Update on Hakuho’s Injury

The Haru Jungyo – regional tour – started today with a dedication dohyo-iri and competition at Ise Grand Shrine, Mie prefecture.

Hakuho took this opportunity to answer media questions about his injury. As it turned out, he was diagnosed with a tear in the coracobrachialis, an inner muscle located near the short head of the biceps. This is a rare injury.

The Yokozuna says that the tear in this muscle should not prevent him from grabbing the mawashi or doing tsuppari, but flexing his arm “Popeye” style, gives him discomfort. His doctors presented him with a surgical option, but he decided against it, as “it takes too much time”. Instead he opted to rest the muscle.

He plans to consult with his doctors again in the days to come. However, he is not resting at home, but will continue the regional tour with the rest of the sekitori. Currently he is not participating in bouts, and at Ise he performed dohyo-iri and “the senshi vow”.

59 thoughts on “Update on Hakuho’s Injury

  1. Thank you, Herouth, for posting this update. We should recall that Hakuho said that he believes this injury occurred early in his bout with Kakuryu. Hakuho told reporters: ““That’s why when I tried to move forward, I couldn’t move him.”

    • From Wikipedia: The action of the coracobrachialis is to flex and adduct the arm at the glenohumeral joint. Also, the coracobrachialis resists deviation of the arm from the frontal plane during abduction. Therefore, the contraction of the coracobrachialis leads to two distinct movements at the shoulder joint. It both draws the humerus forward, causing shoulder flexion, and draws the humerus toward the torso, causing shoulder adduction. To a smaller extent, it also turns the humerus inwards, causing internal rotation. Another important function of the coracobrachialis is the stabilization of the humeral head within the shoulder joint, especially when the arm is hanging freely at a person’s side.

      • Also from Wikipedia: Actual rupture to the coracobrachialis muscle is extremely rare. Very few case reports exist in the literature, and it is reported to be caused by direct trauma to the contracted muscle.

  2. Stupid, stupid, short-sighted and stupid. This will be a significant hindrance to maintaining his rank longterm, and the Tokyo Olympics are still over a year away. Oh, Hakuho- have you learned nothing from Kisenosato? It would seem that you have not.

    • It may well be stupid but he cannot lose his rank…if he’s decided he’s going to kyujo himself to next July (only 8 basho) he can probably do so as the GOAT and then retire after the Olympics.

      • Kyujo has to be backed by medical certificates. And at some point he is going to get the “make or break” demand like Takanohana did. I’m pretty certain they won’t let a kyujo yokozuna do a public dohyo-iri, and a “miraculous recovery” in the few days between the end of Natsu 2020 and the Olympics is going to be rejected, I’m pretty sure. The YDC will be all over him as soon as that basho is over unless he performs like a Yokozuna.

        • I can’t imagine a medical certificate would be a challenge with a torn muscle…as for the Olympics, does he need the YDC or anyone else’s permission to do the opening ceremony? I’d assume that the Olympic committee could ask whoever it wanted (granted, it’s Japan and stepping on toes is not what they do)…the bigger question is, indeed, if he’s not able can he string this along for 8 basho…I think not having surgery is a strategic blunder if making it to the Olympics is his goal.

          • The Olympic committee will ask the NSK, as Hakuho is their employee. The NSK will give them whoever they see fit.

            As for the YDC, if the Yokozuna is kyujo for a long while, they will issue him an ultimatum to come in and perform. They have done so even to Kisenosato, never mind Kakuryu. Even Takanohana was asked to come back and perform. If he fails to do that, or comes back and loses – it will be the YDC’s privilege to exercise their “recommendation to retire”. Even a recommendation for suspension is sufficient.

            A medical certificate is good for a certain term. A torn muscle is a good reason for one, but he can’t just decide he wants it to say 10 months.

  3. RIP Hakuho’s career. His arms will eventually be two different sizes and he won’t be able to generate power with that shoulder anymore.

  4. I had the same thing—tried to play though it (did not rest it, as Hakuho is doing), and suffered a full biceps rupture playing hockey. After a full tear, surgery must take place within a week, or it is irreparable. I fear he is risking a full tear and a surgery/recovery of 4-6 months if he continues as he sounds like we will do. I am sure he has been advised about the risks and has made the decision that is best for him. I wish him the best as he tries to soldier forward, but am quite concerned for him.

  5. For everybody hating on Hakuho’s decision, here’s a theory.

    He’s already the most successful rikishi by every measure possible. He has nothing whatsoever to prove, he just enjoys participating, as sumo is his life.

    He had intended to fight until Tokyo 2020 Olympics, possibly no longer thn that. That gives him 6-7 basho left. If he has a surgery that required rest and rehab for up to a year, that leaves him one tournament left. Maybe he’s just thinking he’ll persevere, enjoying fighting til the Olympics and then retire, rather than watch around for a year bored and wishing he could participate in his final few basho.

    Even if he has surgery, he’s not guaranteed to heal properly. Whatever performances he turns in between now and next year, no one would be able to really argue with his ability and record as a Yokozuna.

    • Remember, to remain an active Yokozuna, it’s not enough to participate. You are supposed win. 10 wins and above, in every basho in which you participate. To do that, you need your muscles.

      And since when is Hakuho “just enjoying sumo”? You are talking about the most competitive person in Japan… That man doesn’t even let kids win when he does kiddie sumo. He hates to lose.

      • Of course I know he is competitive and of course I know he needs 10 wins a tournament. He may well believe he can still do well enough even with this injury.

        I’m on every one else’s side. I want him to have surgery and I want to watch him fight for as long as I can. It’s a joy and an honour to watch him. It would set a good precedent for other wrestlers too. I hated seeing Kisenosato forego surgery.

        My point is solely mathematical. If he wants to retire just after Tokyo 2020, having surgery now will remove his chance of participating in almost every basho between now and then. If he thinks he can still perform to 70-80%, combined with the above, that may be why he will forego surgery.

        As I said before, this is all theory, as none of us can read his mind.

      • Given the extreme rarity of tears to the coracobrachialis, I wonder if his doctors were less confident that a surgery would yield significant improvement for the muscle.

        I also was really struck by Hakuho’s comment in the immediate aftermath of his recent victory: “I feel like I’m just glad it’s finally over.”

        • Right, this is so rare that a single case report was deemed worthy of publication a few years ago: https://drmillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/traumatic-rupture-coracobrachialis-muscle.pdf
          It sounds like without surgical exploration, even correct diagnosis is difficult, so we can’t be confident based on the news reports what the injury actually is, and it’s totally unclear whether surgery is the best option. Maybe we should all stop playing orthopedists ;)

          • What? The Tachiai readership shall comment with great enthusiasm on all topics, the more arcane and complicated the better, good sir. We live to enjoy the odd, the eccentric and the impossible.

            Now, let’s talk about the possibilities of Hakuho having his right arm amputated and placed in the sumo museum, to be replaced by some really amazing robotics from Honda. I am sure there are a couple of robotic welders at the Sayama plant that could be swapped out. Take that Maegashira! I shall lift you, weld you, and paint you a pleasant blue color, then return you to the assembly line.

            It could work….

            • YDC: “Why are you killing rikishi by strangulation? Sumo is not a death match sport!”
              Hakuho: “Sorry, I deeply apologize. It’s the IoT, you see. The Chinese have hacked into my arm.”

            • Now, Bruce, remember that Herouth just recently reminded us that Hakuho’s ozeki acceptance phrase was ‘Body and soul,’ not ‘Body, robotics, and soul.’

    • If he was closer…sure…but he has 8 basho to go…that’s a looong way….if he was within 3-4…sure he could miss May and July, withdraw in Sept…withdraw/struggle through Nov and then bam Olympics (if this scenario the Olympics are in Dec)…but 8 is a long road to try to get through if he’s incapable of winning 10+

      • Actually, I just saw the official program, and Sponichi had it wrong – it’s not 戦士, it’s 選士. It’s a rarer word, meaning “chosen” – but it’s still pronounced “senshi”.

  6. Certainly a decision I wouldn’t have anticipated but I’m sure he has a reason for it. With his arm at 80-90% he should still be able to get the Yokozuna KK just by skill and experience. Maybe he is content with his achievements now and is just looking at retirement, 2020 or perhaps sooner. Or maybe he still thinks he can dominate the makuuchi even with this handicap…
    He’s 34 and the most dominant athlete Sumo, and the sports world as a whole, has ever seen. He himself knows best what to do now, even if fans and pundits think differently.

  7. If anyone can do sumo with one arm, it’s Hakuho. I am willing to bet he will still manage to beat 3/4 of his opponents. Or he could retire. We will just have to wait and see. From the description of where the injury is, it could be incredibly risky to attempt to surgically repair it. It’s a balance between risking losing power and risking losing use.

    • I would like to see how far Hakuho could do with one arm tied behind his back. Like an exhibition match where he starting off against the guy at the bottom of Jonokuchi and fought his way up.

  8. Thus the transition period ratchets another notch. I am going to really love watching Hakuho compete in a further degraded state, and I am not entirely sure he still won’t be the most dominant force in sumo for a while longer. But we are likely no more than 18 months away from both current Yokozuna hanging up the rope, I would guess.

    We need the new guys to get busy improving their sumo. Hence some of my frustration with Yutakayama and Abi. The one that is going to cook people’s heads will be how dominant Goeido is going to be if Hakuho is operating at 75% theoretical max.

    I am looking for Takayasu to hopefully lift the cup for the first time soon.

    Thanks as always Herouth for this coverage, its greatly appreciated, and it is quite the addition to the site.

  9. Imagine if Takakeisho in the next year rises to Yokozuna and there is no longer a need for Hakuho to perform for the olympics. I can see the YDC forcing an issue, I mean it kind of already started with the clapping celebration thing. Hakuho is out, Tochinoshin is kind of out, Kakuryu is vulnerable in many ways. Just speculating, but I can see it.

    • Yeah. Only snag in that plot is getting the Hungry Hamster to win two yusho in a row. Or one and a jun-yusho.

      • Too soon, I think. Maybe In a couple of years if Takakeisho can keep his body healthy. It will take the rest of the year for the Grand Tadpole to consolidate his Ozeki rank. I think the more interesting question is who will follow Takakeisho to Ozeki.

        If Hakuho faces a period of extended kyujo, the real beneficiaries are likely to be Goeido (if he can keep that ankle healthy) and Takayasu.

      • Even if Hakuho and Kakuryu both retired tomorrow, the Hamster isn’t going to be winning any yusho for a while if Ichinojo maintains his Haru form.

        • If he does (here’s hoping!) he’ll be Ozeki himself in a couple of tournaments, and eyeing the next level—hungrily.

          • He eyes everything hungrily. I fear for that macaron.

            But his performance has been very unstable. I fear another regression to the mean. And he is currently kyujo with a herniated disk, and not losing any weight.

            • The pun was fully intended ;) And I know being an Ichinojo fan is not a route to consistent gratification. I keep hoping though…

              • Um, yes, and it’s not a new thing. He was kyujo from part of the 2017 Aki jungyo for it, and even then it was an old story. And it’s the main reason for his on-and-off performance.

              • I assume you are referring to the same condition he’s had since 2016, right? Or have I missed something new here?

            • I agree with you Herouth. Ichinojo can be bordering on unstoppable, but those instances have not been that common so far sadly. Hopefully he can find a way to avoid the persistent back injuries! His height and strength offer him such an advantage over most other rikishi. He will need to find a way to make those strong double digit Kachi koshi more frequent.

              • Since his amazing 13-2 debut basho, and prior to his most recent performance, he had two 11-4 records as a double-digit maegashira and two back-to-back 10-5 tournaments at M4 and M1 a little over a year ago, with most other records falling in the range of 6-9 to 9-6, so 14-1 did feel qualitatively different. Here’s hoping it’s a real step change in his sumo!

            • I wonder if his change of style in March was a response to his chronic back problem. Standing up straight and swatting down his opponents, would, I imagine, put less stress on the lower back than adopting a belt-wrestling stance.

              • I’m pretty sure you’re right. In his interviews he apologized that the “sumo was not good”, implying that he was not doing it entirely by choice.

  10. I do not understand Hakuho’s reasoning. He was already fighting the basho on pain killers. He also said he was going to rest from Sumo. Yet here he is, participating in the Jungyo. Now he has leg AND arm pain! What kind of fighter can he be in that situation?

    It seems to me he should have the surgery ASAP, so he can recover ASAP and get back to Sumo in time for the Olympics. This gives his arm and his knee a chance for recovery.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I would think he’d also like full use of his arms and legs once he retires from active wrestling.

    Why, Hakuho? WHY?

    • Maybe, just maybe (speculating here), he knows it has to end sometime, somehow. For the truly great in any walk of life, it becomes a real question. Maybe he sees a path out in this, and he can do it “his way”. You can’t be that good, that dominant, and that historic without believing you can bend the universe (or at least local space-time) to your will.

      As others have astutely pointed out in this comment section, he has one goal fixed in his sight – the 2020 opening ceremonies next year. He has to find a way to get from here to there, and surgery would make that difficult if not impossible. His path to success (for him) is to find a way to continue to win in spite of his injuries.

      You know what, he’s so good, he may just be able to do it.

      • 5 years ago, maybe.

        Anyway, LK has already berated us for speculating, so I will refrain from thinking aloud that the case study he mentioned seemed to end with the patient in working order within 16 weeks. And that with delayed treatment.

  11. Very true, winning two yusho or one and a great performance is still no small task. I’m already starting to miss Hakuho… sigh

  12. Hypothetical question: if Hakuho & Kakuryu both retire before the Olympics, who’s going to be performing the opening ceremony?

    • Assuming there is no new yokozuna? Nobody. A dohyo-iri is not a mandatory part of the Olympics protocol. It is merely supposed to be a cultural exhibition. They can just as well have a Taiyu (a special kind of geisha, only 3 or 4 genuine ones remain) perform a dance, or have a Kyudo, Kendo or Aikido exhibition.

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