Aki Reflections – The Return of Kisenosato

Kisenosato Aki 2018

Aki 2018 was the most top-heavy basho of the past several years. All of the high rankers participated for all 15 days, and all were kachi-koshi or higher. This created massive pressure on the upper Maegashira, and many of these top rank-and-file rikishi went on to rack up terrible records.

Among the Yokozuna harvesting white stars from the upper Maegashira was a surprisingly genki Yokozuna Kisenosato. Tachiai has written extensively on Kisenosato’s injury, and the unlikely prospects of him ever competing as a Yokozuna again. But he did return, and he competed with strength and fighting spirit, picking up a respectable 10 wins and matching the record of Yokozuna Kakuryu. Kisenosato opened Aki with 5 straight wins, before dropping a surprise kinboshi match against M2w Chiyotairyu, who only managed 5 wins for Aki. From there Kisenosato struggled, finishing acts 2&3 with a 5-5 record.

When it was announced that Kisenosato would compete at Aki, many fans feared the worst – that he would struggle from the start and he would announce his retirement before the end of September. His day 1 match against Ikioi featured him overpowering his opponent, tossing him from the dohyo. There were literally tears in the eyes of many fans all over Japan when the goyji pointed his gumbai East.

His day 10 yorikiri over Endo clinched his 8th win, and sumo fans all over Japan breathed a sigh of relief. kisenosato had safely made it through Aki, and could continue to rebuild and work towards higher performance.

In reality, Kisenosato’s sumo ran out of gas early; even against Shodai on day 4, it was clear that the Yokozuna was struggling. Many of his matches were long running brawls that, in the past, would have been quick toss-out matches featuring his famous “crab walk” mie pose. What was behind this? We can speculate this is the outcome of not competing for 18 months. His stamina was low, is ring-sense was degraded, and his outstanding instincts were dulled.

But his survival at Aki means that we will likely see a significantly improved Kisenosato in November, and we may see something closer to 90% by January. Along with the rest of the sumo world, we are looking forward to an increasingly genki Kisenosato in tournaments to come.

20 thoughts on “Aki Reflections – The Return of Kisenosato

  1. additional thoughts from a massive Kisenosato stan:
    – Chiyotairyuu’s gameplan against Kisenosato was brilliant: he completely softballed the tachiai, something he almost never does. Kisenosato was definitely expecting his full tilt cannonball charge. really nice metagame awareness play by Chiyotairyuu
    – Kisenosato’s loss to Ichinojo was the perfect example of how he is injured: it’s just a complete on-paper loss that translated exactly from theory into practice.

  2. I remember reading about the supposed scientific unfixability of his pec injury – is it just that he’s powering through despite the injury, or was the unfixable actually fixable? See here, for example: https://tachiai.org/2018/06/12/kisenosato-is-the-end-near/

    This is not a criticism of Tachiai’s reporting – thank you for all you do! – it’s just something I’m wondering about. Maybe we don’t know the answer. In any case, it’s great to see Kisenosato doing relatively well. I was rooting for him all basho, and he had me on the edge of my seat during most bouts!

    • No, I am surprised as well. I think he has found a way to use the rest of his body to still do sumo. I have been re-watching the Aki matches trying to figure out what is going on with his left upper body.

      Of course there is ZERO official word to his condition. One thing that was not clear from the post is that I am kind of gobsmacked that he’s actually able to win anything. I hope he can keep it up.

    • This is not fixable:

      Not without a knife, anyway. And I suspect not with it, either.

      He is compensating with the rest of his body. You don’t need a pec for everything. He does a lot more with his right hand today than he apparently did in the past.

      I think that he is going to have a tough time, although, like Bruce, I am also amazed at his ability to win 10 bouts at the top of the banzuke at all.

      First, he is not a spring chicken. He is subject to the same problems every 30+ years old at the top of the sport is facing. Cumulative injuries. Pieces of cartilage that swim in joints, and generally higher susceptibility to injury. In his case, though, he no longer has leeway. If he is injured anywhere else, he has no more resources to turn to.

      Second – I think eventually his rivals will figure out how he works around that injury, and the smarter ones will neutralize his new weapons or corner him into old habits – which will cause him to struggle even more.

      So I don’t expect his level to rise much beyond what he has done so far – which is a great deal. Maybe I’ll need to shop for a more appetizing hat at the end of Kyushu, but at the moment, I’m not that optimistic.

  3. Kisenosato’s record 10-5 record is an excellent record with regard to the condition that he has been in with the injury.
    It is possible hewas a bit rusty because it was a long time since he was in a tournament, but sometimes you have to be patient and take it slowly and make a long rehabiitation training. I look forward to the next tournament where Kisenosato will be in a better shape when he now has done a tournament.

  4. As someone who came into sumo after his legendary Yokozuna run and subsequent injury, Kisenosato seemed more like a tragic figure than sumo savant. I’d only ever seen him struggle, rack up losses, and bow out early, far from the dominant rikishi I had heard about. So watching Kise make his triumphant return this September was quite remarkable. Like Bruce mentioned, Kise certainly struggled, but he unquestionably fought hard and gave it his all, and as a result, his battles were some of the most thrilling matches this fall. Watching Kise get his tenth win and Yokozuna Kachi Koshi over Kakuryu was exhilarating! And as he stood beside the dohyo looking out at his fans, it looked like Kisenosato was fighting back tears as the weight of the world lifted off his broad shoulders. I too was fighting back tears. Tears of happiness for a man who I will forever cheer for, and whose return reminded me just how much I love this sport. Thank you, Kiseonosato.

    • and i shed those same tears for Yoshikaze who began to channel his inner berserker – he’s on the way back! the last few basho for him have brought a more than a few of the Yoshikaze faithful to near despair so i shed my happy tears and did my happy dance for his kachikoshi too! my cats were wondering what on earth i was up to, my partner Dave just laughed – he does that alot when i go into sumo mode!

      • I just wonder about the rash and all. I hope you are right- Yoshikaze is awesome. As a side note, my husband is to blame for my sumo obsession, so he can’t laugh!

    • Totally agree. I am awarding him my personal Fighting Spirit prize. Yes, Haku won the basho but to me, Kise was the biggest winner. Here’s hoping he keeps improving!

  5. If I remember correctly, Kisenosato went 4-4 against Sanyaku opponents, including wins over 1 Ozeki and 1 Yokozuna. Nearly all of the matches against Sanyaku wrestlers came in the second week, so all in all I think he held up pretty well, given the inevitable ring rust.

  6. I am keen to see what kind of improvements are part of Kyushu. With luck we will see incremental upgrades for the next year. I think it will motivate a whole score of sumotori to improve.

  7. I think he surprised everyone this basho, even his biggest fans. In his bouts against strong opponents like Kaisei, Kakuryu and Tochinoshin he’s shown that despite his pectoral injury he retained most of his strength, being able to outmuscle opponents that are supposed to be in much better condition than him.

  8. I think it was quite visible that he is still handicapped, but he managed to work quite well around that. What he didn’t manage was to do were any good tachai. The matches he lost he generally lost at the tachiai and even most wins he had to struggle and overcome a subpar tachiai. He still showed some great balance and defense. When he went on his Yokozuna run, that was one of his biggest strengths.
    I hope he gets that tachiai fixed for Kyushuu;)

  9. Still too high, which I don’t understand — surely his coaches can see it. Even injured he’d bump his win percentage up a bit just by improving his stability with a lower stance.

  10. nice to see kisenosato among the players, ideally if we had all 4 yokozuna ( harumafuji included i know hes retired ), but 3 is good too, its great to watch kisenosato on the ring, definetlly power sumo demonstration always compined with a calm aproach – before – during and after each fight – for example all his moves are collective and not sudden muscle power bursts

    japanese grand sumo is superb – each participant brings their own character on the ring , its fantastic.

  11. Outstanding come-back from Kisenosato. Like Liam R, I returned to watching sumo in a period when the Yokozuna was injured, and didn’t know what to expect, remembering him from his Kumusubi-Sekiwake years.
    We still don’t have to forget that he had one Chiyonokuni bout, whereas the other Yokozuna faced Takayasu.

  12. For me the key bout was Kisenosato vs Chiyonokuni on day 7. More specifically I would draw your attention to what happened after Kise weathered the early storm, took the bout to the belt and established his once feared left hand grip. At this point the bout should have ceased to be a competition and lasted no more than five seconds as the yokozuna quickly escorted his plucky but outclassed opponent over the bales. Kisenoato v Chiyonokuni in a test of strength and belt technique is just not a match! What actually happened is that Kise couldn’t do a thing with his left hand grip and struggled desperately for about 40 seconds of give and take sumo before Kuni (I’m not calling him “Chiyo” because there are too many of them) stepped out when executing what would have been a winning throw.

    The left arm power has gone and it isn’t coming back. Much respect is due to Kisenosato for his dogged refusal to quit but I thought he was a bit lucky to get 10 wins and I honestly think that this is a good as it’s going to get. Whatever he might gain in match sharpness will be offset by wear and tear. Don’t forget that he has been competing professionally since he was 15 and is already well past the median retirement age for yokozuna. I have a feeling that he feels duty bound to carry on until a serious Japanese yokozuna prospect emerges.

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