Kisenosato – Is The End Near?

Kisenosato-Attacks

Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has now missed all or part of the last 7 tournaments, tying the record held by the mercurial Takanohano for the longest period of excused absence for a Yokozuna. Kisenosato suffers from a damaged left pectoral muscle, suffered during the final days of the 2017 Osaka basho, a tournament that saw him take his second consecutive Yusho, and his first as a Yokozuna.

Since that unfortunate day in Osaka, Kisenosato has been living on borrowed time. In the critical period immediately following his injury, he decided to try and “heal naturally” rather thank the the only proven cure – surgery to repair the torn muscle. As the weeks passed, the chances that surgery could actually correct the problem drifted towards zero, as the torn tissue scarred and was left useless. As he rested in hopes of recovery, his other muscles de-conditioned, and he lost the ability to execute sumo at the Yokozuna or perhaps even the San’yaku level.

Now left without his primary offensive weapon, his left hand, Kisenosato is nearly out of time. The YDC has declared both the the next basho he enters he must compete the full 15 days, and that they are willing to grant him an unprecedented 8th consecutive kyujo. Sadly for the only current Japanese born Yokozuna, a dozen kyujo cannot help him now, and the question is what form of exit will he take?

  1. Continue To Play For Time – The YDC has signaled they are ready to grant Kisenosato more time. Not that it is likely that more time could have any meaningful outcome for his sumo or his body. The damage is done, and the tear is likely permanent. The only think that would happen would be to move the date that he declares he is done.
  2. Go Out Guns Blazing – I consider this the most likely option. Kisenosato was renowned for never missing a day of practice or of competition. He would perform sumo no matter want, and nothing would stop him. The year+ hiatus probably bothers him terribly, and I suspect he and Takayasu are working out as best they can this June. Either at Nagoya or Aki, Kisenosato would enter and compete, knowing that his body is unlikely to be ready, but he would go out fighting.
  3. Pray For a Miracle – Maybe there is some exotic sports medicine protocol I have not read of that can repair a torn pectoral muscle this long after the original injury, and Kisenosato will negotiate a year off with the YDC, head to some high end clinic and get repaired. But I think this his highly unlikely.

I personally feel deeply sorry for Kisenosato, but after over a year of kyujo, he is likely going to be asked to retire soon, unless he can produce a 10+ win basho either at Nagoya or Aki. I know that he takes sumo with the utmost seriousness, and an unprecedented 8th kyujo would be deeply embarrassing to him. But for those worried for his future, Kisenosato holds Elder stock in the sumo association, and will likely go on to run a stable in the coming years. His future in his post-rikishi life is secure. Whichever path he choses to close out his impressive career, we wish him well, and will be following with great interest.

Yokozuna Hakuho Kyujo For Haru

Hakuho Toe 2018

As expected, Hakuho’s big toe injury is still causing him problems, and in an abundance of caution, he has decided to not compete in Osaka’s Haru basho.  This is the first time in his career that he has been kyujo for two consecutive tournaments. He underwent surgery to repair this same toe in 2016, which caused him to miss the Aki basho.

While some fans may wonder why problems with a single toe might be cause to withdraw, in sumo all power is transmitted to the dohyo via the feet. The role of the toes, and most especially the “big toe” (or as the Japanese call it, the foot thumb) is crucial in maintaining balance while in motion.

This leaves Yokozuna Kakuryu as the only Yokozuna who will start the Haru basho.

We hope Hakuho is able to recover and re-join competition in May.

Update – Yokozuna Hakuho’s Damaged Toe

Hakuho Toe 2018

When Yokozuna Hakuho withdrew from Hatsu, the medical reason given was “Injury to is foot thumb” ie, his big toe. Some fans mocked that it was embarrassing for a Yokozuna to withdraw due to a “boo boo on his big toe”.

For those wondering how bad it really was, we give you both the photo above, and the tweet below. Not for those who are squeamish.  It is predicted that Hakuho will be out until the Osaka Haru basho, hopefully his puss and blood filled mess will be resolved by then.

Repost – Kisenosato – A Kyujo Ultimatum?

Back in November, we ran this post discussing an edict from the YDC that the next time Kisenosato took to the dohyo, it was to resume his full 15 day commitment to Yokozuna class sumo. With his 1-4 open to Hatsu, the prognosis is worrisome.


Kisenosato – A Kyujo Ultimatum?

Kisenosato-down

At last poor Kisenosato went kyujo.  His injury was reported to Sumo Kyokai as a strain to the lumbar region of his back, along with more damage to his left foot. As Kisenosato is left-hand (and foot) dominant, all of the accumulated damage to his left side, coupled with his light training program have left him well below even San’yaku level condition. Since injuring his pectoral muscle in the spring, he has not (as far as we can tell) sought out surgery to repair the damage. In all probability, there would be little use for surgery now, as the tear has healed to scar tissue, leaving his pectoral muscle permanently degraded.

It was clear from day 4 that he was in no condition to compete. Takakeisho described the Yokozuna as “surprisingly light” in his post-kinboshi interview. Some readers and others remarked that it was a strange thing to say about a man who weighs 177kg (390 pounds). What you were seeing instead was young Takakeisho noting that Kisenosato made himself easy to move around and off the dohyo.

Video thanks to Jason’s All Sumo Channel

In his pre-injury days, Kisenosato was tough to defeat in part because he would always keep himself very low to the ground. Furthermore, if you watch his old, pre-injury matches, his movement was almost always forward, and the soles of his feet barely cleared the surface of the dohyo when he was moving strongly forward on offense. This allows a rikishi to answer any offense from his opponent by locking his feet to the earth and applying force. By contrast, watch Kisenosato’s feet in this basho. He steps high and with a lot of vertical leg motion. With that 177kg balanced on one foot, he is easy to move. He becomes “light”, in that little force is required to push him around.

Today, there is news in the Japanese press (thanks, Herouth) that Kisenosato has run out of excuses. His next basho he is in fighting form, and finishes all 15 days, or resigns from sumo’s highest rank.


It would seem that the first Japanese born Yokozuna in a generation is between a rock and a hard place now. Foregoing the surgery that could have returned some of his Yokozuna level might, he is now forever diminished, with his primary weapon (left arm / hand) ineffective in battle.

I would not be surprised to see the NSK and the YDC grant him another chance at rehabilitation, but fans are right to wonder if it would make any difference.

Ura Undergoes Knee Surgery

Ura-Throw

Reports from Japan this morning that Ura has elected to undergo surgery to repair knee damage, specifically the “right anterior cruciate ligament”. His recovery is expected to last at least three months, but the article sports optimism that he will return to sumo at a more rapid pace.

Frankly, I would much rather see Ura fully recovered and strong a few months later. But all of his fans (myself included) wish him good fortune in surgery, and a solid recovery.

Day 2 – Slip Slidin’ Away

aminishiki-2017-11-day-02
The Battle of the Tsuyuharai

Before we turn to Aminishiki, who is still carrying Isegahama beya on his shoulders all alone (well, Homarefuji also won today), let’s drop and visit one of our favorites down in Makushita.

Yes. Unfortunately, Tokoryu was not letting the boy wonder outdo him. Hakuho’s pretty uchi-deshi tastes his first defeat.

In my personal watch list of Naruto beya – Torakio wins, Sumidagawa lost yesterday to Ezuka, who is a third of his size. Gap starts to open?


So, back up to Makuuchi. Nishikigi shows good fighting spirit and pushes Ishiura’s face with his lower arm several times. Ishiura, on the other hand, shows why he is in Juryo. Something is not working there.

Takekaze gets Kotoyuki down, stumbles over him, and both fall awkwardly below the dohyo. Takekaze seems to be OK, but Kotoyuki limping. Unfortunately, it’s not the worst injury of the day. Following the Aminishiki-Kagayaki bout, we have Aoiyama vs. Okinoumi. Aoiyama somehow damages his foot against the tawara, and ends up in the dreaded giant wheelchair. Following the doctor’s check, his stablemaster says that he hurt his heel, and that there was a “snapping sound”. This does not bode well for the Bulgarian.

This is not basho-related, but if we’re in the hospital already, the NSK finally released the reason for Takanoiwa’s kyujo, and it sounds very unpleasant: Concussion, ear canal inflammation, skull fracture, and a suspicion of cranial fluid leakage. For some unfathomable reason, the press says the expected recovery time is two weeks. From a skull fracture? Hmmm. Wishes of health go out to Kotoyuki, Aoiyama and Takanoiwa.

So, rewind a bit to the battle of the Tsuyuharai. That is, Kagayaki is Kisenosato’s tsuyuharai, whereas Aminishiki continues to serve as Harumafuji’s tsuyuharai, despite the fact that it strains his knees and ankles, and that it leaves him precious little time to get ready for his bouts. An honor is an honor. And anyway, he doesn’t seem to be affected by it too much, and might be running out of Yokozuna pretty soon the way things look up the banzuke. The torikumi itself was pretty short: Uncle chose to rise high at the tachiai to match Kagayaki’s height, and already had a grip in preparation whilst rising. Then it was left, down, and 2-0.

Endo and Kaisei take some time to fight over their mawashi grips, when Endo decides he has had enough, pulls on the one side of Kaisei’s mawashi he has a firm grip on, and twists him down. Shitatehineri. Nice!

Chiyomaru seems to have had a good night sleep, and came back with his usual genki today. Slap-slappity-slap, grab, push, and out with Daieisho.

Chiyoshoma on the other hand, makes the mistake of retreating after a good tachiai vs. Shodai, tries to grab something for one of his throws, but runs out of dohyo doing so.

Chiyonokuni loses by slippiotoshi – not the last one of the day – to Arawashi. Today was not a very good day for Kokonoe, either. But really, their fare is better than Isegahama…

What mode did Ichinojo boot up in for this basho? What a lovely bout against Takarafuji. Shoulder blast at the tachiai, a combination of oshi and yotsu zumo, some patience, and a couple of gaburi to put the Isegahama man out. As a general Isegahama fan this makes me a bit sad, but on the other hand, I really like Ichinojo. Especially when he’s wide awake.

OK, we’re up in the sanyaku. Hokutofuji looks convincing vs. Mitakeumi. Or is it that Mitakeumi is all… fishy…? Sorry, but that man’s face…

The ghost of Terunofuji tries to do all sorts of things with Shohozan, but, quite expectedly, fails. Shohozan is kind enough not to push the ailing Kaiju off the dohyo.

Chiyotairyu drops the lid on Yoshikaze‘s hopes to make an Ozeki run.

Goeido. Well, Goeido. That is, Goeido. He does to Kotoshogiku exactly what Harumafuji did to him in the playoff match in Aki. Simply prevents the henka and pushes the local man out so quickly he doesn’t know what hit him. Well, it was Goeido, Giku-zeki. He studied the monitor well and probably watched that match dozens of times since. The way Goeido looks right now, Hakhuo can start worrying.

Takayasu is back. Blast, push, and Tochiozan learns the pain of the joi. So, you’re saying the man from Tagonoura was injured? When was that?

And now we’re into the Yokozuna. And… when was the last time Harumafuji had two black stars from day one? The answer is Natsu 2010. Never as a Yokozuna, of course. He tried to tackle Takakeisho. Once. Didn’t work. Twice. Didn’t work. Third time… and he ran out of clay. Takakeisho was benevolent enough to pull him in so he will not roll off the dohyo (this is the real meaning of karma, by the way). The Yokozuna has as much chance of becoming a dai-yokozuna as I have of becoming a Japanese…

The bout between Kisenosato and Onosho was, in Onosho’s words, “Not what I thought it would be”. It looked a bit like a cartoon character starting to run, with feet shuffling but no forward motion. Big, big, slippiotoshi, and all Kisenosato had to do was let him fall in a way that could be called a kimarite.

kisenosato-2017-11-day-02
Slippiotoshi, reverse angle

The Japanese broadcaster said he did a “left ottsuke”. Anybody see an ottsuke there? Because I don’t. I see a man falling down.

Finally, Hakuho back in the musubi-no-ichiban. Slips in his usual face slap. Disengages for a second, and before Tamawashi can think of anything, shows him the way out.

hakuho-2017-11-day-02
Get out, trespasser!

So, two days go by. Maybe we’ll see a yusho playoff between Hakuho, Goeido, and, er… Aminishiki? Nah, I’m just jinxing him talking like that. Seriously, though, Hakuho, Goeido and Takayasu are currently the only dominant-looking rikishi on the clay.

 

John Gunning On Sumo’s Injury Problems

Takayasu

Noted sumo commentator, photographer and author John Gunning has penned an article for the Japan Times, squarely addressing the problems discussed frequently on Tachiai – namely that sumo has a growing injury problem. As stated on Twitter, this is literally an article that only John Gunning could write.

John has been living in Japan for many years, and has personal relationships with many rikishi, including names that we cover on Tachiai. The Japanese sumo press has its own set of customs and guidelines that they tend to follow, and open criticism of the Sumo Kyokai, the Jungyo schedule and the Kosho system. By contrast, John most likely feels free to write openly about what he surely feels is critical subject.

Just a small portion of a fantastic article here

So just what is causing the increase in injuries? It’s no secret that sumo’s popularity is near an all-time high right now and one effect of that has been a rising demand from various towns and municipalities around the country to host jungyo (regional tour) events. The normal downtime between tournaments, when rikishi could rest, heal up and then build up training intensity gradually, has been cut to almost nothing. The last two inter-basho periods saw 23 and 22 jungyo days respectively.

Tours play havoc with a rikishi’s physical condition, as they travel long distances in cramped buses, arrive at venues late at night and eat bento and convenience store food almost every day. There is no real break during each event either, as activities are spread out and downtime isn’t long enough to get decent rest.

Please do visit the Japan Times and read the entire piece.

Short Jungyo Newsreel – October 21st

Note: to offset today’s bad news, I just found torikumi videos from the 19th, and added them to that day’s post. Do not miss the Terunofuji-Mitakeumi bout!

🌐 Location: Kishiwada

Today’s news are mostly brought to you from hospitals and ambulances, but there is a musubi as well.

Enho injured, leaves Jungyo

Enho

During today’s practice session, Enho fell off the dohyo and injured his ankle. He was carried on a stretcher to the Jungyo’s on-hand ambulance, which got him to a local hospital, where his ankle was bandaged. He was then hurried back to Tokyo for further care. “It hurts both on the inner and the outer side. And it makes crunching sounds.” said Enho “but there is still time until the Kyushu basho”.

Tachiai wishes Hakuho’s uchi-deshi a quick recovery and continued health.

Ikioi joins the Jungyo

On a happier note, Ikioi has joined the Jungyo today. I think he would have wanted to join it yesterday, as his home town of Katano is much closer to Hirakata than it is to Kishiwada. But the Jungyo is still in Osaka Prefecture and I’m sure his local fans were happy to travel the distance to welcome him back.

He was assigned to Ichinojo on the torikumi form, but I do not have any information about the content of that bout.

Update on Nishonoseki Oyakata

As it turns out, when the oyakata had his accident, he was on his way home from a visit to a sauna, where he had a fainting incident. Nevertheless he decided to bike home, and doing that he collapsed with his bicycle and received the head injury that brought about his current condition.

His anesthetic medication  has been reduced to encourage him to regain autonomous breathing, and the doctors observed some positive response.

Shohozan, who is Nishonoseki’s only sekitori, expressed his concern and promised to do his best sumo “for the oyakata” while away on the Jungyo.

Harumafuji Gambarizes

This is a bit of late news from yesterday. After his first day, doing reverse butsukari, he followed that up by teaming with Chiyoshoma for a tachiai practice.

When asked if he is bothered by his elbow, he frowned: “I am not worried, but it hurts. There is almost no inflammation, though. I’ll gambarize”.

And a little bit of actual sumo

The musubi of the day. I think Hakuho decided that if Kisenosato is taking this seriously, then so does he. Hakuho 5 – Kisenosato 2.

Apparently, the gyoji, Inosuke Shikimori, is a Kishiwada local.

Yokozuna Recovery News

Yokozuna-Corps

Kisenosato and Hakuho Progressing Towards Full Health

In an article from Japanese web site hochi.co.jp, some news of the recovery of two marquee rikishi who sat out the Aki basho, and their chances at returning to public matches.

Hakuho was interviewed at the Miyagino party after the last day of the Aki tournament, he stated “My rehabilitation is going very well, I feel confident about Kyushu”. He also state that he would like to join the fall jungyo PR tour from October 5th, provided his recovery continues as planned.

Kisenosato was more upbeat, and stated that he intends to be with the fall jungyo from the start. He stated “My body feels good, and I am moving well. I think I should be able to be part of the tour from the beginning”.

Last but certainly not least, the article also mentions that Yokozuna Kakuryu will participate in the jungyo tour, starting with day 1.

After the lack of top end rikishi at Aki and over the summer tour, fans will cheer the return of the Yokozuna during the November tournament.

Aoiyama Returns Day 8?

Aoiyama

From the day 8 Makuuchi torikumi, a bit of a surprise. It shows Harumafuji’s opponent as none other than the man-mountian Aoiyama! If Aoiyama is indeed about to enter Aki, one must wonder why. He will start with 7 losses, and nearly maki-koshi. So perhaps he wants to minimize his demotion? We hope the big fellow is genki enough to insert himself in this mad house of a basho.

Ura Confirmed To Have ACL Injury

Ura Gets The Chair

In a tweet from the Sumo Kyokai, it is confirmed that Ura has damage to his right knee Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

From a more medical web site

The knee is essentially a hinged joint that is held together by the medial collateral (MCL), lateral collateral (LCL), anterior cruciate (ACL) and posterior cruciate (PCL) ligaments. The ACL runs diagonally in the middle of the knee, preventing the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur, as well as providing rotational stability to the knee.

Full write up: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00297

Suffice to say, Ura will be out of sumo for a while, and his road back will likely be long and hard, similar to what Tochinoshin faced in 2014, where he dropped to Makushita and had to fight his way back.

Fan Favorite Ura Withdraws From Aki

Ura

As we suspected, the damage to Ura’s knee seems to be extensive, and he has withdrawn from the Aki basho. His injury was sustained during the Nagoya basho, and was severe enough that he was regulated to light duty during the summer jungyo.

Ura is a great asset to the sport, with his free-lance, un conventional approach to sumo really has helped boost sumo’s popularity. We fear he may now require orthopedic surgery, and his road to recovery will be long and painful.  We hope and pray he has the best possible outcome.

Ozeki Takayasu Withdraws From Aki

Takayasu

Sad but true, Takayasu’s injury appears to be significant enough that he has withdrawn from the Aki basho.  Perhaps he and Kisenosato can trade parts to make one really amazing yokozeki, Kisenoyasu.

All kidding aside, it’s possible that if Takayasu ruptured one of the large muscles of his right thigh, he could face a very long and ugly recovery.  We hope he can work with a good doctor, and get the care he needs.

Aki Genki Report Update

Takayasu

The Tachiai team has been somewhat apprehensive about the Aki basho this year, and we have made no secret about our concern. The confluence of an aging Makuuchi mainstay population, a series of injuries that never quite healed, and the relentless cadence of the current sumo calendar have combined to have a number of rikishi out from day one, or competing injured. There are / were a handful of Sekitori who should have probably sat out the basho, but eager to not be demoted out of the top division, took their chances.

As of the end of day 2, there are a several new developments (that will be apparent to anyone who watches summaries of footage from the basho). So we are going to break format a bit, and issue an update to our Genki Report.

Takayasu-Thigh

Rikishi: Takayasu
Genki: ✭
Notes: In his day 2 bout with Tamawashi, sumo’s newest Ozeki took a tough fall, and was clearly unable to walk afterwards. He was unable to walk back to the dressing room, and so they brought out their wheel chair and took him directly to the infirmary. As is typical with sumo, the real extent of his injury is not being reported, and is somewhere between a thigh muscle strain and a rupture of the thigh. He was able to walk under his own power some time later to a car waiting to take him back to Tagonoura stable. On his way out, he put on a brave face, but it’s certain his condition will be assessed in the morning.
Forecast: Kyujo day 3 or 4 due to injury to thigh muscle

Tamawashi

Rikishi: Tamawashi
Genki: ✭
Notes: In the same bout as Takayasu taking a fall and injuring his thigh, former Sekiwake Tamawashi twisted his ankle at the moment he forced Takayasu form the dohyo. Likewise he could barely walk following the match, but he did make it up the Hanamichi under his own power. But it was clear that he was having problems walking. In the dressing room, he did ask how Takayasu was.
Forecast: Kyujo day 3 or 4 due to sprained ankle, with a possible return later in the basho.

Ura

Rikishi: Ura
Genki: ✭-
Notes: Matches between Ura and Takakeisho are always grand battles of force vs maneuverability. We knew going into Aki that Ura’s knee was in delicate shape, and we suggested it was probably too damaged to support competition. During an attempt to execute a slippery move at the tawara, Ura’s knee collapsed. Immediately following the match, he was unable to walk and as with Takayasu had to be wheeled from the venue to the infirmary. As with Takayasu, he was later able to move about on his damaged leg, and displayed a brave face, and remarked that he would make every effort to appear day 3. The fact of the matter is that his damaged knee is now further damaged, and may now require surgery.
Forecast: Kyujo day 3 due to to damage to the ACL

Sumo’s Injury Issues Boil Over

Yokozuna-crew

A theme that Andy and I have been chasing for more than a year is the problem sumo has with headline athletes and their injuries. For a variety of reasons, most sumotori are never given enough time or resources to heal from the injuries they sustain, and their cumulative effect quickly degrades their performance, and in short order, their prospects for continued competition.

In general the health of the rikishi, especially the headliners, is not discussed and not publicized. These men are to be icons of the strength and power of the sport, and to show injury or weakness is not part of the facade. In reality, the health of many of these headline athletes has been in tenuous and degrading conditions for the last few years. With the advent of web-based media and near constant attention, the ability to dismiss a rikishi’s difficulties are almost impossible to mask.

Which brings us to the Aki basho. Three Yokozuna of four are laid up due to injuries they can’t seem to heal. The fourth (Harumafuji) is also in tough shape, but he is going to compete anyhow. I think at this point, the NSK knows they have a problem. A list of rikishi who are kyujo before the first day of competition

  • Yokozuna Hakuho
  • Yokozuna Kisenosato
  • Yokozuna Kakuryu
  • Maegashira Aoiyama
  • Maegashira Sadanoumi

That means that both he yusho and jun-yusho winners from Nagoya are out. The majority of the faces on the promotional posters will not appear. The sport is having an injury crisis, and they can no longer hide it.

The following quotes are courtesy of Kintamayama, who (as always) is the man with the inside knowledge.

Sumo Association Chairman, Hakkaku“It’s really regrettable that we’ve come to this at this point.. We finally have 4 Yokozunae and the fans have sold out the venue in anticipation of seeing this wonderful sight.. I think this is extremely inexcusable towards all the fans. The banzuke is well balanced with the newcomers and the veterans, so I have a lot of expectations from the young guys..”

PR Director Shibatayama“It’s really inexcusable that three Yokozuna are missing during these days when the fans are filling the seats. Still, a Yokozuna is a human being. Showing up in bad shape will not do any good for anyone..”

To be clear, both men are laying blame not on their athletes, but on the Sumo Kyokai for putting on a Honbasho that will be missing a large number of the headline competitors. It’s bad enough for fans in Japan, but consider the growing number of sumo enthusiasts that fly to Japan during the basho to take in a few days at the matches. While we at Tachiai joke that we are an adjunct to the sumo world, I am quite sure that both the NSK media have noticed that sumo is flowering into a global sport.

What happens next? No one can tell, but I will take my best guess

  • Look for retirements, both within the NSK and within the upper ranks of sumo THIS YEAR. Much as it will pain them to clear the decks, they will need a team of headliners that they can count on to appear at every tournament. That’s what puts butts in seats, sells banners and drives ratings.
  • Look for Fall and Winter Jungyo to be curtailed or even eliminated. The current pace set by the Jungyo team has been punishing, and leaves the rikishi little to no time to maintain condition or seek medical attention for their injuries. This could be billed as a “Health and safety training period”, and given the Aki carnage, it would be accepted.
  • Modifications to the area around the dohyo – This is quite unlikely, but many of these rikishi are injured falling from the dohyo during a match. There may be some unobtrusive ways that maintain the aesthetics of the dohyo and decrease the injury potential of a ungraceful dismount.

As Aki progresses, the team that makes up Osumo will band together to make Aki possibly one of the great, anything can happen bashos of our time.