Aki 2021: Jonokuchi Match Day 1

I want to note that the Kyokai has begun posting profile information about ALL wrestlers, even those down in the lower divisions. This will be a huge help, I think, in helping fans learn about up-and-coming wrestlers.

Intro to Jonokuchi

Shonanzakura Bows Out

To recap our little feature from last tournament, I want to learn a bit more about wrestlers and follow their debut tournaments. Unless a wrestler has an exceptionally strong amateur career, earning privileged promotion in Sandanme or Makushita, he will begin his career at the bottom of the banzuke in the Jonokuchi division.

Even Hakuho and Kakuryu started here. Takanohana, Wakanohana, and Akebono did, too. The amazing thing about those last three is that they all started together. Not all cohorts are quite that strong but we sure had a good crop last tournament, culminating in a great yusho race.

A winning record is not necessary to earn promotion from Jonokuchi. Basically, if you can get a win, you can move up in rank, but if it’s less than four wins, the ride up and out of the division is quite a bit slower. If a wrestlers secures a winning record, that will be enough to secure promotion to sumo’s second division, Jonidan. But even less successful promotions are possible here. Sawanofuji, for example, earned promotion to Jonidan with 1 win and 7 losses — yes, 7 losses — from Jonokuchi 10 back in 2017.

Since the wrestlers in the lower divisions only fight seven (or sometimes eight) times, we will treat every other day as one “match day” down here. So, Match Day 1 began on Sunday with Kotoegashira’s bout against Hishuyama, and carried over into Monday where we see Ito’s first tournament Match Day.

Last Basho Recap

In Nagoya, we sure had a treat with quite the yusho race. Shunrai swept through the division, winning all seven bouts and catapulted into the upper-quintile of Jonidan. Several others from that race, like his brother, Kiryuko, are clustered midway through the division and had their first bouts last night. Shunrai came out guns blazing and picked up a strong, quick first win to start the tournament. Kiryuko, Hitoshi, and Nobehara all notched victories as well and look ready to compete for the Jonidan yusho. It will be tough to compete with the Fujiseiun/Osanai showdown from July, though.

On To Aki 2021

There are a lot of familiar faces on the Jonokuchi banzuke this month and two new names, Raiho (left) and Ito (right). Raiho won their maezumo duel with an impressive throw but due to the Miyagino-beya Covid outbreak, he won’t actually be able to compete this tournament. So, we will have to wait for Kyushu to see Hakuho’s latest recruit compete for the Jonokuchi title. (Fellow Miyagino-beya rikishi, Takabaho, will also sit out this tournament.)

Of the old guard, there are a lot of familiar names. Shonanzakura is on the banzuke but he has retired. Moriurara holds the top spot in the division while Shinzan and Sawaisamu are a bit further down. Kyonosato, Itadaki’s favorite taste-tester, looks to be healthy and is probably eager to start moving back up the banzuke. Agazumazakura is a familiar face but has changed his shikona from Shiraishizakura. At least it’s not Wakatakakagezakura. (SHHHHH! QUIET, ANDY!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! DON’T TEMPT HIM!!!!)

This probably gives Ito his best chance at claiming the yusho, instead. Ito Yasuki is cited as coming from Saitama but he attended high school in Aomori at the same school as Onosho and Nishikifuji. Still, his first bout may be his most challenging, against Setonoumi. Setonoumi is a youngster coming off a rather serious, scary-looking injury. He has been featured in Herouth’s coverage before and looks like a solid young wrestler. This will be his first tournament back so we wish him well and will be following his progress.

And that’s why they do the bouts! With a quick hatakikomi, Ito’s yusho hopes have dimmed, though they’re not completely dashed. I do hope Setonoumi continues to avoid a full-on tachiai and I thought I could clearly see some difficulty as he squatted. It may just be me but his neck seems quite stiff.

Given the outcome, from Ito’s point of view, I am reminded of Atamifuji’s first bout against Arauma. He came back and won the yusho in a playoff after that first day loss. Speaking of Atamifuji and Day 1 losses…Atamifuji faced Ishizaki. There aren’t really any “soft” opponents in the top half of Makushita. Thank you to Herouth for finding the video:

I know, “that’s not fair, Andy. This series is about Jonokuchi and you’re here showing us Makushita!” Well, I wanted to. While Atamifuji is a Jonokuchi alumnus, who came back and won his yusho as I alluded to above, Ishizaki is a fortunate one who was allowed to skip the first two divisions and debut in Sandanme. After quickly taking the Sandanme yusho, he narrowly missed out on the Makushita yusho by losing to Hokuseiho on Match Day 7, his only black star of his young career.


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.

Shiko [四股]

Shiko is one of the fundamental exercises in sumo. During this break in action, the Sumo Kyokai (Japanese Sumo Association) has been posting demonstrations of shiko from many top wrestlers. It is exercise #3 in the Kyokai’s list of “sumo taiso” exercises, and during the pandemic it is also an attempt to help people find exercises they can do at home. Yesterday’s post was of Kotonowaka.

My son has gone a bit soccer mad so we play in the backyard just about every day. My shooting has improved dramatically as this shot went around a tree and just caught the top corner. He thought it was going wide but just curved in. Despite my son’s protests, VAR upheld this goal.

updated with better quality

Every few days I would tweak this one quad muscle that runs down the front of my thigh, and sometimes my groin. So I started doing shiko in the mornings and it actually seems to help stretch that rectus femoris muscle that I think had been giving me so many issues. I also think it helps to stretch my IT band because that does not hurt anymore when I run. The video below was the only one I could find that tried to mention the muscle groups involved. There’s also this entertaining post from the sumo forum. (From 2004! Pre-Abi, Pre-Endo.)