Day 8’s “Musubi no WTF”

Terunofuji turning appealing eyes to Inosuke (Photo from Nikkan Sports, by Ozawa Hitoshi)

Just when you think that this basho can’t get any crazier, Shikimori Inosuke tells us all to hold his beer.

I’m talking, of course, of what happened in the musubi-no-ichiban on day 8.

This starts out as an exciting match, with Wakamotoharu showing that his win over an Ozeki was not a fluke. The match gets complicated, and two minutes pass. Wakamotoharu gets the Yokozuna pretty close to the edge, shuffles for a position, while the Yokozuna also improves his own hold with a deep left hand grip.

Then Wakamotoharu goes on the attack and the Yokozuna is out! A zabuton flies in. The audience goes “oh!”. But… wait… the gyoji doesn’t point the gunbai. There’s a commotion. A monoii? What is going on?

Here is what is going on.

At exactly 2:54 in the video above, Wakamotoharu’s back knot gives in and gets untied. Shikimori Inosuke, who is standing far away on the other side of the dohyo, notices this, and runs in to call a mawashi matta. He shouts “matta, matta”, and attempts to tap both rikishi’s backs. Terunofuji complies and relaxes his hold, at which point Wakamotoharu, who was already starting an attack, completes it and the Yokozuna is out.

To understand what a mawashi-matta is, you can refer to my older article about gyoji calls (scroll down a bit). If the back knot is untied, the whole mawashi can get unraveled, at which point the front part may also loosen enough to show the rikishi’s family jewels – and that’s a “shameful disqualification”, and definitely not considered a good thing to watch on prime time TV.

So a gyoji has to stop the match, re-tie the knot, and start it from the position where it was stopped. It was unfortunate, though, that Wakamotoharu did not stop when the gyoji called it.

The shimpan discussion was not your usual monoii discussion, therefore, but a discussion about a rare if not unprecedented situation. A mawashi matta itself is not a problem, but continuing to move after that is, and there was also the issue of the Yokozuna going out.

The rules say that after the time limit (when the rikishi throw their last salt and enter the ring), exiting it is a loss. There was a famous case in a 1968 match between Katsuhikari and Asaarashi, in which Asaarashi picked a bit of trash that somehow got into the dohyo, and left the ring to throw it away. The shimpan stopped the match and a foul was called (loss by hansoku). So you are not supposed to leave the dohyo. But clearly the Yokozuna should not be punished for complying with the gyoji’s instruction, nor should Wakamotoharu be rewarded for not complying.

The shimpan had a consultation, and decided to proceed as if he never left the dohyo. That is, from the point of the mawashi-matta. The problem was getting the two rikishi back into their positions. So more than a mawashi-matta, this resembled a mizu-iri situation (see the same article!). But this turned out to be a bit difficult.

You see this sort of situation in Snooker sometimes. A foul and a miss is called, and the opponent requests a reset. The referee then consults with an overlay of the video and the table, and adjusts the balls until they are back to their original position.

But this is sumo, and what followed was a farcical adjustment of positions, arms and feet, with the spectators having a commotion in the background. You can see it in the video above from 4:24, when Shikimori Inosuke calls Sadogatake up to adjust the rikishi, as he is the only one with a video link. Only, of course, he can’t see the video, just hear instructions from the Fujishima oyakata, who was at the video room, and serve as a proxy.

I really hope the NSK will learn from this situation and equip the shimpan-cho with a tablet through which he’ll be able to see the overlay (or other video situations) with his own eyes rather than go through the “tell him to tell them that I was told that…” hoops.

Going back to the point of the call, though, there is argument that Inosuke’s call came at a bad timing. Sadogatake oyakata, in an interview, said the consultation was mainly to establish that it really was a mawashi-matta situation, but he wasn’t very clear about whether it was made at an appropriate time. Usually a mawashi-matta is only called when the rikishi are at an impasse. However, some shifting and shuffling do not prevent a mawashi-matta from being called. Inosuke clearly believed this was an impasse, as he stopped calling “nokotta” shortly before the incident.

His positioning can also be questioned, as if he stood closer to the pair, he’d probably have been able to react more quickly.

Another point for argument is whether it would have been better to call a yarinaoshi (redo, not a torinaoshi (rematch), which is the call made when two rikishi lose a match at the exact same time). Bear in mind there was also the question of time, because this was past 6 O’Clock Japan time and a yarinaoshi would have required the whole shikiri process again. It’s also debatable whether or not it would be fairer.

Kudos to Wakamotoharu for giving the yokozuna an excellent fight. Next time, though, make sure your mawashi is tied properly. Also, a nod to Shodai who fixed the knot for him though it’s clearly not his duty.

15 thoughts on “Day 8’s “Musubi no WTF”

  1. Thank you for this great explanation! I do think this was a perfect storm for what happened (timing, gyoji placement, etc.) and it’s honestly impressive that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. It speaks to the skills of everyone who prepare the rikishi to mount the dohyo.

    • I am not sure, what is the mistake of Inosuke.
      He tried to stop the fight as per rules, as the knot of wakamotoharu was loose.
      It’s good that he noticed and stopped the fight.

      • He tried to stop the fight not at an impasse, but in a crucial moment of action. The gyoji was following the letter of the rule, but in the process also ignored the long-standing precedent of letting the rikishi fight it out till there is a suitable pause to handle the situation in. By doing so, the gyoji affected the outcome of the match, It seems high time to make mandatory retirement age of those who hold in-ring duties lower that the retirement age of 65 for those who hold responsibilities outside of it. The association cannot let this egg on their face result happen again; the sport of sumo is already hurting enough without adding this to it.

  2. After reading Herouth’s superb analysis, my only gripe is that they clearly failed to put Wakamotoharu’s legs in the proper position. The stance in which they placed him was less dynamic and, I suspect, aided the Yokozuna in what followed.

  3. And at the restart, Tara had a grip on all layers of the mawashi, not just the outer layer, so he had much better control and leverage than he had before the stoppage.

  4. Inosuke strikes again. Chris Sumo’s video of the match, from a different angle than NHK, showed that Wakamotoharu’s mawashi had come loose much before. Inosuke failed to noticed it until it was too late. Both Inosuke and Tamajiro need to be retired. Both are past their prime.

    • I’m not really sure what you are talking about, because the knot was undone visibly at 2:45 in the video I created, so Inosuke couldn’t have seen it come undone earlier.

      • I think you have the right of it — the knot is loose before then but it comes completely undone at that moment. The gyoji reacts instantly but unfortunately Wakamotoharu begins his charge simultaneously. The only misgiving I have about the resolution is (as deepfatfriar pointed out abve) in the restart Terunofuji has a better left grip on Wakamotoharu’s mawashi. But then, if the loose tie was the cause of the issue to start with then maybe that’s fair too.

      • It looked quite loose (the knot itself, not just the mawashi) about 20-30 seconds earlier; I have no idea if it would have been appropriate to call a mawashi matta then, or if it’s customary to wait until it actually comes undone…

      • Chris Sumo’s video taken from a different angle shows a loose mawashi – you can even see the face of a spectator through the loose loop of Wakamotoharu’s mawashi quite some time before the gyoji made the call.

  5. As Herouth says, this kind of situation always makes me think of Snooker and the trouble they used to have getting the balls back to the right place in the days before the referee could just snap a picture from the video to work from.

    I wondered if there was one other factor that might have helped Terunofuji after the restart – Wakamotoharu is a bit younger, injury free, doesn’t have diabetes – might he have had more energy resources left at the point it was stopped, only for the break to neutralize that advantage?


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