What’s all the commotion? Part 2: Matchmaking

Diligently setting up a mizu-iri

In this post, we are going to cover the gyoji’s “kake-goe”, the calls he makes as he officiates a bout, as opposed to “yobi-age”, the summoning of the rikishi, which we covered in part 1.

The pre-bout: shikiri and tachiai

The word shikiri refers to the pre-bout procedure. It always starts with the two rikishi doing shiko in the corners. Then, there is sonkyo (squat) showing your hands are empty, and then the rikishi approach the shikiri-sen and crouch. Salt throwing is done only in the top two divisions (except on occasions when there is time to kill). The rikishi move around, slap their bellies, exchange glances, etc., until the time judge decides it’s time.

The part before the time judge marks the time is called jikan mae, and following the sonkyo and the announcement of the rikishi names, heya and place of origin on the PA, the gyoji will tell the rikishi to synchronize their breaths. There are several formulae for doing this. You’ll hear kamaete (“get ready”), miatte or miawashite (“look at each other”), yudannaku (“Be on the alert”) or variations thereof.

The gyoji glances at the time referee, who signals the time. He then bows to the time referee, turns back, and signals to the rikishi that it’s time. One part of this is the way he holds his gunbai: he holds upright facing the front, and then points it at himself. He accompanies this with jikan desu (“it’s time”), matta nashi (“no false starts”), te wo oroshite (“lower your hands”), te wo tsuite (“touch down with your hands”) or variations thereof. Once the rikishi crouch, the gyoji may again say one of the above, mostly “te wo tsuite” or “matta nashi”.

And now, either the rikishi indeed synchronized their breaths and put their hands down properly, and the bout starts, or there is a false start, a “matta”. If that happens, the gyoji usually says mada-mada-mada (“not yet, not yet, not yet”), and raises his left hand (the right hand holds the gunbai) to stop the rikishi from fully engaging.

Matta, Kimura Konosuke

During the match

If the gyoji deems the bout to be properly started, he will shout out hakkeyoi. Experienced rikishi who are in doubt if the situation is matta or not (e.g. if the opponent is not properly engaging), will listen for that “hakkeyoi” for a confirmation that they should not let down their guards.

The meaning of the word “hakkeyoi” itself is not entirely clear. The official documentation says it comes from 発気揚々 – hakkiyōyō – which kind of means “spirit bursting with vigor”. But there are other claims as well: 八卦良い (“hakkeyoi” – “good omens”), 早競へ (“hayakioe” – “compete fast”) etc. I have even heard Hakuho claiming that he read in a book that the combination “hakkeyoi-nokotta” is actually from Hebrew. Rest assured, it most certainly isn’t.

Ah yes, following the initial “hakkeyoi” comes a litany of nokotta (“remained”, as in “remained in, not lost yet”) peppered with additional “hakkeyoi”, all while the gyoji moves about constantly. The gyoji must move all the time, so as not to obstruct the view for anybody except momentarily. While the rikishi are also moving about, he shouts “nokotta” (it sometimes sounds like “nokatta”) to indicate that they can go on. The rikishi can’t look at the gunbai. Like the initial “hakkeyoi”, this provides them with an auditory cue. As long as they hear “nokotta” they know they can fight on.

If the rikishi go into a stalemate – which usually happens in a yotsu battle, as pushing-thrusting bouts tend to quickly resolve one way or the other, the gyoji will stop the “nokotta” and instead urge them to renew action, by shouting “hakkeyoi” again. Most gyoji actually go yoi, hakkeyoi, yoi. They pause a bit, and then go again – until the wrestlers start moving again, and then they switch back to “nokotta”.

If the gyoji sees one of the rikishi going out or touching the ground, he declares the match done: shobu-ari or shobu-atta (“There’s a match” or “There was a match”). You don’t usually hear that call in top-division bouts, though I can’t say if it’s because the gyoji don’t say it, or because the crowd is too noisy to hear it. Following the “shobu-ari”, the gyoji raises his gunbai and points to the winner’s side (not the winner himself who may be anywhere on or off the dohyo, or entangled with his opponent).

If there is no monoii, the winning rikishi squats to “accept the gunbai”, and the gyoji calls out his name and points the gunbai at him. This is called kachi-nanori, and in the top division, it may be accompanied by envelopes served atop the gyoji’s gunbai.

Let’s look at a complete bout, featuring the two “Masas” – Yobidashi Hiromasa and gyoji Kimura Narimasa. This is a Jonidan bout from day 13 of Aki 2019:

In this bout we hear:

  • “Kamaete” – in jikan-mae.
  • “Matta-nashi” – when it’s time-in.
  • “Te wo tsuite” – as the rikishi are about to crouch.
  • “Hakkeyoi, nokotta, nokot… shobu-ari”. – It’s a short match.

How to tell a Shikimori from a Kimura

Shikimori Kandayu

The gyoji in professional Sumo all adopt one of two surnames. The majority are named “Kimura”, and the others, “Shikimori”. The two “families” differ by the way they hold their gunbai when they point it. It can be seen most clearly during the yobi-age, but the same style is used also at the end of the match, when raising the gunbai in the direction of the winner.

  • The Kimura gyoji point their gunbai with their fingers and thumb downwards, and the back of their hand towards the ceiling.
  • The Shikimori gyoji point their gunbai with their fingers and thumb upwards, and the back of their hand toward the ground.
Kimura Motoki

Mawashi matta and Mizu-iri


There are two occasions on which the gyoji has to temporarily stop the proceedings. One of them is the mawashi-matta. If a rikishi’s mawashi is undone to the point that his genitals show, he is immediately disqualified. To prevent such a situation from happening, the gyoji pause the match if they note that the back knot (musubi-me) has gotten loose. Note that the other end of the mawashi, at the front, is considered safe even if you see it hanging loose, as it is threaded at least twice between the layers of mawashi. The back knot, however, is the weak link.

The gyoji waits for a dead moment in the bout, and then calls out matta, matta, laying his hands on the back part of the two rikishi’s mawashi, stopping them from moving. The rikishi are supposed to freeze there, though you’ll see many try to micro-maneuver into a more advantageous grip at that point. Once he adjusts the rebellious knot and verifies that the other knot is secure as well, he calls iika? iika? and taps their back sides again to signal that they should start again.

That’s the established form. However, the script seems to have some lenience in this case, as you can clearly hear in the following video, from Haru 2016, Day 6. This is a bout between Sadanofuji and Tsurugisho, and the mawashi matta occurs at about 0:29:

In this case, the gyoji calls “Hora! (something unclear) Ugokuna!” – “Hey! don’t move!”. So he doesn’t exactly stick to script.

Here is another example, which is also a very nice bout from the lower divisions, Day 6, Aki 2017. The wrestlers are Jingu (right) and Toshonishiki (left). This has both a regular matta and a mawashi matta (3:16).

As you can see, the fact that Jingu’s front flap is loose is not a cause to stop the bout, but Toshonishiki’s loose knot is. And here the gyoji actually called “Mate-mate-mate” (“stop-stop-stop”).

The same procedure holds true for a mizu-iri as well. We have mentioned mizu-iri in Part 1, now we can watch one. It’s Haru 2015, Day 14, Terunofuji vs. Ichinojo. Remember the bout lasts 4 minutes before they call mizu-iri, so you can skip to 4:25 if you don’t have patience for a long standoff.

The gyoji, Shikimori Kandayu (now Shikimori Inosuke) stays around and watches the foot marks he has made like a hawk so as not to confuse them with other marks when the rikishi return.

You can also hear the “ii-ka?” when he puts them back into position. It means “OK?”, as in “ready?”. The “ii-ka” is usually rather muffled, because the gyoji is biting on his gunbai’s cord so he has to ask it through clenched teeth.

To complete our education, let’s look at a rare event when there were two mizu-iri in the same bout. This is Natsu 2001 (and video technology to match, sorry), day 6. Kotomitsuki vs. Musoyama. The first mizu-iri occurs at about 5:20. The second, about 12:30. When this happens, the shimpan hold up a kyogi (conference), similar to that which follows a monoii.

The established practice is to set up a nibango-torinaoshi after two mizu-iri. However, since this may encroach on the prime-time matches (this match was 4th from the end), the shimpan (die-hard fans will be familiar with the head shimpan in this match) decide to hold an ichibango-torinaoshi. That is, a redo after one regular match. The kyogi explanation followed by the torinaoshi are at 15:00.

5 thoughts on “What’s all the commotion? Part 2: Matchmaking

  1. I’ll try to remember to ask Bruce to hold his gumbai during the next podcast so we can see whether he’s a Shikimori or Kimura.

  2. “Hakkeyoi” derives from the the Bengali “hak e hoy” (“હક એ હોય”) which roughly translates as “that’s right”.

  3. Thanks! How is it decided whether a new gyoji will be a Shikimori or an Kimura, and what’s the basis for the decision?

    • Well, there are a lot of little details about this, which I guess I’ll put into a full piece about gyoji in the future (it will not be in the near future as I want to do a tokoyama piece first). But in general, it works like this: each gyoji, when he joins the NSK, is apprenticed to another gyoji. If possible – one in the same heya, but sometimes it’s a new heya so he is the first, so he get a master from a different heya. He becomes the master gyoji’s tsukebito, and the master teaches him the traditions of the office.

      The surname is always that of the master, with the exception that sometimes the apprentice gyoji, as he progresses, takes on a different name that used to belong to his master when he was young. In this case, it may happen that the master is now a Kimura and the apprentice is a Shikimori (there is a tendency to encourage using Shikimori in such cases as there are very few of them).

      The “given name” is determined by the heya owner together with the master gyoji.


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