Who, exactly, is the old guard ?

So, the 2020 Haru basho went through all coronavirus fears, and, fortunately, could go all the way and without incident.

It certainly has been a pretty unusual basho, with no spectators admitted. However, some recurring themes went on appearing; among them, the continuous rise – and, on several occasions, disappointment brought by the new generation of rikishi.

Thirteen’s day musubi no ichiban, which saw Hakuho facing Asanoyama, could have been subtitled as: “Who is going to take the lead of this basho? Young talent Asanoyama, or old guard leader, dai yokozuna Hakuho?”

If it’s not too hard remembering when our youngsters made their makuuchi debuts (guessing the correct year, at least), who, exactly, constitutes the “old guard”?

Let’s divide this topic into two questions:

1. Who made the oldest makuuchi appearance?

2. Who has the longest uninterrupted makuuchi appearance from today?

First of all, let’s spoil things a bit, as the podium can already be determined. Three names spring to mind: both yokozuna, obviously, and former ozeki Kotoshogiku, now 36, who has stayed in makuuchi after his demotion.

Both yokozuna have stayed in makuuchi right from their first appearance (May 2004 for Hakuho, November 2016), whereas Kotoshogiku made one last stint in juryo before establishing himself in makuuchi on the long run (first appearance in January 2005, continuously in makuuchi since May of the same year).

36 and kicking : Kotoshogiku Kazuhiro (left)

So, who are the best of the rest ?

1. Who made the oldest makuuchi appearance?

Several names come to mind but it’s no surprise one of the “seven samurai”, Tochiozan, holds the oldest appearance, back in March 2007! He stayed in makuuchi the whole time since his unfortunate demotion by the end of 2019, which makes an impressive 12 years stint.

An impressive twelve year stint in makuuchi: Tochiozan Yuichiro

His career highlight? The nervous playoff he lost to Kyokutenho, in May 2012.

Tochinoshin is known for his famous comeback from makushita to makuuchi in 2013-2014, after having sustained a serious knee injury. What is less known is that he already had five years in makuuchi behind him, his debut being back in May 2008.

His career highlight? His promotion to ozeki after, notably, clinching the January 2018 yusho.

The year 2008 also saw the first appearance of Tamawashi. He took the lift down to juryo five times – never for more than one basho – from 2008 to 2013, before establishing himself for good.

January 2019’s surprise winner: Tamawashi Ichiro (right)

His career highlight? A nice run at sekiwake, which saw him clinching the January 2019 tournament.

Okinoumi got promoted to makuuchi in March 2010, and after a short period back to juryo, has fought in makuuchi with no exception since the end of that year.

His career highlight? Three runner up performances, and no less than four gold stars (three wins against Harumafuji, one win against Kakuryu).

However, the main core of the old guard belongs to the “2011 promotion”. Let’s pay tribute to these brave fighters. Under brackets, their age and numbers of jun yusho: Kaisei (33 y.o./2 jun yusho), Takayasu (30/4), Takarafuji (33/1), Aoiyama (33/1), Shohozan (36/1) and Myogiryu (33/0).

All of them have reached san’yaku: Takayasu got promoted to ozeki, Shohozan had a career best as komosubi, all the others went as high as sekiwake.

Let’s finally point out Ikioi, who began a makuuchi career in March 2012.

To sum up:

RikishiOldest makuuchi appearance
Hakuho ShoMay 2004
Kotoshogiku KazuhiroJanuary 2005
Kakuryu RikisaburoNovember 2006
Tochiozan YuichiroMarch 2007
Tochinoshin TsuyoshiMay 2008
Tamawashi IchiroSeptember 2008
Okinoumi AyumiMarch 2010
Kaisei IchiroMay 2011
Takayasu AkiraJuly 2011
Takarafuji DaisukeJuly 2011
Aoiyama KosukeNovember 2011
Shohozan YuyaNovember 2011
Myorigyu YasunariNovember 2011
Ikioi ShotaMarch 2012

2. Who has the longest uninterrupted makuuchi appearance from today?

Continuously fighting in makuuchi on the long run is no easy task, as we shall see. We may (and we should) all applause Kotoshogiku for his incredible longevity, as well as we can praise Okinoumi for being around since November 2010, and Takayasu for having not being demoted a single time to juryo, since his first makuuchi appearance in July 2011!

Present since 2010: Okinoumi Ayumi

Several rikishi have unfortunately suffered demotion since their debut, but do hang to makuuchi for quite some time: Tamawashi (present since July 2013), Takarafuji (since July 2013), Tochinoshin (since November 2014), Shohozan (demoted during the year 2015, present since November 2015).

Some of the courageous warriors have unfortunately suffered demotion lately. Myogiryu and Aoiyama came back to makuuchi in March 2018, whereas Ikioi, Tochiozan and Kaisei all stormed back in January 2020.

So, who complete our table? Incredibly, the “new guard”! Shohozan brought Mitakeumi with him, in November 2015. We witnessed, shortly after, Shodai (January 2016), Endo (May 2016) and Kagayaki’s (July 2016) rise.

Finally setting his sights on ozeki promotion? Mitakeumi Hisashi
RikishiStayed in makuuchi since
Hakuho ShoMay 2004
Kotoshogiku KazuhiroMay 2005
Kakuryu RikisaburoNovember 2006
Okinoumi AyumiNovember 2010
Takayasu AkiraJuly 2011
Tamawashi IchiroJuly 2013
Takarafuji DaisukeJanuary 2013
Tochinoshin TsuyoshiNovember 2014
Shohozan YuyaNovember 2015
Mitakeumi HisashiNovember 2015
Shodai NaoyaJanuary 2016
Endo ShotaMay 2016
Kagayaki TaishiJuly 2016
Myogiryu YasunariMarch 2018
Aoiyama KosukeMarch 2018
Ikioi ShotaJanuary 2020
Tochiozan YuichiroJanuary 2020
Kaisei IchiroJanuary 2020

So what’s the conclusion? Some of the old guard is having a rough time, with Shohozan, Tochiozan or Myogiryu having suffering big make kochi in Osaka, not even mentioning Takayasu’s worrying state.

At the same time, the clock is ticking for the young hopes to shine…

17 thoughts on “Who, exactly, is the old guard ?

  1. For me, in the year 2010, with 87 wins against only 4 losses, and 5 yushos, Hakuho achieved the pinnacle of sumo dominance. He had the same number of zensho yushos as losses that year. I do not know much about Raiden and the fighers of the 19th century, but I doubt anyone was or could be that dominant. As for the new pups on the block, we get all giddy when they win one yusho and wonder whether they could be on a ozeki run. At the same time, people complain when Hakuho uses a face-slap as if he is supposed to win with one hand tied behind his back because he is after all Hakuho.

    • I agree with the dominance part. We do not know much about old times – were rikishi that strong, or was there just no competition? Were people afraid of death (including the gyoji!)? Etc. For Hakuho, it’s pretty clear he’s just a monster.

      The tricky part about the recent face slaps and so, is that nobody tells him he has to win at any cost until he turns 60 or so. If he can’t produce “regular” fights, he has to preserve sport’s dignity above anything else – even if that means retiring.
      That’s Herouth main point: that he’s staying around for too long because of the Olympic dream thing, and that tarnishes his reputation – I agree with that.

      • Based upon this logic, rikishi like Shohozan and Tamawashi should have been hounded from the sport long ago. Lots of rikishi do it, if for no reason other than to avoid bumping heads at the tachiai. Or is it only yokozuna for whom face slaps are bad form? Seriously, if the gods of sumo are so anti-face slapping, then they should adopt a rule against it. Don’t bitch about a guy employing a perfectly legal technique.

        Thanks very for your post. I found it very insightful and informative.

        • There’s the rules and there’s Yokozuna standards. The former is written down, the latter is tradition. Shohozan can (and does) swing haymakers on a regular basis. He’s not a Yokozuna. Hakuho? Yeah, he’s viewed in a different manner, at least by me, because he’s a Yokozuna.

          • A yokozuna’s opponents are all in the joi-jin. They know a face-slap is coming. If they can’t prepare themselves before hand to handle it, then do they even deserve to be in the joi-jin, much less be a ozeki or yokozuna? You guys are acting as if all Hakuho fights are against Hattorizakura.

          • In other words, when a rikishi is promoted to Yokozuna he immediately loses an ill-defined set of techniques which are fine for those ranked lower to use. That puts them at a significant disadvantage.

            I’m curious: I’ve only watched a steady diet of Hakuho bouts over the last five years. Did he use face slaps as he was working his way up through the ranks?

            • I haven’t followed sumo long enough, but I’m guessing the Yokozuna greats of the past didn’t exactly treat their opponents with kid gloves.

            • I don’t see the Yokozuna as significantly disadvantaged. Do you really? Am I imagining things when I think I hear commentators speak of Yokozuna sumo, etc? Nah. That’s just the way it is.

              • Let’s say they have a few specific rules to observe. During an endless Hakuho v Tamawashi matta, John Gunning reminded viewers a yokozuna shouldn’t call unilaterally a matta, and should take the tachi-ai as it comes.

            • Through the ranks, I don’t know. But he has used shoulder blasts and co for years – he KO’d Ikioi and Myogiryu at the tachi-ai, back in 2015.

            • We are whining about Hakuho slaps, we was whining about Hakuho forearm opening.That’s nothing …. go and watch some Asashoryu bouts. Asa was the most gentle rikishi ever seen. Asa was the personification of Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella together. He won an Oscar for best female acting in a tearing drama. Come on … Asa was a brute and I loved it. Watch those fights when he tried at any cost to humiliate the opponent. Extra shoves, extra slaps, extra pushes, extra salt’n peppa.

              • Akebono went for the face immediately and with both hands, and included serious nodowa that would bend his opponents backwards.

      • As long as he’s winning a couple of yusho each year, it seems hard to say that he’s really tarnishing his rep. I think everyone has accepted that his time as a nigh-unstoppable force ended by the middle of 2016, and despite a bit of an indian summer in 2017, that he’s now only able to show flashes of what he once was.

        Mid-decline-phase Hakuho is still capable of putting his counting stats even further beyond reach. I think 30 years from now, that will enhance rather than mar the way he’s regarded. Suppose that he began 2018 as an ozeki. He’d still be ozeki, and he’s still won more yusho than anyone else in that time!

  2. I’m coping with lockdown boredom / potential long sumo withdrawal by watching some old tournaments. I only started following sumo from September 2016 and there is Kintamayama coverage going back to at least 2012. So I’m watching January 2012 now and will continue to catch up on everything I missed between 2012 and 2016. But, to get to the point, it’s amazing how many rikishi in the 2012 makuuchi are still around. And wow, 5 ozeki including Kisenosato, Harumafuji and Kotoshogiku. Plus a Sekiwake called Kakuryu who might have potential. Also who was eating all Takanoyama’s chanko??

    Another thing that interests me is how many European rikishi there were at that point in time . While a few are still active (Tochinoshin, Aoiyama, Gagamaru… sort of), there there hasn’t been any new blood (although I saw there is a new Ukrainean recruit). Is this the delayed impact of the one foreigner rule?

    • I really enjoyed watching that 2012-2016 period so I wish the same to you! Personally I followed these Basho on Jason’s channel, but that’s a matter of taste 😎

      I wrote this article because the same springs to my mind: Kaisei, Tochiozan, Ikioi, Shohozan… The old guard’s, remarkably, is still there.
      That makes the current transitional period all the more… brutal.

      Enjoy the Basho!

    • The one foreigner per stable rule was actually more permissive than what they had before, which was two per stable but with an overall limit of 40 spots. The change to one foreign rikishi with no overall maximum effectively pushed the limit to over 60 at the time.

      The issue right now is more that the wild west days from 15-20 years ago are simply over – many oyakata have become reluctant to “waste” their one available slot on uncertain talents. It’s been helped along by the development that a sizable number of skilled Mongolian kids are now going to Japan to enroll in high schools and universities with notable amateur sumo programs, so there’s a talent pool that can be observed in many tournaments across several years before the time comes to accept them into a stable (or not). Guys like the Ukrainian basically only get one opportunity per year to impress, at the amateur world championships.

      • Many thanks for the info, I never new about the previous total limit of 40.

        It’s entirely feasible there will only be sekitori from Japan and Mongolia in the not too distant future which will be a bit of a shame


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