This Post Is Terrible!

Elephant Crosses Dohyo
What Must Be Done

Frequent followers of Tachiai will note that I did not write very much in the run up to Hatsu, and that this was quite unusual. Normally I like to set up and preview the storylines that are likely to unfold over the 15 weeks of the tournament, and help all of our readers put the matches into a broad context. But with the exception of some bits bout Ura, and some things around Wakaichiro, there was nothing.

There is really one story that must be discussed, and I dreaded writing it. Its time for Kisenosato to “man up”, gamberize and put an end to this farce. Some background if you would.

Kisenosato was a perpetual bridesmaid, he had an amazing string of jun-yusho, but had never lifted the Emperor’s Cup himself. Meanwhile, the sport of sumo slowly took a diminishing stance in the mind of the Japanese public, as it had been so totally dominated by a string of Mongolian dai-Yokozuna. To some it seemed that it was hardly Japan’s national sport at all. Then Kisenosato won Hatsu 2017, and everything changed.

Kisenosato was a solid Ozeki. He may have been what could be called a dai-Ozeki. His sumo was low, heavy and unquestionably effective. But the moment he won Hatsu 2017, the campaign was on to bring a Japanese born man into the Yokozuna ranks for the first time in a generation. It would transform the sport of sumo, and breath new life into the flagging fortunes of the NSK. The Yokozuna Committee concurred, and it was announced that Kisenosato would become 72nd Yokozuna. There were some who stood firm that he had not earned the rope, as the criteria is thought to be 2 back to back yusho.

But Kisenosato proved them fools as well. He won Haru in one of the most dramatic and compelling yusho runs in memory. Badly wounded, he managed to defeat Terunofuji twice on the final day to take the cup. Neither man has since recovered, but in fact Kisenosato had won his back to back yusho, and had proven he was a Yokozuna.

But that injury was grave, and for reasons we will likely never understand, the choice was made to let it try to heal naturally. A torn pectoral muscle on his left side left his primary weapon useless, and month after month passed with no real improvement. Herouth covered “how did we get to this point” with her usual stellar clarity, and it’s worth it to read it again.

Two days into Hatsu 2019, and Kisenosato is a mockery of his former sumo, and of the rank of Yokozuna. A comparison to his own form in 2016 or 2015 proves out that his sumo is gone, and can never return. The body is broken, the muscles de-conditioned, and there is no path that brings them back to top form. Below is sumo fan’s exhibit 1

Could today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato beat this guy in the dark red mawashi? I think not.

Sumo fan’s exhibit 2. Watch the guy in the dark red mawashi. Look at his low stance, how when he moves his feet barely leave this clay. This is “heavy” sumo, and it bested Harumafuji on this day.

How would today’s Yokozuna Kisenosato fare against this guy?  2014 Kisenosato would call himself today weak and pathetic, a disgrace to sumo. And he would be correct.

I am very sad for him, for his fans, and for sumo. But each time he mounts the dohyo to lose to an opponent of the calibre he used to “toy” with, just tears at the fabric of the sport.  There is no shame in exiting after such a terrible injury, I said at the time it was likely “career ending”. There is shame in letting this mockery continue.

Furthermore, as we saw in day 2, the whole sport – from the fans to the rikishi to the Oyakata, are on edge waiting for him to do what needs to be done. the NHK commenters noted there was an odd feel in the hall – everyone is dreading what is going to happen next. Hoping that somehow this will pass, and everyone can enjoy sumo. It’s like waiting for a beloved friend to die in some ways.

There is word that Tagonoura Oyakata is declaring he will continue to compete, and that his fan club will be there to cheer him on. With all due respect to Tagonoura Oyakata, this is (or at least should be) out of his hands. As a Yokozuna (which Tagonoura Oyakata never was), Kisenosato’s behavior is a direct reflection of the NSK, and as such I am assuming the NSK is in specific discussions with Kisenosato about what he needs to do.

No sumo fan of good fiber is happy at this situation, but it must end. And only one person can end it. Kisenosato.

25 thoughts on “This Post Is Terrible!

  1. Finally, someone brave enough to point out the obvious with the emperor’s new clothes. Thank you for telling it like it is.

  2. I wish this weren’t all true. Kisenosato had been one of my favorites from my first days watching sumo (almost a decade now). I suppose he always will be one of my favorites. But he just can’t do it anymore.

  3. Good terrible post! One thing though. I cringe every time anybody assumes “The NSK is… (complete the sentence)”.

    For the NSK to decide anything, they need to convene the board, discuss, and make a decision. They can then enact it. There is no “Elders of Zion” cabal that goes to Tagonoura beya and speaks to kisenosato. Hakkaku already threw some hints at him in interviews. But he doesn’t have the authority to tell him to do anything. And if he or any other oyakata does, and this leaks to the press, there will be a scandal. Representing the NSK, they will be out of authority. Representing themselves, they will be overstepping his heya’s autonomy.

    When Harumafuji retired, he got “the talk” from the head of the Isegahama koen-kai and his stablemaster. These are the people who can talk directly to a rikishi and have authority over him. Unfortunately, in Kisenosato’s case, they are hinkaku leeches rather than good advisors.

    • Thanks for explaining it. I have assumed that in a case like this, the top folks in the Sumo Association are in communication with Tagonoura oyakata, explaining to him how (as they say in Texas) “The cow ate the cabbage”. I would also expect that some of the other oyakata in the ichimon would be talking to Tagonoura as well. Sure, Tagonoura could tell them to fly a kite, but I am guessing that before long he would bend to the wishes of his group.

      • I don’t think any of the oyakata in his own ichimon will want to butt in. You attack another oyakata’s autonomy, the next day your own management of your heya is questioned. Besides, in the whole (huge) ichimon, there is only one oyakata who is a former Yokozuna – Shibatayama, who has been involved in two scandals about the management of his own heya… Not exactly one to throw stones.

        • Would simply add to this point that it reminds me of something John Gunning said when we convened a year ago for the Tachiai interview –

          Paraphrasing, but he made an excellent point about there being a misconception that the NSK was “this monolithic organisation” – in fact they don’t really move in a singular direction and there are a number of different viewpoints…. (albeit one less since a particular recent retirement since then). I thought it was a really salient point given that we tend to look at leagues as taking a particular stance on every issue, but the function and dysfunction of the NSK will be so different because of its incredibly unique construction.

          Probably worth bearing in mind when it comes to any kind of NSK “advisement”

  4. Finally watching the Day 2 NHK highlights and … that Kisenosato-Ichinojo match was painful, just painful. I realize that one may be projecting incorrect emotions on Mongolia’s answer to Ferdinand the Bull, but those Ichinojo matta sure looked like nerves — not because Ichinojo seemed nervous about losing, or eager to get on with it, but because he thought he might freakin’ break the yokozuna.

    That can’t be right.

  5. +1.

    Except…”Neither man ever recovered…”

    Terunofuji WILL be back. (Where’s the fingers crossed while knocking on wood, sprinkling salt, and making the sign of cross emoji?)

    • Unfortunately Terunofuji is already 27. If he make a smooth comeback starting next basho, he will probably be 29 by the time he reaches Makuuchi again. Now Tochinoshin has proven, that you can be a latebloomer. Chiyonofuji had 19 of his 31 Yusho past the age of 30 … but with his built, Terunofuji will probably be already past his prime, when (if) he makes it back to makuuchi.
      He probably should have pulled out and fully recovered in 2016, when he got his injury. Instead he gamberized and even though he got this two jun-yusho in 2017 (thats two Ozeki performances in 8 tournaments after the injury), ultimately his not fully healed knees got back to him. Another sad story.

  6. The time to retire gracefully was last tournament. At this point, since we’ve been treated to so many undignified spectacles from Kisenosato, I would rather he chase more records. Going 0-15 is still in play! He still has a few more losses before he can become the only rikishi ever with a losing record as a yokozuna! He can still set the record for most kinboshi given out in a tournament!

    Since Kisenosato and his advisers have chosen to prolong this macabre death march, we might as well embrace this bizarre journey and find entertainment in the absurdity of it all. Let the man stumble around for a few more years!

    • Small correction here: even if he gets a makekoshi as a yokozuna, he won’t be the first. He’s preceded by Ōnokuni and Wakanohana III in this unwanted feat.

  7. Kise surprised all of us in September, and the time couldn’t have been better to retire. I’m sure he’s under intense pressure to “gambarize,” but it’s looking more and more like Kise’s being given more rope than a non-Japanese yokozuna ever would be, and the JSA looks like they’re just using, “But, but maybe he’ll win!” to sell seats =-\

  8. I Kisenosato had heeded proper advice, he would have dropped out and had surgery immediately after his injury in Haru 2017. He would have 90+% restored strength in his arm after recovery. Without surgery it is doubtful he has 40%. Had he at least gone under the knife immediately after Haru 2017, he would be nearly as well off.

    That he opted against all competent advice and a multitude of case studies against any surgery is a tragedy beyond compare. I am not a fan of his, but to see a career end like this is extraordinarily sad when it did not have to be so.

    The NSK should seriously look into correcting the seemingly cultural reluctance to use modern medical science for healing and training. There are a number of high profile injuries that were allowed to heal “naturally” when they should not have, that have hampered rikishi’s careers. Kisenosato is just the highest profile one recently.

    • It wasn’t such a clear cut decision, though.

      Personally, I don’t believe the story that he thought the injury would “heal naturally”. What he had were two choices: Go through surgery, and face at least a year of absence from the dohyo, or let the pain recede and the injury scar over enough for him to be able to move again, and then adjust his sumo to whatever he had left.

      A year off the dohyo, and then try to become a sumo wrestler all over again, but not going through the easy divisions first Ura/Ryuden/Tochinoshin style, but having to start directly at the top. A year is eternity to a sumo wrestler, especially when you are past your 30th birthday.

      Bearing in mind the fact that he managed to win the title through that injury – which to him meant “I can grab a freaking yusho without my left arm, ’cause I’m that good” – he says to himself “fine, let’s try to live without that arm”.

      In hindsight, a mistake, because he couldn’t practice for a while and compensating for the injury caused him other injuries in already old and battered limbs, and then being still more time off the dohyo and losing even more of his ability and dohyo sense. But the decision itself was not unreasonable given the facts as he knew them.

      Moreover, if he took the surgery and came back a year later, he would still be completely out of touch with his sumo. There is no guarantee he could have actually come back at all.

      I think the point where he should have decided on intai was about two or three basho later when he saw that his sumo was not getting back on track and had to pull out for the third time.

      • I can follow that reasoning to a degree. There is no telling if he would be in better form now after a surgery, but if you have to decide between never again truly asserting any power with that arm or regaining maybe 90% of ist functionality, most people would chose their long term health.
        I think the combination of the enormous pressure/expectations from the public and the somewhatr misguiding fact that he had tricked Terunofuji twice let to this regretable decision. I just can’t imagine any doctor issuing the advice to let it heal …

        • Again, it wasn’t “let it heal”. It was “Have surgery, recover in a year” vs. “Do not have surgery, work with the rest of your body”. Long term health is less of a question here because it’s not as if he can’t do everyday stuff with that arm. Many professionals accept long-term injuries provided they will still be able to walk on their own power etc. when they retire.

  9. Kisenosato hasn’t won a match since last September. It’s a joke. Put the guy out of his misery.

    If only Takayasu had won in November. What a different story it would be. He’d be the focus – the prayers of a country behind him, well on his way to a fast-track yokozuna promotion, just in time for the Olympics. The heya would be getting excited about their new golden goose. And Kisenosato might have been allowed to leave with a modicum of dignity.

  10. I’m a big fan of Kisenosato and have been all in support to give him time to recover and come back, that is … if there is a way to come back. After that unfortunate decision to naturally heal his injury, it was clear to everyone, that he would have to find a different sumo to compete, as his old style wasn’t feasible anymore.

    His comeback in September was a pleasnt surprise, but it came with the caveat that his opponents hadn’t adjusted to him yet. When he lost day 1 in November to Takakeisho i thought … It’s a loss, but he has been aggressive and in control of the pace … That was the last time he seemed even remotely in control of a bout or with a plan to win. Every bout since then his sumo has been detoriating and he looked more hapless than before.

    I think he has felt a lot of pressure and also support from the japanese public to gamberize and return to Yokozuna level, but I think at this point its blatantly obvious that this will never happen. It should have even sunk in with Taganoura heya. That hope and support got completely replaced bypity and a sense of mourning maybe.

    I’m not sure what he is trying to achieve now. He got wrong advice before … but at this point … i don’t know who is in his ear , but does he really want to wait till he is 0-8 and also technically can’t reach kachikoshi anymore? It’s obvious now that he should have retired last basho or even september, but someone has to tell him that from now on there will be no better time to retire … it will only get worse.


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