My Worries About Tochinoshin

Tochinoshin-salt

Tochinoshin has secured his promotion to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. He did this through hard work, grim determination, and focusing with overwhelming intensity to training his body, his mind and his reflexes. As a result he has an astounding 37 wins over the past 3 tournaments, with double digits in each of the last 3. He greatly exceeds the 33 wins / 3 basho guideline, and is one of the strongest men in sumo for 2018. Much has been said, and still more will be said about his work ethic, his rise from ruin following knee surgery, and his drive to win.

But looking at Tochinoshin, I worry there is a chance for heartbreak in the near future. While I think he has potential to be a great Ozeki, I also see the seeds of misfortune on the path ahead.

Please keep in mind, I am one lone armchair sumo fan in the wilds of Texas. I have as much influence on the world of sumo as any of the readers of this site – almost none. So this represents one fan’s opinion only.

1. Age – Tochinoshin has been a part of professional sumo since 2006. He is currently 30 years old. His physical condition exceeds most 30 year old men (or 20 year old men for that matter) that you could ever meet. But sumo is a physical sport, and the damage can be cumulative. While his Ozeki career may be outstanding, it may also be short. He is the 4th oldest promotee in the modern era.

2. Injury – Tochinoshin has already sustained, and boldly battled back from a significant mechanical injury. The massive bandage he wears on his knee is testament to that battle, which he has won for now. We dearly hope he stays free from further injury, but fans should note we are in a transitional period in sumo. Many of our old favorites are reaching the end of their workable careers in the top division, and will soon be demoted down the banzuke, and retire. As a result we will see young men soon pressing harder for top rank. These youngsters will be fast, strong, aggressive and possibly less injured that our favorites. This includes Tochinoshin. Sumo is a pure zero-sum sport. If the rikishi of the future overwhelm stalwarts like Tochinoshin, so be it. But someone like Onosho or Takakeisho, or perhaps a stronger version of Abi could, through no malice, re-injure him. But this is sumo, and it’s a chance everyone takes.

3. Consistency – My biggest concern about Tochinoshin is consistency. Looking at his last 3 basho he’s been an overwhelming powerhouse of sumo. But if we take a longer look, the view is a bit cloudy. Let’s look at the past 2 years.

Basho Rank Result
Natsu 2016 M4 10-5
Nagoya 2016 S1 6-9
Aki 2016 M2 5-10
Kyushu 2016 M6 10-5
Hatsu 2017 K1 0-6(9 kyujo)
Osaka 2017 M10 7-8
Natsu 2017 M10 12-3
Nagoya 2017 M2 9-6
Aki 2017 M1 4-11
Kyushu 2017 M6 9-6
Hatsu 2018 M3 14-1
Osaka 2018 S1 10-5
Natsu 2018 S1 13-2

The chart below to compares his ranking in the past 2 years to a set of san’yaku mainstays including Tamawashi, Mitakeumi and Takayasu

Tochinoshi-Rank-Chart

It’s a see-saw trip up and down the banzuke. He has shown no ability to hit and hold San’yaku rank in the past. This is in contrast to Mitakeumi, Tamawashi and Takayasu.

The guy gets hurt, and he can’t fight for beans when he’s hurt. Sumo is a combat sport, people get hurt. But I worry that we will have another frequent kadoban Ozeki, who fights with gusto when his health is good, but spends about half of the tournaments trying to scrape by.

But only time will tell. I am eager to see what Ozeki Tochinoshin can do.

36 thoughts on “My Worries About Tochinoshin


  1. Yeah, but this look back is fun. If he can do the same record as an Ozeki, he will hold on to his rank. If we assume he was Ozeki ranked at Natsu 2016, then with this past record he would’ve been going between Sekiwake and Ozeki, but always bouncing back up right away (as far as I know the rules…so while being kadoban, you do a makekoshi, you go to sekiwake, but then if you get 10 wins, you get back to ozeki right away).

    Let’s hope we get a few tournaments from him as an Ozeki, and that he will stop sumo before getting some serious injury that would limit him after.


  2. Bruce, you worry too much 😉 I think something clicked for Tochinoshin recently, and that, combined with the physical strength that was always there, resulted in a different rikishi. As for the other stuff, Takayasu was also a late promotion, and I don’t remember serious injury worries being expressed about either him or Kisenosato at the time of the latter’s Yokozuna promotion, and look what happened. On the other hand, Kakuryu came back strong from what a lot of folks thought were retirement-forcing injuries. You just never know.


    • Takayasu’s sumo changed quite a bit when he picked up Ozeki. I think that change in his sumo is directly related to his injuries. Takayasu also had a good long period of san’yaku ranking before he achieved his 33.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think he will make a fine Ozeki. I just think his promotion, given the points out outline, runs an above average risk of adding a frequently kadoban Ozeki to the roster.


    • Well, it’s true that the variance of outcomes is high but I think that if you’re gonna be worried about Tochinoshin’s future in the sport it’s right to be thinking about age and injury. I’m less worried about consistency (absent an injury); I agree with you that something has clicked. Tochinoshin seems to have improved his ability to get his favoured grip — even though everyone knows that’s what he’s probably going for in each match — and also his defensive sumo in disadvantageous situations. I can’t imagine these improvements disappearing.

      One thing I’m going to be interested to see: now that Tochinoshin has demonstrated that he can win against Hakuho on the mawashi I expect Hakuho will start mixing it up. Hakuho’s no longer a 61-winning-streak GOAT; he’s merely a dai-yokozuna who can beat anyone on any given day at least 4 times out of 5 (except Ichinojo, recently). Should be fun!


  3. What you say is potentially true for anyone in Sumo. Better a short acquaintance with glory than never having met.


    • Tochinoshin is going to do fine right up until the moment where he gets hurt, same as anyone else. I think it would have been wise for the NSK to see if he could endure another basho at Sekiwake as a “fail safe” on his past yo-yo periods. But as stated in the opening paragraph, it’s just my opinion, and I am not in any way able to influence what the YDC or NSK do.

      I wish him good health, a great career, and many more tournaments of fantastic sumo.


      • He more than earned promotion; holding him to a much higher standard “just to be on the safe side” (whatever that means) would have been deeply unfair.


        • Please note, in the first part of the post I report that he has greatly exceeded stated promotion standards.


  4. I agree on Age and Injuries, those are my worries too.
    But on consistency I give you… Gōeidō! Ōzeki-dom and consistency apparently don’t need to go hand in hand.


  5. great breakdown of our newest Ozeki. sheer grit and determination of body and mind. fingers crossed injuries (major or minor) stay away for a good while to enable him to secure his new status and give it a good crack 😉


  6. If you’re going to worry about an injury the same could be said for any rikishi. Unfortunate examples of that are Ura and Terunofuji.

    I hope Tochinoshin has a good run as an ozeki but regardless of what happens in the future he has had a wonderful 3 tournaments so far in 2018 and at 30 years old I hope he enjoys however long he has left before retirement.


  7. I think Tochinoshin will do fine. He has perfected an extremely effective, almost indefensible, technique, based on his enormous strength. By pulling up on his opponent’s mawashi, he essentially emasculates him, maybe in more ways than one. Deprived of essential traction on the ground, there is almost nothing the opponent can do. Using this method, Tochinoshin should have had the yusho. Against Hakuho, he unluckily grabbed onto the the outer turn of the mawashi; against Shodai, he was just careless.

    Of course, if he gets injured, then it’s curtains. But that’s true for everyone.


    • You mean, against Kakuryu. He beat Hakuho.

      And yes, the wedgie-waza is pretty effective, but both Yokozuna had weapons against it. Even Hakuho – which he beat – he couldn’t dangle past the tawara as he does most opponents. Hakuho shifts his center of gravity to the point where he is really hard to carry.


  8. I guess from a negative perspective (not saying anyone has this), but maybe to some it does feel lame that promotions are coming and going while Kisenosato, Takayasu, Goeido are out. There is no gate keepers or the quality of them has gone down because of injuries, but thats natural and cyclical right? I’m rooting for Tochinoshin, its is better to have Ozeki-ed once than to never have Ozeki-ed at all.


    • Any rikishi can only fight those put up against him. Since his injury fighting against Kisenosato is hardly a huge challenge and the quality of Goeido’s sumo blows hot and cold throughout recent tournaments. I think the nature of any sport is that the old guard fade away and are replaced with new talent, that’s a fact of life.


  9. Thanks Captain BuzzKill… Next thing you are going to tell me is that my KC Royals are going to suck again… Oh Wait! 🙂


  10. At the risk of being too blunt: So what if he turns out to be a mediocre ozeki, or a frequently injured one, or even a short-timer? I’ve never understood why people hold this false ideal that the ozeki rank ought to be staffed only by rikishi who are performing well all the time. That’s an expectation to be held for yokozuna. Ozeki putting up excellent results is a nice-to-have, it’s never been the norm. If it gets too bad, an ozeki gets demoted and that’s that. Life goes on. What’s there to “worry” about?

    The only one who suffers (…maybe…) if his ozeki stint turns out a forgettable affair is Tochinoshin. But even two basho as ozeki beats 20 basho as sekiwake, hands down. He’s at a stage of his career where simply having made it to ozeki is an astounding feat. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s fans now starting to run with the silly narrative that Tochinoshin ought to be challenging for yokozuna promotion and will be a disappointment if he doesn’t make it. That would be unfair and unwarranted.


    • Well, his mother started the “Now Yokozuna” wagon rolling already, before he even managed to learn the words to his oath by heart.


    • Professional Sumo is in the process of refreshing its kanban rikishi. Is it good for sumo to end up with Ozeki Tochinoshin? Only time will tell. He certainly earned that promotion, by greatly exceeding all standards for attaining it. He has turned in incredible performance for the last few basho.

      As a fan who is tired of a parade of kadoban Ozeki, I hope he can maintain this performance. But this is best decided in about 18 months when we can see how Ozeki Tochinoshin has been performing. Consider this post a vehicle to air some ideas, some of which appear to be provocative.


    • Speaking only for myself, the Ozeki criteria lays out a standard of performance (10+ wins) and consistency (3+ consecutive basho). We’ve lived through the tremendous reign of Kisenosato. Contrast that with a hypothetical wrestler who doesn’t live up to that standard, is frequently kadoban, and when he achieves kachi-koshi it is by the skin of his teeth and with the help of a few, “wink, wink; nod, nod” bouts that seem a bit less than “on the level.” In this case, Tochinoshin didn’t scrape by and he has a yusho in hand already so I’m not worried about being disappointed. But I can see where the concern comes from. In my day job, when reviewing a candidate for a promotion, I want to think that the candidates’ best work is still ahead of him, not behind him.


      • I’d argue the closer analogy here is with other sports. When Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson, he became the undisputed heavyweight champion—not because anyone thought he’d live up to that role (he didn’t, getting quickly knocked out by Evander Holyfield in his only title defense), but because that’s what happens when you knock out the reigning champ. Same here—you put together a strong 3-tournament streak against top opponents, you get to be Ozeki. A long, consistent, strong reign as an Ozeki is, as Asashosakari says, a “nice-to-have”, but likelihood of that (to the extent one can even predict) is simply not a consideration for reaching the rank.


        • I just don’t see the Ozeki rank as a title won but a rank attained. Tochinoshin has a title. Terunofuji has a title. No one can take that from them. I just don’t see the ranks as analogous to that…maybe like Champions League qualification and it would be as if Swansea qualified based on one seasom but got relegated to the Championship within two years.


          • Yup, I was also thinking promotion/relegation is a good analogy. There’s a (somewhat, in sumo) objective standard; if you hit it, you move up. If you can maintain the level, great; if not, you move down.


      • All in all, people just tend to have unrealistically high expectations of what it means to be ozeki. A good ozeki averages maybe 9.5 wins per basho and goes kadoban around once a year. In between he’ll have one or two tournaments each year where he starts out hot for the first 10 days against the soft part of his match schedule, and looks like a yusho contender, usually to be intercepted by a yokozuna in the end. That’s the natural order of things. And quite a few ozeki never again attain the performance heights of their original promotion run. (That being said, Goeido certainly hasn’t lived up even to that standard.)

        An ozeki who is better than that usually isn’t far away from challenging for the tsuna. People who want to see ozeki who are good all the time…are basically asking for a rank full of prime Kaios and Kisenosatos who look like they deserve more but never quite manage to take that step up to yokozuna. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no less maddening to watch as a fan than ozeki being regulars on the kadoban carousel.

        I will be neither surprised nor disappointed if Tochinoshin turns into a “typical” ozeki – tries to get his 8 wins as quickly as possible, and then switches off to preserve himself unless he happens to be in yusho contention. The guy’s in sumo to make money (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), and through his hard work he has now achieved a position that will enable him to make quite a bit more of it than before, even if he never contends for another yusho.


  11. Bruce: not sure if you are not comparing like with like on your graph. In my opinion, a more fair comparison would be between people who did manage to reach Ozeki, and for the 2 years before them reaching this rank rather than for the last 2 years. So we would be comparing Tochinoshin of May 2016-May 2018 with say Takayasu of May 2015-May 2017. On that metric, Tochinoshin looks like ‘Takayasu + 1 injury’ rather than outlier.

    Migrant Worker


  12. Tradition is tradition, but so many rishiki are getting hurt, often by heavy falls off the dohyo. How terrible
    would it be if the dohyo were not elevated? The elevation makes a heavy fall out of the dohyo intrinsically dangerous.


  13. IIRC, JSA rules state that a certain quorum of Yokozuna and Ozeki are required for a honbasho (someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) Given the state of the current wrestlers that high up the banzuke, maybe they’re figuring even a kadoban Ozeki is worth the risk? Beats not being able to have a tourney at all, if either other Ozeki gets demoted or Kisenosato retires or Hakuho injures his toe again, etc. etc. etc.


    • Two ōzeki are needed on the banzuke to run a honbasho. Yokozuna aren’t necessary but can fill in for the ōzeki .


  14. What do you think the future holds for some of the other ranking “oldsters” including Hakuho?

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