Genki Report – Yokozuna & Ozeki


With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.

Yokozuna - Ozeki Participation

From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.

Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.

Let’s take a look at the rikishi:

Yokozuna Kakuryu
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.

Yokozuna Hakuho
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.

Yokozuna Kisenosato
Genki: ✭-
Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?

Ozeki Goeido
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.

Ozeki Takayasu
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.

Ozeki Tochinoshin
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.

45 thoughts on “Genki Report – Yokozuna & Ozeki

  1. How bad do the upper ranks have to get before the JSA decides to let these guys rest more between honbasho? =-\ And, since I’m newish to this blog, did anyone ever find out WHY Kisenosato refused to undergo surgery? I understood not pulling out of the basho right after the injury–didn’t like it, but I understood, but why not after? Or was that already too late?

  2. I wonder if he’ll see this as “the pressure is off, I can try to learn new tricks.” Or if he’s going to push harder to pick up yusho.

  3. I’m going to say something that is no doubt pointless, but I am going to implore the Great Sumo Cat to inspire a change by lowering the height of the dohyo. That would make a significant differencce in the genki numbers. Wouldn’t prevent all injuries, but surely it would make a dent.

    Remember Kis crying during the national anthem when he won? You are so right, it’s a tradgedy.

    • They won’t lower the height of the dohyo because the current height is at the eyeline of the judges when they sit down. It will be harder for the judges to do their job if the dohyo was on the floor, so for that reason alone they won’t move it.

      • I would think with technology that could be handled, maybe cameras showing close ups. I know it won’t happen, but some of the injuries are avoidable and it bothers me.

      • When Orson Welles was filming Citizen Kane he wanted a shot looking up at an angle from the floor. He had the crew cut a hole in the floor. and put the cameraman into it. Eye level just inches above the floor.

        In a similar way, imagine the dohyo lowered to the floor with shimpan placed into holes to maintain the viewing angle. A side benefit would be a safe place to duck and cover when rikishi come flying.

        It might be too early in the morning, but I’m finding it terribly amusing to imagine the Takanohana Oyakata in his new arrangement.

        • I imagine falling in a hole, on top of another person, would be a worse prospect for both.

          • Yes. My “modest proposal” is dangerously similar to ground hogs in a horse pasture.

            A wider apron outside the tarawa would be less disruptive, but I doubt that we’ll see that change either.

  4. So, if we extrapolate your trendline, there will be NO competing Y/O in Kyushu 2019!

    Ah, the power of graphs… :-)

    • Applying a linear estimate to a dynamic system is quite foolish. We have already had a perturbation – the addition of Ozeki Tochinoshin. We are in a period where most of these men will be retiring soon, so before long we will have yet another change in the sumo world.

        • Perhaps you are trying to have some fun. But look closely. This is all about what has already happened.

          • “Applying a linear estimate to a dynamic system is quite foolish” cuts both ways, not only to extrapolations into the future.

            • Asahosakari, “[a]pplying a linear estimate to a dynamic system is quite foolish” does not cuts both ways — it’s entirely reasonable to do local linear fits to data from systems that are not expected to be linear globally, just to summarize the data. You can assess the the capacity of the linear fit to represent the observed data either by eye or formally with statistical tests. In this case it’s clear that this linear fit is doing an adequate job for these data, and yet prior information supplies goods reason not to try to extend it for prediction.

            • Sorry to get you in deep natto there, Bruce! I meant my comment as a lighthearted tweak.
              Back in the 1980’s before the New Horizons mission, ground-based observations of Pluto showed its diameter getting smaller and smaller (less diffraction on the photo). Some wise guy published a paper predicting that Pluto would disappear in 2005.

  5. Great article, thanks! I have one question though, What did the YDC say about Kisenosato? I mean he’s been absent for awhile now, I doubt they’ll be patient for too much longer before telling him to either show up or retire. It really is a tragedy though, he was such a dominating Ozeki.

    • They are sending mixed messages. Clearly they are getting frustrated, they want him back, but urge him to stay out until he is ready to perform at a Yokozuna level. Given his injury he may never fight at a Yokozuna level again. I do hope I am wrong, but its going to be a long shot. But for now the YDC is willing to grant him more time to work things out.

      • That’s good to hear, I’m surprised they’re so patient. Thank you for letting me know, I appreciate it.

  6. Bringing back kōshō seido would be a huge step forward .
    I mean for every rikishi, not just Kisenosato who seems to be a permanent sanctioned kōshō seido by one of the weird twists in decision making by the NSK.

    • The Yokozuna don’t need it, since they don’t lose rank when sitting out a tournament, but for everyone else it would be great. Though apparently it got abolished because of rikishi taking advantage of the system…

      • Guessed as much, but too me some rikishi playing the system would be worth the benefits for rikishi health.

        But any other yokozuna but Kisenosato would probably already have been recommended to retire.

        • Not really. Newer yokozuna always get cut a lot more slack than long-time incumbents. It’s just more noticeable because Kisenosato’s case is so extreme and unusual.

        • Just look up Takanohana. He was absent for 7 straight basho before returning and only loosing the YUsho on the last day. Had Kisenosato just done that, he would probably be healed by now, but he was kinda pressured into 4 tournaments before taking of to heal …
          Kakuryu in 2017 had only one tournament he finished with a mediocre record. 3 he pulled out with bad records, 2 he didn’t start at all. That’s very recent and not too different from Kisenosato, so he isn’t really receiving special treatment.

    • Re-introducing kosho in its old form makes little sense nowadays. It was created at a time when the phrase “career-ending injury” applied to a heck of a lot more injury types than nowadays. ACL torn? Tough luck, your high-level sports career is probably over. Having a system that allowed rikishi to rest for two months to rehab smaller injuries was fine then, because the bigger injuries often weren’t properly rehabable anyway. (Not to mention that those major ones were also more rare to begin with, what with the average sekitori some 40 kg lighter than today.)

      Anyway, injury protection in terms of “no loss of rank” is IMHO never coming back, there are just too many reasons against it in the current sumo environment. Some other approach might.

  7. That article was interesting. I love the picture all the way at the beginning. Does it come from the sumo museum ? If i could travel to Japan one day, i wish to be able to go there. It sound fabulous!

    There is one thing i wonder when reading all of this. I felt that the of “genki star rating’ was mostly base on the factor of the Health and Injury risk,dealing and recovery of the rikishi and that any other factor wasn’t much a criteria.
    Which make me ask…..why is the health of a rikishi seem to be the most important thing for determining their “genkiness” ? Because to me, i feel that they are ALL (the rikishi in the top division at least) injured to some different degree.
    Is there some rikishi in the top division you would say that are not injured and are at 100% of they health ?

    Also, my 2 cents about the “what the sumo association could do to maybe reduce the risk of injury for the sumo wrestler”. I also think that it’s mainly because of the elevated doyho that a lot of the injury are happening. (Falling from roughtly 3 steps height in ofthenly akward position from such big guy repetatively do hurt a lot!) And although i wish too they could lower the dohyo (maybe at least 1 step lower), i do see that happening anytime soon.

    But what i think they could do to at least minimize the damage of the fall is…..putting cushion on the floor ALL AROUND THE DOYHO!!!!! You know….those kind of floor cushion we see in gym sports. (gymnatic, parallel bar, pommel horse, trampoline, ect….) Those sport have those things so that if the person fall and slam on the floor, they just don’t hit the solid concret/wood of the floor. It may not absorb much, but at least it’s something!!!
    It wouldn’t be much more work also for the staff to put those floor cushion at the start of the basho and removing them at the end….
    And beside, judge, riskishi and spectator around the ring all already have those big cushion to sit on because they obviously think that sitting on the hard floor for a long period of time is not pleasant. Why do they think then it’s ok for sumo rikishi who are falling of the doyho to slam that hard floor ?!?!? Geez!!!

  8. I adore the charts (graphs?). But we know only the output. Surely input is critical? In the previous chart, maybe Tochi had injuries, went home for infusions of good Geogian wine and baklava, got in shattering rows with important people, had male periodicity, finally decided to get totally serious, or what-all, to produce wavy results And Takayasu didn’t. Harumafuji’s “retirement” must have rattled the sumo devotion factor for some, especially, I would guess, his stable and Hakuho (and me). No matter how genki the body or how devoted to the training, the feelings have great power, and the world is very hard to control. Or chart.

  9. I translated the graph into numbers (approximate) to try to prove that there is a statistically significant trend. I expected that the F-test would prove the point.

    Surprisingly, the test shows that its not a slam dunk certainty. The statistics say there is about a 7% probability that the visual down trend occurs by random chance, rather than actual trend. 5% would be a typical threshold for declaring a trend.

    If you want to post the 13 numbers, I’ll run the test more exactly.

    • The F-test is against the two-sided alternative; since we’re starting at 100% I think it would be fair to go with a test against a one-sided alternative.

      • I ran a linear regression on the data given below. The p-value — the probability of a seeing a slope more extreme than the one calculated from the actual data if the underlying data-generating process were flat — is 0.003. Here “more extreme” means a steeper slope either up or down; if we restrict our attention just to more extreme downward slopes then that cuts the p-value in half.

      • Thank you Corey and Bruce, I think I’m going to learn something here. Here’s where I’m conflicted.

        Taking Bruce’s data table, I get a mean of 63.59, and sample variance of 502.4 (df = 12).

        Fitting the line, I get the slope of -4.32, and a variance of the residuals to be 238.9 (df = 11).

        F statistic is 502.4/238.9 = 2.10, but using excel nomenclature =FINV(0.05,12,11) = 2.79. So I reject the hypothesis that a line is better fit than a simple average.

        On the other hand, when I run the linear regression statistics, I get the 0.003 P-value for the slope, and a confidence interval on the slope of -1.8 to -6.8. In other words a significant trend.

        Am I applying the F-test incorrectly in the first case?

        • So, in “Numbers” there is a check box to “add trend line”. I checked it. The line showed up. I am sure there is a correct statistical approach that is vastly superior than this vendor supplied spreadsheet. But hey, it’s free!

          • Thank You Cory, That’s a perfect explanation. Total agreement on the RSS, but I’ve been doing the degrees of freedom all wrong.

            That Wikipedia section is perfect for this situation.

  10. Fascinating conversation! Very interesting! Thanks to all.
    But I’m gonna be a grammar dummy and point out the first sentence in this article. Shouldn’t that read Tokyo? Or change it around, “With the Nagoya Basho ahead….?” Yes, it is true, my friends actually hate me…….


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