway, the fact is that Takayasu kept calling him, so he probably sees merit in practicing with him rather than tossing bags of rice. But I can see that Takayasu would like to have some mawashi wrestlers as well. As it is, he’s sharpening only half his blade.

  3. I’m not sure I’ll ever really get the hang of this, but it looks like Hakuho showed that he had some regard for Onosho by utterly beating the cr*p out of him. And Onosho gained some respect by persevering despite the aforementioned marmalising?

    2 points, neither of which are of any real interest but here we go:

    Point 1: Onosho has an exteremely good record in Tokyo tournaments: 13 tournaments, 13 kachi-koshi and a 62% winning record.

    Point 2: As Ace Ventura said “Nobody messes with the do!”

    • I have noticed that some rikishi have certain tournaments that seems to boost their performance. For example – Tochiozan, he has been doing well in Nagoya, and kind of “meh” elsewhere. Here’s to hoping that Onosho can come out strong at Aki.


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