If you ever needed an example of a “dead” opponent, you’ll find it in today’s bout between Ishihara and Hattorizakura. As a refresher, Hattorizakura’s career is the epitome of futility. Aki was his eighth straight winless tournament. His bouts are more sumo out-takes than sumo highlights. Today was no exception but is likely the most clear cut example of how the technical “rules” of sumo are overturned to favor the dominant party rather than the one who merely was last to touch the ground. And it’s in this bout where I think we see the reason for no mono-ii in the later Goeido bout.
On paper, Hattorizakura comes into almost every bout as an instant underdog. His 70kg of mass was doubled by Ishihara’s 140
, so his supposed arm-wrestling prowess aside, he was not going to be much of a match. As a small guy, he never seems to even attempt to demonstrate Harumafuji’s will to win, Ura’s flexibility, Ishiura’s trickery, or the agility of Urutora.
Today, Ishihara wanted to take no chances so he simply secured morozashi, two handed belt grip, lifted the string bean, and walked him over the straw bales. However, Ishihara forgot to keep himself in bounds. He actually stepped over the bales first before gently setting his prone opponent down. No mono-ii needed, karmic justice is served, and the true winner of this bout walked away with a white star. No one enjoys seeing someone win “on a technicality”.
Culturally, we like to cheer for the underdog – if he puts up a good fight. In Hattorizakura’s case, though, he seldom seems to put up a serious fight. The most egregious example was this bout against a befuddled Kinjo on Day 3 of September 2016. In two of four “matta,” he basically rolls over and then falls backwards to avoid battle to the stunned laughter of the audience. This brought quite a bit of controversy and the heya was officially admonished. The oyakata received a keikoku from the sumo association.
The author of this “Post Seven” article openly wonders whether Hattorizakura’s continued presence in the sport is only so the oyakata can pick up a subsidy by having a certain number of wrestlers. After this mini-scandal, Hattorizakura changed his name and professed to turning over a new leaf where he would do his best.
His Twitter account, aside from displaying a clear affinity for AKB48 idols, mentions a goal he has set of achieving 1000 wins. He’s 19…so maybe? The youngster has no education past middle school. He supposedly came in second in an arm wrestling tournament and espoused a sincere interest in sumo and joining a heya. He may be clearly motivated and just absolutely shit scared of getting his face bashed in by a burly dude like Kinjo. I don’t blame him but his ineffectiveness is not endearing, it’s alarming.
This is where I need to learn more about what the lifestyle of a sumo wrestler offers a young kid. Rather than holding down a few part-time jobs and living with his parents, he is allowed to work and live full time at the heya, keeping himself out of trouble? So maybe sumo really is his best work/lifestyle option? But I wonder whether rather than riskishi, maybe yobidashi or gyoji apprentice would be possible? Is there an equivalent role for a team “manager”? Not in the sense of a baseball head coach but as an assistant who basically manages the equipment and small tasks that need to get done?
Special thanks to Asashosakari to give some more of the back story, and the clarification on the arm-wrestling. I was a bit surprised at that so it makes more sense now.
The arm wrestling stuff in the Shukan Post article is about Kinjo, not Hattorizakura.
What’s going on here is that Shikihide-oyakata (ex-Kitazakura) has proclaimed that his heya shall be a place where absolutely anyone can join as long as they genuinely love doing sumo, and in return they’ll be getting a place that’s (supposedly) free of the bullying and hazing and borderline criminal training methods that plague so many other corners of the sumo world. Basically, he’s willing to run a stable of outcasts where self-actualization is the goal but objectively measurable success is optional.
Shikihide’s approach is worthy of praise and appreciated. The situation with Hattorizakura is tricky because it is in no one’s interest to see him humiliated. No bullying in the heya…but allowing him to be a public spectacle is not a solution, either. Wearing him down so he loses interest is not a good approach, either. Perhaps this is why for the past few tournaments he was not fighting on Day 1? No one wants to see him injured, so maybe there’s some pre-match discussion about how they’ll just pick him up and lift him out. No harm, no foul — but that’s yaocho. So I doubt that pre-match discussion happens. Instead, Hattorizakura will continue to be utterly overmatched in many bouts. He will have few opportunities to win but I look forward to when he does.