The Choice To “Pull”

“Back, and To the Left”

For the facts and the debate about the Tochinoshin-Asanoyama match, I will refer you to Herouth’s thorough, Oliver Stone-esque, examination of the Zapruder film. There was one more decision that I want to look at, Tochi’s decision to “pull.” When I refer to “pulling,” it’s the act of moving backwards, with the hand cupped around the back of the opponent’s head, in an attempt to drag him down for a hatakikomi victory. For example, Abi used this tactic to defeat Tochinoshin on Day 11, starting this three bout losing streak.

In the bout against Abi, there was no doubt as Abi’s heel remained high in the air when he backed up against the tawara. But in all honesty, when a rikishi makes the decision to pull, he is frequently putting his fate in the hands of video review. Either someone steps out, falls first, or there’s a hair pull. I wish there was a way to query the SumoDB for failed pulls because we’ve all seen them cost Kakuryu and Goeido shots at titles.

The move often begins in the center of the ring, or sometimes even closer to the straw bales. In many instances, the “attacker/retreater” springs off the dohyo hoping the opponent falls before he himself plummets beneath the plane of the dohyo and onto an unlucky ojisan in the front row. This was the case of Abi’s attempt in yesterday’s bout against Aoiyama, immediately prior to the Tochinoshin/Asanoyama bout.

Watch the replay from the opposite, original angle and watch Tochinoshin’s foot twist in recoil immediately after his heel goes over the boundary. From the head on angle you don’t see whether it touches and it’s honestly a moot point. He knows that outside the dohyo is “hot lava” and he got close enough to get singed.

Followers of Tachiai’s reporting will likely be familiar with the rather dimly held view we have of “pulling”…particularly when employed by members of the elite corps of Yokozuna and Ozeki. When it’s used by Goeido, Kakuryu, or even Hakuho and Takayasu, it’s a signal that a nagging injury may have cropped up. Lower ranked guys like Abi get a bit of a pass. In Abi’s case, it is one of his preferred attacks, accounting for nearly a fifth of his wins. This fact will likely keep him from progressing further up the banzuke unless he develops stronger thrusting approaches or adds some belt work to his repertoire.

If Tochinoshin wants to regain his ozeki rank in a few hours, he will use the brand of sumo that got him here. Or, Kakuryu may tempt fate by employing his own disastrous pull as he’s been known to do at times. While Kakuryu dominates their long term head-to-head rivalry, over the last year they’ve been very evenly matched, trading wins over the past few basho, and it may be Tochi’s turn.

The bottom line is, Tochinoshin put himself in great position to get his 10 wins and hopefully he’ll get there. He will have the best chance, doing it on his terms, using the brand of sumo that got him where he is. Clinching his rank against a Yokozuna or Ozeki, when his win against Takakeisho came by fusen, is honestly more deserving and poetic than against a maegashira. He’ll get there. I gotta keep telling myself, “he’ll get there.”

11 thoughts on “The Choice To “Pull”

  1. I very much hope you are correct (and that Tochinoshin’s mental state is correct, though who could blame him for being otherwise right now). This basho has been just…something else.

  2. Yesterday, Shikoroyama oyakata was commentating for Abema TV. What he said after Tomokaze won (by pulling) was: “Tomokaze should not habituate himself to pulling, thinking it’s a winning strategy, because it will delay his true development for a long time, as it did to Asanoyama”. And he is very critical of Abi’s pulls, although Abi is his “kanban rikishi”. We may forgive it in Maegashira, but the oyakata don’t.

    • Glad to hear that it is frowned upon rather officially. In my mind, henka > pull, but I do have a rather warped mind.

    • And now, with the sidestep, begins the speculation that Tochinoshin is injured. I really think a pull is a sign of weak sumo and in an Ozeki or Yokozuna, a sign of injury. Kind of the “acceptable” henka when injured.

      • You needn’t speculate. Kintamayama posted on Sumo Forum (i can’t figure out how to link individual posts – it’s at the bottom of page 33 of the main discussion thread) what I would guess is a translation of an article in Japanese that said he was hurt in his first loss and has been seriously hurting since then.

        (He unfortunately never links to his sources. I called him out on that bad habit in the past and he says he’s scared to have translated it wrong. Like, but not scared to give baldly wrong information because his translation was wrong and no one else can easily check it? I guess we all have Google and if we know enough Japanese can search for Sumo news with Japanese characters and find whatever article he translated, but it’s annoying.)

  3. Just for the record, I’d say that Chris Gould’s video is more Oliver Stone-esque (given that Stone is a fabulist), while Herouth’s post is akin to the Warren Commission’s report.

  4. Well whaddaya know. We were both wrong (I predicted yesterday that one of them was going to try to win by moving backwards). :-)

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