Andy Reviews Al-Jazeera Feature

I Love this mystical side and the long history of sumo, too…but sorry, I dislike its treatment in this video.

God, I miss jungyo.

I thought this little news feature would be a good way to quench my thirst for a half-hour or so but it’s not all smiles. In fact, it’s a lot of frowny faces and now a few hours spent drafting a rebuttal. Despite the overwhelmingly positive appearance of the reviews on YouTube, 63 “likes” to 1 “dislike,” I found myself clicking thumbs-down and becoming “dislike #2”. I’m disappointed that it caves too easily to reinforcing stereotypes. Rather than ignore such shoddy reporting, I think it’s important to call it out — and it’s important for me to give John Gunning, and MMA fans, an apology.

For a few weeks, I had been thinking my bad translations were the “fake news” that had gotten John Gunning riled up. That article did not have a lot of specifics but now, I’m thinking…”Was it this, instead?” It may have just been unfortunate timing that he had tweeted me about a mistake I’d made a few days before.

Yes, I make mistakes, but I try real hard to provide fans with updates on the sumo world because more and more, reliable news is hiding behind a paywall or a wall of ads. And the reason I think reliable information must be free is because there is BS out there. Truth must always outbid lies. I’m struggling to find a sustainable model for providing that reliable information but I’ll get there and I’ve got a plan I’d like to try if we can get to the other side of this Covid crisis. (So watch this space.)

Let’s face it, when I think two rikishi standing in a parking lot are going to drivers’ ed instead of sumo school, I feel like a dumbass. But it is vitally important to get called out and I take it on the chin and learn. I’m always open to criticism of me and my reporting on this site. I’ve got pretty thick skin. The few times I’ve had to step in relating to comments on the site, it’s been about protecting others and things that are offensive…which has been VERY rare. Readers of this site are amazing and quite knowledgeable and respectful.

As an aside: While I’m typing this, I realize that I owe MMA fans an apology for dissing MMA recently. Sorry, Takanofuji’s actions are not an indictment of the sport, as I’d implied. He needs to be able to control his aggression because I fear he’s going to end up in real trouble or really hurting someone. I was afraid RIZIN was enabling it and promoting it for attention.

In the case of this news story, though, I don’t think Al-Jazeera will learn anything and begin to cover sumo as anything more than a weird curiosity, “closed off to outsiders.” This is a one-time piece, not a reporter learning a new beat. And it’s the same for The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc. They will not do what we deserve, which is provide reliable current events about our sport. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have an sports channel from the Arab world covering the sport when Osunaarashi was dolling out kachi-age?

I’m sorry, John. I’d taken it personally when you’d called out “fake news.” The fact is, we exist here because the usual media sources do exactly what this piece (of poo) does. They try to offer viewers “Unrivaled Access” by peeling back a curtain on some bizarre, foreign world. “Hey guys, get a load of what’s happening in here! Their religion makes them do weird things.” On the contrary, sumo Twitter, the Sumo Forum, Doistuyama’s SumoDB, and us fan blogs and podcasts try our best to share the rare tidbits and nuggets from this amazing sport.

OK, rant over, let’s get to the review. After an ad, the piece starts out by looking at young Toki and Shosuke training to be sumo wrestlers then abandons that and follows a young female fan and her obsession with sumo. Then, we jump to having special access in Naruto-beya. And just as we’re settling in with Naruto, the crew takes us back to talk to the kids — but not before they take a shot at the “isolation.” From here, they go completely off the rails and take the disappointing angle of pegging young Shosuke as a dumb jock with this insane dream of joining a bunch of fat monks who beat each other to death. Those other kids, the ones who dream of being “rock stars and football legends” are so much more legitimate somehow?

While in Naruto-beya, and criticizing all the fat they’re adding to the chanko, they cite a startling statistic that sumo wrestlers’ life expectancy, at 65, is 20 years less than the average Japanese man. I immediately wonder whether the crew will follow the guys from the chanko dining-hall out to an izakaya. The narrator goes on, the newer wrestlers “joined 3 months ago. Most won’t last a year.” It wouldn’t surprise me, but I’d check that little stat. Sometimes I wish the News was subject to peer review.

I’d also offer a little context. I know a lot of English teachers and hosts and hostesses who didn’t make it a year in Japan. I also know a whole bunch of servers and cooks and Target Associates here in the US who didn’t make it a year. I wonder what the attrition rate is for journalists? It must be rough starting out as an urban beat reporter, alone, carrying around your own camera in downtown DC or Philly to set up your live shots, or in the studio getting unwelcome daily fashion advice from your traffic reports…while your editor hobnobs with the political and business elites at cocktail parties? Or am I stereotyping?

I am curious, though, Al Jazeera…are you going to follow a young salaryman or engineer at Toyota while he’s at the office until 10pm and living at the company dorm? Are you going to mourn his love live or access to girls? Dude…the look on those wrestlers’ faces when that girl was taking pictures. Girls are not some unknown to them. I’d have loved that kind of attention. Let’s face it, I didn’t have career goals in mind when I was living in Tokyo. I went out, had fun, met my wife…15 years later, I still can’t speak Japanese. When you set your mind to a career, chances are you are not going to have a lot of time to do a lot of things.

I think my major frustration here is that there was so much potential here for a half-dozen great documentaries. Follow Shosuke without insulting a 13-year-old kid. Why is his dream any less legitimate than anyone else’s? As for you dissing his math, he’ll be a whiz counting up his kensho one day. What happened to Toki? Or Makko? I can tell you, sujo are not some new thing. My wife’s grandmother was one.

Makko’s autographed Hakuho tabi-sock and sumo cards are surely only a small fraction of her private sumo museum. I cracked up when she’s “back stage” at a jungyo event with Hakuho himself, and he quietly asks her, “Who’s design are you wearing?” and she answers, “Mitakeumi.” The subtle look on his face was priceless but the moment appeared lost to the narrator. The shot where Makko walks up to Ichinojo and asks his weight should have been left on the cutting room floor. Yes, he’s big, we know that. Go back and explore her collection!!!

I swear, with the kind of access that was offered to Al Jazeera, any of us sumo fan blogs or podcasts would have walked away with absolute GOLD. Yes, we’re aware of the controversies. But when you do a story on Shohei Otani, are you going to mention the Houston Astros and their cheating scandal? Is Jordan McNair a required topic for a piece about football? You’re not going to change things from the outside. The sport has been changing, and it has been changing for the better. We fans will keep working on it because it’s an awesome sport. And this awesome sport deserves better, and more regular, reporting. (I mean, if you’re having to dive into scandals from a decade ago, how current is your reporting?)

Al Jazeera, you just proved to me that a 15 year-old girl got better access to the Kakukai, and a lot better understanding of it, than you. “Unrivaled Access.” HA!

安全第一

Safey First!

Sumo is a great sport. And as with any activity, there are a variety of risks involved. So, not to be hyperbolic, safety is ultimately all about reducing those risks. First Aid does not stop accidents from happening. They are just a series of procedures that help give the individual the best shot at recovery (or survival). Few of us who watched Takayasu writhe in pain last year, Kizakiumi’s dangerous fall, or any of the times that the big wheelchair is brought out, really feel that there is any process or standard procedure for dealing with any of these injuries.

Last week, Onaruto-oyakata was hit in the face (above) when two wrestlers tumbled off the dohyo. He was knocked backwards and did not move for several seconds. A few minutes later, he walked away back up the hanamichi to get treated. The tournament continued with only four shimpan until there was a shift chagne. It was later revealed he had suffered an eye injury and was treated at the sumo clinic. He has since returned to shimpan duties.

However, less than one week later, a very scary incident occurred involving a sandanme wrestler named Hibikiryu. Accidents happen. People fall awkwardly in sports or event in daily life. People fall while rock climbing, and ice skating, they fall off bikes, horses, or even when under stress on American Idol. A well-trained First Aid response can make a huge difference. While this experience would have been unexpected and very scary for those involved, I think we can have confidence in the treatment received by this American Idol contestant.

Kokugikan has a medical clinic. Yesterday, a doctor mounted the dohyo in consultation with the team of oyakata and yobidashi attending to Hibikiryu when it became apparent he would not be able to leave under this own power. But, I’m not sure if any of you can tell me who was in charge of the situation and I am very concerned by the fact that they did not stabilize his neck. I have read a witness account that Hibikiryu appeared to be speaking to those tending to him and may have asked to be turned over so that it would be easier to breathe. But that turn should have been performed very carefully with the assistance of several people.

It is acceptable to turn over someone with a spinal injury and may be quite necessary due to vomiting or difficulty breathing, as in this case. But do it carefully, usually with the help of four other people….but I admit, I don’t think they often think to train people on treating 150kg sumo wrestlers. That said, there are usually five former wrestlers surrounding the ring, four active wrestlers sitting around the ring, and several yobidashi.

I just think it could inspire a lot of confidence in the organization if there’s the same degree of planning and training present to help injured rikishi as is done before any JR train pulls out of a station. This is not about blame. I am not going to presume that prompt medical attention will always make a difference but prompt, competent attention will inspire confidence in the whole organization. We’ll never be able to eliminate the risk of serious injury. But we can provide those people who fall victim to tragic incidents with the best chance possible to get through it.

Hiring trained contractors is one route, but probably fairly expensive for a whole tournament. Rather, providing in-house training (such as the above) to NSK staff would not an insurmountable hurdle, especially as some staff are already CPR and AED trained. I mean, there is a clinic on the premises. With some foresight, this should be a relatively low-hanging fruit for modernization possibly career training for wrestlers after retirement, and certainly would help avoid scaring away fans…but most importantly for reducing the risks faced by every wrestler (and some of the bystanders).

Personally, I think the biggest hesitation is that it would require someone to be responsible for leading when such events happen. Who should it be? I have no idea and I don’t think it could be foisted on anyone involuntarily. And rather than trying to shame or blame and point fingers on the interwebs (that clearly doesn’t work as I’ve been apoplectic about this several times) I wonder what it would cost to get a plan going, and get some annual training, I would certainly contribute to that. Let’s get it done.

Kakuryu Retires

The 71st Yokozuna, Kakuryu Rikisaburo, announced his retirement. Kakuryu had been kyujo from the last four tournaments due to injury, last seeing action briefly in July. He had won six top-division yusho (championships) and eight jun-yusho (second place). Having successfully acquired Japanese citizenship, Kakuryu will pursue a new career as a stablemaster with his own stable.

Thank you, Nicola

His former tsukebito, Abi, expressed his surprise at the announcement, not knowing what to say. The sumo world is left with one Yokozuna, Hakuho, for the first time since 2012. Tachiai is eager to see Kakuryu write this next chapter of his career, now joining Araiso-oyakata (former Kisenosato), as Kakuryu-oyakata.

Haru Day 10 Highlights

Well, Takayasu is on a roll. Eight straight wins after he dropped his Day 1 match to Meisei, and he finds himself in the lead, and first with a kachi-koshi. Terunofuji and Chiyoshoma are nipping at his heels . More importantly, he shows no signs of the arm or knee injuries from the past. He cleaned up when he was fighting lower maegashira and has now found his sumo and is beating up the varsity squad. Can he keep this streak alive and claim his first Emperor’s Cup? Even if he comes up shy, he’s got to be looking at starting another Ozeki run. It would be wild to have two former Ozeki win yusho and then be re-promoted to the rank.

As for our incumbent Ozeki, Asanoyama seems to be turning things back on and may find himself in the hunt. Takakeisho is on a path to clear the kadoban status, while Shodai is playing with fire. They’re not the dominant forces we’d come to expect from ozeki like Kisenosato…steadily picking up 10 wins and often featuring late in the yusho race. However, they may soon have company at the rank with Terunofuji 2 or 3 wins away…and now Takayasu’s looking like the strongest guy in the sport.

Day 10 Bouts

Ishiura defeated Yutakayama: Yutakayama had one strategy today, go for Ishiura’s head. After a solid tachiai, Yutakayama’s started in on Ishiura’s face and pursued him around the ring. However, as Ishiura cycled toward the tawara, Yutakayama’s upper body pitched further and further forward until Ishiura’s shift at the dohyo made Yutakayama flop onto the dohyo. Hikiotoshi.

Daiamami defeated Terutsuyoshi: Similar to Yutakayama, Daiamami was focused on a single strategy, driving his forearm into Terutsuyoshi’s upper body. With his superior footwork, he was able to drive Terutsuyoshi out…to Terutsuyoshi’s complete and utter disbelief. I thought it was pretty obvious Daiamami won but Terutsuyoshi clearly had his doubts and hung around, hoping the gyoji would spin his way? Kimedashi.

Aoiyama defeated Kotoeko: It only took two big shoves from Aoiyama to push Kotoeko out. Wow, that one was quick. Oshidashi.

Hidenoumi defeated Midorifuji: Hidenoumi took his time with this. He quickly wrapped up Midorifuji’s arm but patiently waited for the perfect time to twist and drive Midorifuji backwards. Midorufuji landed square on his butt and was slow to get up and slow to walk back to his starting position. Oshitaoshi.

Tsurugisho defeated Ryuden: Straightforward tachiai and Tsurugisho drove forward into Ryuden. As Ryuden fought back, Tsurugisho put his big paw on the back of his head and drove down, backing up a bit. THAT is how you execute a pull. Kotenage?

Hoshoryu defeated Kaisei: Wow, Hoshoryu took on Kaisei’s power sumo head on. With a twist at the center of the ring, he threw the much bigger Kaisei. Just wow. Shitatenage.

Tobizaru defeated Chiyoshoma: About a dozen body blasts weren’t getting us anywhere. So Tobizaru went for the belt and pulled Chiyoshoma backwards over the tawara and down while he also kicked his leg out from under him. That was pretty. Komatasukui.

Akiseyama defeated Tochinoshin: A frantic Tochinoshin tried to power Akiseyama out. He could get him back to the tawara but Akiseyama fought back. Tochinoshin drove Akiseyama back again to the edge but Akiseyama pivoted and threw Tochinoshin off the dohyo. Shitatenage.

Chiyotairyu defeated Kagayaki: Rather than expend energy with some protracted, entertaining oshi battle, Chiyotairyu executes the hated early pull. Unfortunately for Kagayaki, he wasn’t ready for it at all and fell flat on his face. Hatakikomi.

Ichinojo defeated Kotonowaka: Ichinojo says, “Get out of the ring!” He drove Kotonowaka back with a fierce nodowa but Kotonowaka somehow resisted and stayed in. As he slipped to his right, Ichinojo continued to bull forward…until he’d decided he had enough and slapped Kotonowaka’s head down and rolled back across the dohyo. Hatakikomi.

Okinoumi defeated Chiyonokuni: Okinoumi drove forward and played spoiler today. He resisted Chiyonokuni’s pull and accompanying hatakikomi attempt. Come on, we were over quota anyway. It wasn’t going to work again. With Chiyonokuni’s back to the tawara, it only took one well-timed shove to knock him over onto his butt. “Ow, my pride hurts.” – Chiyonokuni Oshitaoshi.

Kiribayama defeated Tamawashi: Tamawashi fought a Tamawashi bout and battered Kiribayama like there was no tomorrow. Somehow Kiribayama withstood the assault but rapidly grew tired of playing punching bag. He basically threw himself onto Tamawashi in a Domino-like attack. “If I go down into him, he’ll go down.” It worked. Sotogake.

Meisei over Endo: Endo’s kyujo. A late scratch. He’s not been performing well since that calf injury before the tournament. Good call, but probably a week late, if it is the calf. It is a bit odd, since, as Bruce mentioned, Endo’s been having a little rally. Fusen.

Wakatakakage defeated Takarafuji: Wakataka-.38 calibre. Wakatakakage shot out of his tachiai like a bullet, completely overwhelming Takarafuji. “You got me, kid. You got me.” Takarafuji fell back out of the ring like a bad guy in an old Western. Yoritaoshi.

Daieisho defeated Hokutofuji: Hokutofuji came into the bout, slapping himself, stomping, getting all hype…for a pull? You pull after the (weak) tachiai? Daieisho was entirely justified in pushing that lame business out. Oshidashi.

Mitakeumi defeated Onosho: Maybe Mitakeumi’s right leg isn’t as bad as I’d thought. Or Onosho is over his head. Onosho gave it a valiant attempt with the nodowa, but Mitakeumi bulldozed straight through. Yorikiri.

Shimanoumi defeated Terunofuji: Kaiju drove Shimanoumi back to the edge immediately. Shimanoumi tried over and over to drive forward but could not get any relief from the edge. Terunofuji kept up the pressure. Time and time again, it looked like Shimanoumi’s foot would be headed out, only to find secure purchase at the top of the tawara. (I don’t think his feet are as big as Tochinoshin’s.) Then, as Shimanoumi shifted to his right, and Terunofuji shifted with him, he tugged a weary Terunofuji a bit further forward and the great Kaiju fell to the clay. It was as if the longer Shimanoumi stayed in it, the closer his odds of winning approached 1 from starting at just about 0.000001. Tsukiotoshi.

Takayasu defeated Takakeisho: T-Rex tired. Takayasu fought Takakeisho’s fight, the two throwing wild haymakers at each other. Until both men tired and settled into an odd-oshi grapple. Head-to-head, literally, each man had their right hand on the opponent’s left shoulder. Then Takakeisho lashed out, pushed Takayasu’s head down and tried to kick his right leg from under him. Takayasu maintained his balance throughout and as Takakeisho settled into his arms for another cuddle, Takayasu rolled him gently to the floor. Uwatenage.

Asanoyama defeated Takanosho: Solid tachiai with Takanosho launching a nodowa at the Ozeki. However, Takanosho’s gabburi hip-thrusts were going nowhere. Asanoyama shifted right and twisted, bringing Takanosho down. Sukuinage.

Shodai defeated Myogiryu: “Defeated” is such a strong word and I don’t think it really applies in this case. Shodai absorbed Myogiryu’s tachiai, then pulled. Myogiryu recovered and began battering the Ozeki as punishment but Shodai pulled again, driving Myogiryu into the dohyo. Katasukashi.

Wrap-up

What a wild day! There was some excellent sumo today. While the drama lessons as Takayasu pulls out in front, that doesn’t lessen the excitement. Takayasu might win his first yusho! That is incredible after he’s come so far, not only in overcoming injuries but in his personal life as he and his wife recently had their first baby.

Tobizaru and Hoshoryu demonstrated amazing sumo and we’re eager to see rejuvenated Ishiura and Enho climb back from the club team. Late news that Ura will be back tomorrow.