“There are NO guarantees in sumo.” A Conversation with John Gunning – Part 2

JohnGunning_Osunaarashi_Terunofuji

We’re pleased to present the next segment of our interview with popular journalist and sumo pundit John Gunning. John is well known to Tachiai readers from his work with The Japan Times, NHK and Inside Sport Japan among others. Click here to read Part 1 of our interview with John and read on for Part 2, below. Part 3 will follow in the lead up to Haru. This conversation took place during this year’s Hatsu basho last month, and has been edited for clarity.

Tachiai: First of all, let’s talk about up and coming rikishi. We do a piece on our site called Ones to Watch, where we pick 20 rikishi before each basho – only from the bottom 4 divisions. Do you get to spend much time exploring that part of the banzuke? Are there people who excite you at that level?

John Gunning: For the work that I do in Japan, I don’t really have to do any of that, that’s more of a personal interest. I go to stables and I still spend a fair bit of time with rikishi. Maybe not as much as I would have 5-10 years ago, but I still visit stables regularly and socialise with a lot of them. That’s more to do with my own personal interest rather than work.

Tachiai: But are there characteristics that you look for in someone who might have the potential to break through?

JG: Generally, guys coming from university are probably going to make it to makuuchi. If they were successful at an amateur level at university, that means they’re already basically sekitori level. So, I tend not to get too hyped about them until they show decent results in the top division.

I feel that if you go through the university and amateur system, there’s a very specific way of doing things which can make it more difficult to succeed in pro sumo where opponents can be less predictable. So, when you’re looking for someone who’s going to be successful, it’s the same things as the Shin Gi Tai: heart, technique, physique. Those are the three things.

You need a certain physical type. Smaller guys can succeed to a degree. But if you’re talking about someone who’s going to be an Ozeki or Yokozuna, they need a certain physicality. The most important thing is the fire, the desire to win. When they lose, how do they react? The guys that hate losing more than anything, where there’s no difference between training and real fights… the guys who give everything, who have that burning desire to win and are willing to literally battle: those are the guys.

The technique can be learned. Technique is probably the least important of the three, even though it excites fans most. For example, when guys like Ura come in, or others who are really skilful – that excites fans, but it’s the thing that can be learned. Heart is the thing that can’t be taught.

Tachiai: Let’s continue on that same path and talk about Ura: have you ever seen a rikishi come back from that type of serious ACL injury, and is there any expectation about when we might see him again in the top division?

JG: I’ve known him since he was an amateur, since he was a kid. I was always surprised that he put on so much weight when he moved up to pro sumo. I can see why he did it, like I said, you need a certain physicality when you’re in the top division. But it didn’t hurt Takanoyama, the Czech guy, to be thin and skinny: he kept that speed. If I were Ura, I probably wouldn’t have put on all that weight. I think it hampered him in the end.

Is he somebody to come back? Yeah, sure, why not? Look at Osunaarashi, who’s fought with basically half an ACL. It was half-torn for a year, and he was still competing every single tournament. You can actually compete without ACLs! Olin Kreutz, the Chicago Bears centre [nb: both the author and subject are Chicago Bears supporters] didn’t have an ACL, and he played in the NFL for a decade! It’s rare, but it’s possible. For Ura’s style of sumo, it’s probably more difficult. But, I don’t see anything that would stop him coming back, and having a reasonable career as a sekitori. But he’s never going to make the top.

Tachiai: Along the lines of knee injuries, one person who’s been the subject of a lot of debate is Terunofuji. His dedication is incredible. The big question is: is there a point at which he should heal up and train back to full fitness, even if it means dropping down a couple divisions? The example of this is someone like Tochinoshin, who dropped down and came all the way back up. Or is Terunofuji on the right path right now by persevering, and going out and giving what he can in every single tournament?

JG: Well he did have surgery, that’s the thing. You see people say all the time, “oh, he should take a year off.” That’s presupposing that he’ll come back and won’t get injured in the first fight, and that everything will be fine and dandy after that. If you do sumo, you’re going to get injured. And it’s especially tough if you’re a rikishi because if you’re him, and you’re an Ozeki, you have a lot of rights. You have a great lifestyle. If you drop down, you’re basically like a kid again, you have to come back into the stable and you lose your salary – a pretty good salary. How can you say to somebody in that position who might even be married with kids, “hey, you should take a year off, and give up your salary and leave your house and your mortgage and move back into the stable with 20 other guys and then come back in a year?” That’s not realistic.

And [that view] also doesn’t understand the thinking of top class athletes. Athletes never think like that. They don’t look at things – whether it’s a rikishi or a football player – in a long term view. There are no guarantees in anything, so, you have to do what you can do now. It’s rare that somebody would just drop out. Look at Kevin White, the wide receiver from the Bears: he’s had season ending injuries for the first three years of his career. He took a year off and got healed up and then got injured immediately again. There are no guarantees in contact sports, and the likelihood is that you will just re-injure it anyway. A career is only 7 to 10 years at the most for most guys, so you’re giving up around a fifth of that on the off chance that everything will be ok? It’s just not realistic.

Tachiai: We have a reader question from Tom, who wants to know – which of the current rikishi do you think could be a Yokozuna by Tokyo 2020?

JG: In the top division now?

Tachiai: Or anywhere. I know you’re a big fan of Mitoryu.

JG: Oh yeah, Mitoryu! I talked about him (on the NHK Grand Sumo Preview before Hatsu). He went through the university system obviously, and the high school system in Japan. Injury permitting, he has the ability.

Murray (Johnson) who works at NHK with me always says, “who’s going to beat Hakuho?” If Hakuho was out of sumo, then everything would be wide open. You could have a new Yokozuna this year, even. As Murray says, when Hakuho is there, who’s going to win at least 13 or 14 (matches), who’s going to take those 2 basho in a row? Your target is probably 14 wins to get the yusho. Maybe you can lose to Hakuho if you face him and still do it. That kind of consistency is hard to see from anyone while Hakuho is still there. But, there’s age and injury, and he has started to miss tournaments. If I had to pick one, then probably Takayasu. Takayasu could win two tournaments. He’s the best placed, obviously he’s an Ozeki, so a couple of good tournaments and he could be Yokozuna.

Further down… I’m high on the two young guys, the 21 year-olds Takakeisho and Onosho. I don’t know if they’re big enough to make Yokozuna, because size is important. But, both of them have something. I could easily imagine both of them making Ozeki. They didn’t have the best start [to Hatsu], but they’re still young. They’re 21 and they’ve both reached san’yaku which is a huge thing.

There are a couple of German guys on the Sumo Forum who have all these tables and stats – a guy called Jürgen (Randomitsuki) developed a prediction of future success. And it’s incredibly accurate. You put in all the factors: age, size, what age they started sumo, how they did in the first couple tournaments, and he can predict very closely the highest rank someone will have. It’s kind of shocking really. If you think about it, it actually follows what’s intuitive to older people who follow sumo. Then you always have the kids like Tochinowaka, people who have everything but are just missing the mental points.

Tachiai: Corey Yanofsky has been in touch with a question, and wants to know what steps Takakeisho should take in his training in order to make Ozeki rank?

JG: I don’t think he needs to do anything particularly differently. One of the things with Takakeisho, Onosho and Mitakeumi is the flexibility in their training. They all do stuff outside of the regular sumo training. For the two young guys (Takakeisho and Onosho) especially, that’s one trait that goes back to what I said about heart. They hate losing with a passion, and will do whatever it takes to improve. And that’s why they’ve had that success. So, I wouldn’t presume to advise Takakeisho on what he needs to do – I think he’s doing plenty of stuff in his training.

From here, it’s just basically experience. These guys are knocking off Yokozuna. It’s about consistency during tournaments, and they’re getting there! They’re young, and they will get it. They’re going to make mistakes, but I think those mistakes will decrease over time, and they’ll continue to rack up the wins. But no, I don’t think he needs to do anything differently.

Check out Inside Sport Japan on Twitter and Instagram, as well as their website. Stay tuned as we dig into more topics in Part 3, which we’ll post here on Tachiai ahead of the Haru basho in Osaka!

Kisenosato – Frozen In Carbonite?

Kisenotato - Carbonite?.jpg

I admit, my Japanese is very poor. But I fear this post on twitter from the NSK reports that Yokozuna Kisenosato has been frozen in carbonite until they can find a way to repair his damaged left pectoral muscle.

Hopefully no one has summoned Boba Fett

 

Haru Story 2 – An Ozeki’s Opportunity

Goeido-Mug

Since Harumafuji’s untimely fall from honor, a gap has opened in the Yokozuna front. No longer able to consistently field grand-champions, both of the current Ozeki can’t help but set their sights on the Emperor’s cup, and a slim chance at promotion to sumo’s highest rank. But for both Goeido and Takayasu, this greatest of sumo’s prizes seem frustratingly out of reach.

First and foremost, the case of Goeido. Famously inconsistent, his Aki 2016 appears to have been an amazing and spectacular fluke, not to be repeated any time soon. Since his blazing 15-0 zensho yusho at that fabled Aki 2016, Goeido has reverted to form, and only achieved double digit wins at the 2017 Aki, when he took his 6th jun-yusho with a 11-4 record. Readers will have noticed that we frequently refer to Goeido in terms of a poorly constructed and malfunctioning piece of technology, rather than one of two men who hold the exalted rank of Ozeki. This comes down to our burning desire to see the Goeido of Aki be the Goeido who steps onto the dohyo every tournament. Until he can capture and summon that wild, unstoppable rikishi at will, he will continue to struggle.

Takayasu, on the other hand, has been confronting injuries since his promotion in May of 2017. At the Aki tournament he tore a major muscle in his thigh, and proceeded to struggle to regain his sumo. Since that injury, his technique on the dohyo has relied far too much on a massive shoulder blast at the tachiai, followed by wild and chaotic (almost frantic) moves across the dohyo. This is a far cry from the sumo that took him to Ozeki: calculated, confident, incredibly strong; with every move deliberate and with terrible purpose. That sumo has the potential to take him to a Yokozuna’s rope, but I fear he lost it, and cannot find it again.

So while it may seem that with a possible no-yokozuna basho on the horizon that the Ozeki are cleared to push for higher rank, both men are far from ready to mount the two consecutive wins needed to be eligible for promotion. But my intuitiuon tells me that we may see a new Yokozuna within the next 12 months, and it’s a 50/50 chance that it may not be either of the current Ozeki.

Haru Story 1 – The Threat of No-Kozuna

tsuna

For the past year, the sumo world has grappled with the specter of a tournament with no Yokozuna able to complete the entire 15 day competition. All three surviving grand-champions each suffer from chronic injuries that they nurse, bandage, brace or ignore to compete. But up until recently, at least one of them could muster enough healthy to oversee an entire 15 day basho. With the retirement of Harumafuji at the end of 2017, the roster of Yokozuna dropped to three, each of which come to Haru with medical issues. If no Yokozuna can compete for all 15 days, will this be the first tournament in years that features Ozeki as the highest rank competing on the final day?

In 2016, Hakuho underwent surgery to repair his big toe. It took months for him to recover enough to credibly compete once more. News during January’s Hatsu basho was that Hakuho had not only re-injured that toe, but the other one as well. He has been training as best as he can manage, but may be questionable for the entire tournament.

Japan’s great hope – Yokozuna Kisenosato, has not sought surgical treatment for his torn left pectoral muscle, and may have very few options to regain strength in his dominant left side. He has been admonished to stay out of competition until he is completely healed, and able to perform at Yokozuna levels again.

Rounding out the list is the eternally injured Kakuryu. He looked almost unbeatable during the first 10 days of Hatsu, until he injured his ankle and struggled to win. While he took surgery to repair damage to that ankle, but an awkard fall on the final day match against Goeido left his hand injured, and now he struggles to generate any grip strength.

While fans may worry about a tournament with no Yokozuna competing, this is in fact all part of the natural evolution of Sumo. We are in a transitional period where may well loved rikishi at all ranks reach the end of their careers, and retire. While we will miss all of the ones who say goodbye this year, it’s evident that at least two strong, eager classes of young men are ready to step up and take the ranks they vacate.

Bruce’s Haru 2018 Banzuke Commentary

Banzuke 2017
Yes, A Banzuke from 2017…

First and up-front, the normal Tachiai banzuke podcast has been delayed due to yours-truly being away on business. We will work to have it ready for your viewing and listening pleasure on Friday.

With the publication of the Haru banzuke, Hakuho has set a new record by appearing for 64 consecutive tournaments as a Yokozuna. The man continues to rack up records, and although age is starting to nip at his heels, he refuses to slow down.

Mitakeumi holds on for a fifth consecutive tournament at the Sekiwake slot. Sadly he has yet to summon the mojo to start an Ozeki campaign, but fans are impressed that he is proving quite resilient at this rank. He is joined by Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin. The big Georgian has been out of the Sekiwake slot since July of 2016, and returns in glorious fashion. Fans are eager to see if he can run his score to double digits once again.

As lksumo posted, his banzuke forecast was once again amazingly good, but what surprised me was just how far down former Ozeki Terunofuji dropped. Now down at Juryo 5 (which he shares with Gagamaru), his fans cringe and wonder if his damaged body can even hold this rank. We all want our kaiju back. Fortunately for Takekaze, his drop was only to Juryo 1, and with a winning record he will be back in the top division by May. The road for Uncle Sumo (Aminishiki) is almost the same, but with his damaged knees, the task is much harder.

Abi and Ryuden seem to be carrying the banner for the “Freshmen” (as I have taken to calling them). Ranked in mid-Maegashira, they are going to have their hands full with a number of veterans who had a terrible tournament in January. If Yoshikaze is over whatever illness plagued him at Hatsu, we are likely to see a lot of great, madcap sumo in the middle tier this time.

Of course I have my eye on the giant at Komusubi 1 East, our favorite boulder, Ichinojo. He was last in the San’yaku at Nagoya 2015, and has not been able to maintain consistant good sumo since. This could be a huge turning point for the Mongolian giant, and everyone is eager to see if he continues his excellent performance from Kyushu and Hatsu. It’s been an even longer drought for Chiyotairyu, who was last Komusubi in September of 2014.

Much further down, Tachiai congratulates Texas sumotori Wakaichiro on his return to Sandanme. After an outstanding performance at Hatsu, the man from Nagasaki finds himself Sandanme 89 East. We can be certain that his coaches at Musashigawa have been tuning him up for his second run at this rank.

A great tournament starts two weeks from today, and Tachiai’s wall-to-wall coverage starts now!

Haru Banzuke Prediction Post-mortem

Well, the official banzuke is out, and while my prediction got a lot of the big picture right, it got many of the details wrong. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly picks, and my commentary on the work of the banzuke committee.

The good

I got the San’yaku ranks exactly right. Tochinoshin joins the upper ranks as the West Sekiwake, Ichinojo as the East Komusubi, and Chiyotairyu as the West Komusubi. Only the last of these was at all uncertain based on the Hatsu results.

I also got the promotions from and demotions to Juryo exactly right. Down go Takekake (Juryo 1w), Aminishiki (J2e), and Terunofuji (J5w, and they’re being very generous to only let him drop that far). Up come Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and Aoiyama; all three have previously spent time in Makuuchi.

The forecast did a decent job for the upper maegashira ranks. Endo and Tamawashi are the new M1s, as predicted, although I had them on opposite sides. Arawashi (as predicted) and Takarafuji are the new M2s. By all rights, Kotoshogiku should have stayed at M2w despite his 7-8 record, as there was a large gap in performance below him, and leaving a 7-8 rikishi at the same rank is not at all unusual, but this time the committee apparently felt obliged to demote him by half a rank to M3e, and as a consequence over-promoted Takarafuji all the way from M6, where he went 8-7, to M2. Joining Kotoshogiku at M3 is Takakeisho (as predicted, but on the wrong side).

The next three ranks are a bit of a head-scratcher. As predicted, they involve Shodai, Shohozan, and Chiyomaru. Like Kotoshogiku, Shodai went 7-8, while Shohozan and Chiyomaru both went 9-6 at M9, and therefore should have stayed in adjacent banzuke positions. I considered two logical solutions: leave Shodai where he was, M4e, and promote Shohozan and Chiyomaru to M4w and M5e, respectively, or drop Shodai to M5e, with Shohozan and Chiyomaru occupying the M4 ranks. Instead, the committee inexplicably chose to split Shohozan and Chiyomaru by ranking Shodai between the two.

Filling out this part of the banzuke are M5w Onosho, M6e Kaisei, and M6w Hokutofuji, exactly as predicted.

The forecast also did well on the bottom of the banzuke. In the last six slots, occupied by Nishikigi (14w), Sokokurai (15e), Myogiryu (15w), Daiamami (16e), Hidenoumi (16w), and Aoiyama (17e), the only prediction error was switching the East/West sides of Sokokurai and Myogiryu, and while there is a bias toward ranking Makuuchi holdovers above Juryo promotions, Sokokurai performed so poorly that Myogiryu has reason to complain about being ranked below him.

The bad and the ugly

The middle of the banzuke is where the forecast went to pieces. None of my predictions from M7e to M14e were exactly right, and even the rank was correct for only 3 of the 15 rikishi (M7 Yoshikaze, M11 Yutakayama, and M12 Kotoyuki). Admittedly, almost all of the misses were either by half a rank or one rank, except for Daieisho (predicted M10e, ranked M8w) and Ryuden (predicted M11w, ranked M9w). The general trend here, if one can be identified, is that the committee significantly over-promoted lower-ranked rikishi with strong kachi-koshi records. Abi at 10-5 jumps 7 ranks, all the way from M14 to M7, Daieisho (9-6) jumps 5 ranks from M13 to M8, and Ryuden (10-5) jumps 7 ranks from M16 to M9. The others with 9-6 records received less generous promotions (Kagayaki, Yutakayama, Ishiura, Asanoyama), while everyone else got pushed down to make room.

Aside from setting up Abi, Daiesho, and Ryuden either for rapid rises or hard falls due to over-promotion and a more difficult schedule, none of these differences affect what will happen in Haru much. The contours of both the joi and those who will be fighting for their Makuuchi survival are pretty much as predicted.

On to Osaka.

Banzuke Weekend!

Shokkiri 2
Aminishiki vs. Yoshikaze. Or not.

Between the Olympics black-out and the natural gap between Hatsu and Haru, sumo fans are seriously starving for information! Have no fear, the Haru bazuke is published in about 24 hours from RIGHT NOW.

Of course, Tachiai will bring you analysis and details in the two-week run-up to Osaka’s yearly sumo tournament. We expect there to be a flurry of news and action prior to March 11th’s opening day.

The Calm Before Haru

 

Mole Boss Resting
The Mole Boss Resting Before Haru

Most sumo fans are out there wondering, “Is the Tachiai crew hiding, captured or simply drinking single malt and listening to classical music?”.  The truth be told, there is more or less zero news in the sumo world right now, and that fact shows on the pages of our favorite sumo blog.

This week there is a mass migration of personnel from Tokyo to Osaka, as the stables set up their base camps and begin training up for the upgoing basho. This weekend is banzuke weekend, and as always the Tachiai crew are eagerly waiting to see just how close lksumo got in his typically amazing forecast.

Tachiai Alexa Skill Live

Tachiai-Alexa

We have posted some previews of this thing in action before, but the Tachiai sumo news skill for Amazon Echo and all Alexa devices is now live. If you use Echo and want Tachiai news added to your flash news briefing, you can add it to your device here

Tachiai Sumo News – Alexa Skill

In addition to accessing it from any Amazon Echo device, you can also access it from the Amazon shopping app on any mobile phone or device. I will likely post a detailed set of “how to” instructions shortly.

Please note, this news feed is NOT spoiler free. Once the Haru basho starts, it will be updated in almost real time with match results and events.

Ever wanted to hear what is up in sumo while you drive to work or take mass transit? This is your answer. Ever want to hear about what rikishi are up to while you go about your daily life? This will do that.

Go forth and enjoy.

February 18th News Round Up

Chiyonokuni

Some headlines from the previous week in sumo:

  • The Haru basho starts in 21 days. The tournament’s banzuke will be released a week from today.
  • Over the previous week, all rikishi have attended mandatory training classes conducted by the NSK. The goal has been to teach sumo’s athletes how to conduct themselves, in the hope of avoiding repeats of recent scandals involving bad conduct in public.
  • Yokozuna Kakuryu is struggling to recover from a pair of injuries suffered during January’s hatsu basho. He underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left ankle earlier but is hampered by a dislocated right ring finger injury suffered in a match against Goeido.
  • Kokonoe heya mainstay Chiyonokuni celebrated his recent marriage with a grand and broadly attended reception in Tokyo this past week.
  • Yokozuna Hakuho continues to face difficulties in training related to re-injury of his big toe. Last year, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from that toe, but injury during the January basho forced him to withdraw from the competition.
  • Grand Sumo Breakdown has published a new podcast: The First Yokozuna. Go forth and listen!

Osunaarashi guilty of driving without a license, may be facing dismissal

The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.

osunaarashi

However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.

The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).

There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.

If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.

The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.

It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.

This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.

Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.

Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.

However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.

Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.

Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.

Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.

Who’s That Rikishi #13: Nishikigi Tetsuya

NishikigiAge: 27
Birth Name: Tetsuya Kumagai
Home Town: Morioka, Japan
Stable: Isenoumi
Highest Rank: Maegashira 6

Tetsuya Kumagai was born in 1990 in the idyllic town of Morioka, Iwata Prefecture. Inspired by fellow Iwata born rikishi Yotsuguruma, Tetsuya joined Isenoumi Beya after graduating from high school. In 2006 he made his maezumo professional debut at the Haru Basho alongside fellow future Makuuchi stars Tochinoshin and Shohozan. Progress was slow but steady for Tetsuya, who reached the third highest division of Makushita at the 2010 Hatsu Basho. However, he was unable to handle the increase in competition and found himself back in Sandanme one tournament later. His second attempt at holding onto a Makushita went much better, but it marked something of a plateau for the young Tetsuya, who spent the next five years in Makushita, unable to put together a good enough run to get him to Juryo. It was during this time that he adopted the shikona of Nishikigi, becoming the first rikishi in one hundred and forty-four years to fight under this name.

While Nishikigi’s time in Makushita may have been arduous, it was not fruitless. At the 2010 November tournament, he nearly won his first championship in a multi-man playoff and took home the Makushita Yusho two years later at the 2012 Kyushu Basho. Nishikigi failed to carry the momentum of winning a championship forward and recorded only three wins at the following Basho, curtailing his chances of promotion to Juryo. After another two years of mediocre performances, he finally earned a spot in the Juryo Division for May 2015 after going 5-2 in four consecutive Basho. Nishikigi’s time in Juryo was drastically shorter than his Makushita stint, and one year later he made his top division debut. While his first showing in Makuuchi wasn’t stellar, he quickly got his sumo in gear, and by the 2016 Kyushu Basho, he reached a career-high rank of Maegashira 6. His new rank proved too much for the Iwata born rikishi to handle, and he recorded a terrible 4-11 record at Kyushu. This poor performance marked the beginning of a major nosedive down the banzuke, and by May Nishikigi was once more in Juryo.

Determined to get back into Makuuchi, Nishikigi recorded ten wins and clinched the 2017 Natsu Juryo Yusho in a senshuraku match against Aminishiki to punch his ticket back to the top division. Since returning to Makuuchi in July, Nishikigi has managed to stay in the top division despite being at risk of demotion several times in 2017-18. Nishikigi is well known for his severely limited sight, which requires him to wear glasses whenever he isn’t competing or practicing. His eyesight is so poor that he can’t even see the first row of fans while on the dohyo, a limitation Nishikigi has turned into an advantage, as he never feels nervous about competing in front of soldout crowds. A competent oshi-sumo fighter, Nishikigi employs strong yori-kiri and oshi dashi techniques to win his bouts.


Kyokutaisei (left) vs. Nishikigi (right), Hatsu Basho, 2018.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6596
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2892/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishikigi_Tetsuya

Rikishi of the Future – The Hakuho Cup 2018

Following the two hana-zumo events, the dohyo in the Ryogoku Kokugikan was not left unattended. On Monday, February 12, the 8th Hakuho Cup took place.

hakuho-cup

The Hakuho Cup is a children’s sumo event, second only to the annual Wanpaku National Championship. Its origins are actually in the Asashoryu Cup. The Wanpaku National Championship is an all-Japanese event, and Asashoryu wished to put some Mongolian kids on the dohyo in the Kokugikan. This dream has finally come to fruition in August 2009, in an event for boys age 8-12, won by the Mongolian delegation winning all of its bouts. Asashoryu wanted to make this an annual event, but unfortunately he was forced to retire a few months later, and the event was never repeated.

With Asashoryu gone, Hakuho took his place as the leading (and only) Yokozuna, and starting in 2011, established his own event. And as usual with Hakuho, anything Asashoryu did, he improved upon. The Hakuho cup in its current form is an event for boys from first to ninth grade. No less than 1300 boys attended this year’s event, hailing not only from Mongolia and Japan, but also from the USA, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Mainland China, Thailand and South Korea.

The Mongolian delegation practiced at Tomozuna beya:

mongolia-tomozuna

While the “Aloha State” team practiced at Musashigawa:

Other heya have also opened their dohyo to the various sumo school clubs and delegations.

On the day itself, many bouts took place on temporary dohyos spread around the kokugikan. At lunch break, Hakuho and Yoshikaze – always involved in children sumo – sat down for a public chat on the dohyo. They were joined by a surprise guest:

hakuho-cup-talk-show
Hakuho, Hanada, Yoshikaze

This was none other than the 66th Yokozuna, the former Wakanohana, Mr. Masaru Hanada. Yes, Takanohana’s older and estranged brother.

This was the first time for the 66th and the 69th Yokozuna to meet face to face, and also the first time for the former Wakanohana to step up the dohyo in the Kokugikan since his retirement in 2000. Hakuho told Hanada that he has been watching his videos since he entered into the sumo world, and always thought he would be a tough one to engage with. Hanada said “You’re huge!”, and then addressed the child wrestlers: “Don’t worry. Even small ones can become Yokozuna, like I did. Just be diligent with your keiko!” (Wakanohana was merely 181cm tall).

Among the participants in the event was Hakuho’s own eldest son, Mahato. That’s the same kid who participated in the 2017 summer Jungyo and asked to engage Mitakeumi, to take revenge (Mitakeumi has beaten Hakuho in the Nagoya basho).

Hakuho Jr. is 9 years old, in the third grade, and therefore this has been his third appearance in his father’s tournament. And for the first time, he actually won a bout – he was winless in the previous two occasions. He overcame a henka, got a brief migi-yotsu and finished with an uwate-nage. The proud father said “Keiko doesn’t lie. He does 200 shiko stomps… but not every day.” The boy was defeated in his next bout, though.

hakuho-comforting-son
Hakuho, comforting his son Mahato after his loss in his second bout

The tournament winner for the second grade was Takaaki Uno from Kanazawa.

hakuho-cup-yusho

The Kanazawa delegation got a lot of support from the latest Kanazawa sekitori, Enho:

enho-kanazawa-team

And finally, here is a video with a summary of the events of the day, including the Hakuho jr. bout and various other bouts:

Yes, they are children. The tears are real.

 

A Weekend of Hana-Zumo

There is no Jungyo in February. Hence no Jungyo coverage. But luckily, the world of sumo takes pity on sumo-starved fans, and spices this cold month with exhibition events, called “hana-zumo”.

These events generally take place in the Kokugikan in Tokyo, meaning they are much easier on the wrestlers than Jungyo events – no traveling, practicing in their own heya, eating the chanko they are accustomed to, and so on.

This weekend included two back-to-back hana-zumo events. On Saturady, as Bruce already mentioned, there was the NHK charity event, which has been held for 51 years now. The most startling news item from this event has been this:

chiyotairyu
Elvis has left the building

This, my friends, is Chiyotairyu. Sans sideburns. Rumor has it that Ichinojo heard that Chiyotairyu had mutton chops, and just ate them.

I don’t know how I’ll recognize him from now on.

There was sumo jinku:

And kiddie sumo:

kiddie-sumo
Sumo in Neverland

And of course, there were bouts. Here is the Makushita “yusho” bout (Makushita was in elimination form). Enho…

…may eat a lot of similar crow up in Juryo. I hope he (or Hakuho, his master) finds a solution for this soon.

And between the bouts, it’s not hana-zumo  (or Jungyo) if you don’t get this scene:

hakuho-and-yobidashi.jpg

What you see here is Hakuho waiting his turn in the kore-yori-san-yaku. That’s when the participants in the last three bouts go on the dohyo and perform synchronized shiko.

In honbasho, this happens only on senshuraku. And in any case, there’s no fooling around in honbasho. But in Hana-zumo and Jungyo, there’s a kore-yori-san-yaku every day. And Hakuho always finds himself a comfortable yobidashi to lean on. Sometimes the bored Yokozuna goes a bit too far:

The sumo events of the day ended with the superb Satonofuji. Can’t get enough of him:

Sunday, and switching channels to Fuji TV. And here, some familiar faces stripped down and wore their old mawashi:

old-boys

Thought you’ll never get to see this again?

Damn, Kotooshu!

Kyokutenho – Tomozuna oyakata – also has nothing to be ashamed of. Asasekiryu (Nishikijima oyakata) fresh out of his chon-mage:

Kitataiki (Onogawa oyakata) is still wearing his chon-mage. Wakakoyu (Shiranui oyakata) nearly got him there:

There was also kiddie sumo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these kiddies do not look Japanese.

You may notice two differences from kiddie sumo in Jungyo:

  • The Ozeki participate. This is very rare in Jungyo. And both of them together is even rarer.
  • In Jungyo the kiddie sumo is part of keiko. Hana zumo doesn’t include keiko, and the wrestlers do their kiddie sumo in their shime-komi (silk mawashi) and oicho-mage.

In this event, both Juryo and Makuuchi were in elimination format. The championship bout:

Tochinoshin didn’t get that yusho by a bracket fluke. He had to get there through Hakuho:

He got the cup from his stablemaster (Kasugano oyakata):

And from Fuji TV… a cardboard cow?

More bouts:

Hakuho vs. Endo:

Takayasu vs. Tamawashi:

The complete set of Tochinoshin bouts plus interview and cup ceremony:

Juryo tournament: