Haru Story 1 – The Threat of No-Kozuna


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.

14 thoughts on “Haru Story 1 – The Threat of No-Kozuna

  1. Both Kisenosato and Hakuho have made optimistic statements today indicating that they will compete. Of the two, Hakuho was a little more guarded, stating his desire to win the yusho but conditioning it on how he feels after the coming round of degeikos. Kisenosato made no qualifications to his optimism, declaring himself to be in good condition.

    We should always take these statements with a pinch (or maybe a handful) of salt, but it probably is true that Kisenosato has no new injuries, and his condition, for better or for worse, is as good as it’s going to get from here on out. If that’s the case, there’s not much of a point in sitting the tournament out.

    • The question is, can he win 10 bouts in a tournament?

      If yes – welcome back, Yokozuna.

      If no – the next question is: can he do anything to bring himself up to the level of sumo required for winning 10 bouts in a tournament?

      If no – he should hand in his rope and his hairstyle, and concentrate on being Araiso oyakata.

      If yes – then regardless of any actual injury, he should take whatever time he needs to do the above. As I mentioned in the past, some people, like the former Wakanohana, believe his current problem is his koshi-daka. That is, his high, unstable stance. If correcting that and using all sorts of tricks to get his left upper side out of the way will get him to the magic number, then whatever he puts on his medical certificate is not really important.

      If he keeps deluding himself that his fighting condition is back to yokozuna level when it actually isn’t, the scenes from the past couple of basho will repeat themselves, and he will keep losing face. As lenient as the YDC has been to him, they prefer full kyujo to tochuu-kyujo, and have already said so. The criticism is bound to increase.

      • Kisenosato needs to submit himself for treatment with a high end sports medicine team, and hope they can fix him up. Short of that, he is (quite sadly) done. He has stated that he knows that, too. He has pledged if his next tournament is not Yokozuna class, he will intai.

  2. It’s early days to post a comment on this topic but… Kiseosato might as well grasp the nettle and go for it this time. Whatever the improvement in his physical condition (and his tournament records show no evidence of any such thing) the clock is ticking down as he approaches his 32nd birthday. As that Scottish chap said “If it were done, when tis done, twere well it were done quickly”.

  3. I believe Hakuho’s problem is not his toe. It’s his tachiai.

    The dai-yokozuna seems to have been skipping leg day for quite some time now. Recently he tweeted two videos of himself training. Here is the first video, in which he practices the basics.

    That shiko? Not good. And I’m not comparing him to Abi. I’m comparing him to 40 years old Satonofuji. He can’t seem to put in the power to extend his leg and still keep it up (you know, the law of the lever).

    That tachiai practice is not impressive, either.

    There was also this video of him at the gym. Now, he said in the past that he doesn’t pump iron but only does traditional exercises. I’m glad that he changed his mind, but:

    … these are all upper-body exercises.

    If you recall the “Samurai Spirit” episode that showed that Hakuho’s strength was his leg muscles, which allowed his hips to stay fixed while his upper body received the blow of the opponent’s tachiai. I would guess that if the same exercise was filmed again, the results would be quite different. He would find himself stepping backwards. This requires resorting to plan B and plan C, using tricks and compensations.

    In his press conference today he was asked about the kachiage and harite issue, and played down the change he needed to do to his tachiai. He said he will “try to use them as little as possible”. He added that “In 11 years of being a Yokozuna, it’s natural that one’s sumo will change”.

    Which I interpret as “I can no longer flatten my rivals out of the tachiai like I did 10, 8 or 6 years ago, so I need to rely on these things, and I haven’t found a solution for this yet.

    It could be the other way around – the fact that he came up with these tachiai techniques caused him to be careless about his lower body strength. And now it’s hard to get it back. BTW, the opening day of Haru is Hakuho’s 33rd birthday.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if after the degeiko sessions he will come to the conclusion that his toe is still rather sore and needs another couple of weeks to heal.

    • Yeah, I hate to say it about the dai-Yokozuna, but he has a real challenge to survive 2018. Everything you point out are things I have seen too. I would love to see him go out in a blaze of zensho, but I worry he’s not quite genki enough any more to bring that home.

  4. In my very humble opinion, every sport needs its superstars competing and, hopefully, dominating. Without them, as I have said many times, what we witness is nothing more than ”sumo lite”. I want to see Hakuho smacking his competitors in the chops and shoving them out of the ring and strutting around like only he can get away with. Without that daily finale, March’s roster of bouts will seem more than a bit underwhelming—-like a great meat without a stellar dessert. An unpopular opinion, I realize.

    • I share your concerns, but I look at Hatsu, and what an amazing ride that was. The Tadpoles and the Freshmen are only going to improve from here, so I say “bring it on, you guys are the future of sumo.”

      • I’m actually most intrigued by how well the tadpoles bounce back. Make koshi for Hokutofuji (who couldn’t have looked less like his usual self), Takakeisho and the injured Onosho. Bouncing back with a kachi koshi would help to solidify the idea that they should belong in Sanyaku.

        • It’s a little early for the tadpoles to march on sanyaku, but that is probably coming next year. If Tochinoshin can keep his knee healthy, he will be tough to dislodge from a Sekiwake spot. And for reasons I can’t quite explain, Mitakeumi seems to hang on, in spite of his lukewarm performance.

          If we truly end up in a No-kazuna situation, I am going to start looking for the start of an Ozeki campaign soon. Goeido is not strong enough to keep the tadpoles down, and Takayasu is only one large hairy man. With the rope-holders on the bench, the promotion lanes have never been more open.

  5. I think Tochinoshin is very powerful and just the necessary amount of agility to carry through, with a good knee. A match that stood out for me, I think Kakuryu beat him because I feel Kakuryu is a bad matchup for Tochinoshin being powerful and making Tochinoshin go east and west as well as matching power. If healthy he is the right blend of power and agility until rikishi begin to figure him out. Thoughts?

    • Kakuryu beat Tochinoshin by superior positioning and by keeping Tochinoshin’s hands off his mawashi. Tochinoshin is very close to Hakuho’s equal in a straight-up mawashi fight, so he’d have been tough for Kakuryu to beat there if the yokozuna had permitted it.

      Prior to Hatsu I’d seen many people say in the comments on youtube videos that he was ozeki material and I never agreed. His agility at Hatsu was distinctly improved, and the extra maneuverability made a difference in three or four matches — quite possibly the difference between a 10-5 & sansho and a 14-1 & yusho. If Tochinoshin keeps his leg intact and maintains the agility he showed at Hatsu then I don’t think he can be beaten just by figuring him out. His sumo is too solid.

  6. Yeah Tochinoshin’s run at Hatsu reminded me of when Kisenosato was squeezing people out of the ring once he got his grips pre-injury. I hope he stays intact and gets to the top.


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