I thought it would be interesting to write a post detailing the most common kimarite, and how to distinguish between ones that look quite similar. There are plenty of glossaries out there, but the brief descriptions don’t make it easy to visualize what’s going on, and they rarely take the time to elaborate on the differences between related techniques.
Then I realized that it was going to be an intimidating text wall, and it was probably best to break it up into a series of posts.
What exactly are kimarite?
When a sumo bout is over, a referee (gyoji) will declare the technique that was used to win. There is an official list of eighty-two of these winning techniques, ranging from the extremely common (such as simply pushing the opponent out of the ring) to the extremely rare (such as Shumokuzori, the bell hammer back body drop, on the official record as having been used exactly once in a basho).
But translating kimarite as “technique” gives the wrong impression. There are many techniques practiced extensively by rikishi and employed in the course of winning a sumo bout that are not kimarite, and there are kimarite that are not practiced and are not an important part of sumo skill – and even some that are not intentionally used to win a bout. Skill at sumo is far more than an extensive list of kimarite, and while a profile of a rikishi will sometimes mention how many different kimarite they have performed, this should not necessarily be taken as an indication of expertise. Similarly, commentators like to make a big thing out of rare kimarite, and it certainly is cool to see something unusual – but don’t read too much into it.
There are two main ways to lose a sumo bout: Touch the ground outside the tawara, or touch the ground with a part of the body other than the sole of the foot. For many rikishi, forcing the opponent out of the dohyo is Plan A, and these are some of the most common kimarite on record.
Tsukidashi: Forcing the opponent out with palm thrusts (tsuppari), without maintaining contact. Despite the prevalence of tsuppari in yotsu-zumo, this kimarite isn’t as frequent as you might think. Usually, the tsuppari barrage is enough to drive the opponent back to the edge, but because the tawara are a raised ridge to brace against, it’s difficult to push them over that way (unless they are already retreating, or you have a serious size/strength advantage, or they try to sidestep and mess it up). It’s approximately the tenth most common kimarite overall, and in my experience, is often indicative of a fairly one-sided match.
Oshidashi: Forcing the opponent out while maintaining contact, but not holding the mawashi. There is overlap between Oshidashi and Tsukidashi. In an ‘ideal’ Oshidashi, the victorious rikishi stays in contact, and does not fully extend their arms to push the opponent out. But what about occasions when the winner keeps bent arms but does not maintain contact, or when contact is maintained but the arms are mostly straight? From reviewing past bouts, the most important aspect of Tsukidashi seems to be the alternating left-right pushes, while a double-handed push – even fully extending the arms and not maintaining contact – is usually ruled as Oshidashi. For this reason, Oshidashi is much more common: The tsuppari barrage gets the opponent to the tawara, but it takes a double-handed shove to get them over.
Yorikiri:I have to admit to something – I was wrong about the definition of this kimarite previously. I was under the impression that it required forcing the opponent out while holding the mawashi, on one or both sides – but there are examples of bouts won by yorikiri where the victorious rikishi did NOT appear to have any kind of a mawashi grip. I am not, in fact, completely certain where Yorikiri ends and other techniques begin. It seems that if there is a mawashi grip, it’s Yorikiri, but if there isn’t, it might be Yorikiri if the two rikishi are chest-to-chest and the winner is essentially using their whole body to conduct the force-out.
Yorikiri is by far the most common kimarite on record, occurring approximately twice as often as the second most common, Oshidashi, and nearly ten times as often as Tsukidashi. In fact, Yorikiri and the similar technique Yoritaoshi were the kimarite of record in over a third of recorded bouts (although you should note that these are the all-time records, and in recent years, Yorikiri and Oshidashi are approximately equally common).
This is a situation where the translation of kimarite as “technique” is misleading. Just as yotsu-zumo is a field with a great variety of different styles and techniques within it, there are many styles of Yorikiri. Kotoshogiku’s is one of the more recognisable, putting that belly to good use. Terunofuji’s is more of a lift-and-carry.
Kimedashi: Forcing the opponent out while holding and immobilizing the arms. Substantially less common than the above kimarite, and not considered a basic technique, this sometimes shows up as the counter to a moro-zashi (an inside grip with both hands on the back of the opponent’s mawashi). The idea is to wrap your arms around the outside of the opponent’s arms from above, clasp your hands together, and lift and pull in tightly, applying pressure to the elbows, locking their arms straight and minimizing their ability to apply leverage effectively. You can then use this double-armbar to walk them backwards out of the dohyo. You can see it perfectly here. It doesn’t always involve that double-overarm grip, though: In this bout, Komanokuni (not Komanoumi; the video title is wrong) pushes Sotairyu out with one arm lock and a throat push (nodawa), and the kimarite was ruled as Kimedashi.
If the opponent falls due to one of these techniques, striking the ground with a part of the body other than the foot, the kimarite name changes, becoming Tsukitaoshi, Oshitaoshi, Yoritaoshi, or Kimetaoshi. Generally, one doesn’t try to perform these kimarite – they’re often the result of the opponent slipping or catching a heel on the tawara while being driven backwards, or resisting until the last possible moment until they can’t step out without falling. Very heroic, but not necessarily good for one’s health.
As an aside, the rules for these seem to be a little confusing. It appears that Yoritaoshi specifically refers to falling out of the dohyo while being held by the mawashi (falling inside the dohyo in this way is Abisetaoshi), but it’s easy to find examples of Oshitaoshi and Kimetaoshi that take place comfortably inside the ring.
Tsuridashi: Picking the opponent up by the mawashi and lifting him out of the dohyo entirely. Not considered a basic technique, and only really seen in the Makuuchi and Juryo divisions thanks to the strength required. Here we have an ample demonstration of why a moro-zashi grip is so strong – it gives you leverage that you can use to lift a much heavier rikishi (if you’re really strong, you can do this without the moro-zashi grip, like Chiyootori does to the colossal Gagamaru here). The defining feature of Tsuridashi is that the opponent is lifted entirely off the ground, and then lands with one or both feet outside the tawara. Terunofuji and Mitakeumi have been trading these on the Jungyo recently.
Okuridashi: Pushing the opponent out from behind. The trick is getting there! There are several other techniques with the “Okuri” prefix, and they’re all moves performed from behind the other rikishi. Once this happens, the match will usually be over quite quickly. Although there are exceptions, and sometimes a rikishi will even be able to drive out an opponent behind them by aggressively walking backwards (Ushiromotare, an essential inclusion in any basho drinking game).
That’s all I have time for in this initial post. There will be more later, covering other types of kimarite, to hopefully make the gyoji decisions a little less opaque, and to make it easier for you to search for videos of the most exciting victories. Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions in the comments, or correct me if I got something wrong. I am bound to have got at least one thing wrong.