The Rise of Oshi

After these first few days of Hatsu 2019, it seemed like a lot of bouts were being decided as oshidashi, so I thought I’d take a look at how the tournament fits in with the narrative around the declining use of yorikiri/ yoritaoshi to win tournaments and the rising use of oshidashi/oshitaoshi.

I am very tempted to lump the Top 5 throws category in with yorikiri since throws seem, to me, an extension of “belt work”. Similarly, hatakikomi could be a “pusher/thruster” tactic? Anyway, some of the 72 others could also be lumped in with one or the other but decided to just take any kimarite of less than 1% and lump them all into “other”.

It’s clearly too early to say anything about whether 2019 will see this trend continue or anything, but it was very interesting to see just how much things have changed over the past 30 years. It’s also interesting to look at just the sekitori bouts because the data for that in the SumoDB goes back a little further.

Juryo and Makuuchi divisions only

I just wanted to look back to 1985 because that’s the year Back to the Future takes place and it’s a great movie. My theory is, the fall of Communism lead to the collapse of Yorikiri. Then the real estate bubble and Global Financial Crisis lead to a brief bounce in its popularity as Socialist forces mobilized and governments moved again to the Left. After a brief correction due to Angelina Jolie’s leg in 2012, the Yorikiri leftists were on the march again, until 2016 when the world just went ape shit and the oshidashists took over.

Just kidding. It is interesting to see that yorikiri has had a couple of boomlets in these two divisions over the past twenty years. When I looked at just Jonokuchi through Sandanme, however, it looks like yorikiri is coming back in a big way. Again, it’s way to early to really tell…I’m just having a laugh while looking at pretty graphs.

Jonokuchi, Jonidan, and Sandanme divisions only

Kyushu Day 2 Highlights

Today was Oshidashi Day in Fukuoka. Well, in reality, nearly every day is oshidashi day. But 8 makuuchi bouts, or nearly half of the matchups, were decided by this most basic of the basic kimarite. In my mind, tsukidashi is basically oshidashi with velocity (think Abi’s Superman) while yorikiri is oshidashi with intimacy (think Kotoshogiku and “hug-n-chug”).

So it’s fitting that we start out with Kotoeko’s oshidashi win over a hobbled Arawashi. After a well-met tachiai, Arawashi pulled to his left which may not have been the best idea on that heavily wrapped knee. Kotoeko adjusted and drove through the straw bales. The announcer said yorikiri but that finish really lacked the 四つ身 intimacy one would think of. Kotoeko had Arawashi at arm’s length, like one would hold my son’s socks, rather than in close like Bogart and Bergman. The distinctions I’m drawing here are my own and (as is usual) could be wrong…it’s just the way I think of it and welcome discussion in the comments. Arawashi is 0-2 and looking Juryo bound.

Meisei followed up by showing us what Arawashi likely meant to do. The quick left pivot and firm hold on Chiyomaru’s right arm left Chiyomaru struggling (briefly) to maintain his balance before getting tipped over the side and rolling down the slope of the dohyo. Kotenage, one of two finishing throws in the top division today. Meisei’s off to a great start at 2-0. Chiyomaru is not at 0-2.

After an initial yotsu tussle, Chiyoshoma seemed to realize that would not be wise paired with someone 50 kilos larger. So he disengaged but tried to keep hold of Daiamami’s mawashi. That wasn’t working so he backed away altogether, skirting the tawara when, Bam!. Landing the slap to the giant’s face turned the retreating Chiyoshoma back into the aggressor. He dove for Daiamami’s belt and as the larger man attempted to circle, a quick kick out brought Daiamami earthward. Clever kekaeshi to go to 2-0. I like those. Herouth’s post from yesterday has another great example from the flying monkey. Daiamami is level, 1-1.

Daishomaru had a plan. And thinking back on it, this approach may have served Arawashi well earlier. At the tachiai, Daishomaru’s paw found its way to the back of Takanosho’s neck. Backing away to the left, as Arawashi had tried before, along with the addition of downward force of the right hand dispatched Takanosho. Hatakikomi under duress (distinct from henka-ki-komi). Daishomaru improved to 1-1 while Takanosho is still looking for his first win, 0-2.

Onosho is looking good early in this tournament. It’s too soon to start handing out special prizes but he’s in a position to clean up. Aoiyama, on the other hand, is looking shaky. This starts off with a brief slapping tussle that ends when Aoiyama gets his hand behind Onosho’s head and retreats, attempting another hatakikomi. However, Onosho was far too high and well balanced for this to be effective. Onosho countered quickly by driving forward and sending Aoiyama over the edge, stumbling into the spectators, nearly squashing Endo. Lacking intimacy, and lacking the force required to turn a mountain into a projectile, we have an oshidashi #2. Onosho is rocking to a 2-0 start; Aoiyama heading in the opposite direction, falls to 0-2.

Endo proved unfazed by his near-death experience and quickly beat Okinoumi. A motivated Endo is great to see. Strong tachiai, driving forward, Okinoumi could only hope for a last minute change of direction. But Endo locked on, engaged, and Okinoumi had nowhere to go but out. Oshidashi #3. Both wrestlers are 1-1.

Sadanoumi copied Endo’s lead against Chiyonokuni. Lock on, engage, drive forward. The difference, this time, was rather than having his arms extended, Sadanoumi immediately gripped Chiyonokuni’s mawashi before getting into gear. Chiyonokuni ended up in a painful-looking heap at the base of the dohyo. The intimacy gives us “yori-” and Chiyonokuni couldn’t keep his feet, we get -taoshi. The yoritaoshi win means Sadanoumi is off to a great 2-0 start. Chiyonokuni is 1-1.

Yutakayama squared up against Daieisho for a great, thrusting slapfest. Both wrestlers committed early to pushing/thrusting attacks. After taking a battering, Daieisho yielded in retreat and Yutakayama followed in hot pursuit. Yutakayama may have been a bit overeager to end things as a subtle shift redirected the mountain over the cliff-face…with a little help…dropping like a boulder to 0-2. Daieisho improves to 1-1. Tsukiotoshi is one of the hinerite, twisting kimarite, not one of the similarly named tsukidashi/tsukitaoshi “basic” kihonwaza.

Next, Kotoshogiku was able to lock in his patented hug-n-chug against Ikioi. Yorikiri. Ikioi falls to 0-2 on a shaky looking ankle. Kotoshogiku’s off to a great 2-0 start. Next, Shohozan seemed determined to prove Takarafuji has a neck. He nearly decapitated Isegahama’s senior sekitori at the tachiai and kept pressing, eventually convincing Takarafuji to yield, as he stepped out for oshidashi #4. Takarafuji is starting off winless while a confident Shohozan is 2-0.

Abi’s next against Takanoiwa. Hmmm…belt battle? No, silly question. Abi charged forward, fighting to his strength. Takanoiwa retreated quickly, falling to oshidashi #5 and 0-2 while Abi gets his first win his way.

Kagayaki and Asanoyama locked in quickly for a belt battle. Kagayaki’s left arm wrapped around Asanoyama’s right, but while he was seeking a good belt grip with the left, Asanoyama dropped his shoulder, working his arm free, and planted his hand firmly behind Kagayaki’s head. With a firm left-handed belt grip, he pivoted, throwing Kagayaki to the clay. Uwatenage. Asanoyama improved to 2-0 and Kagayaki fell to 1-1.

After his great start yesterday, Shodai somehow went back into “sleep” mode. You can’t just absorb Chiyotairyu’s tachiai at full force and expect to stay at the top of the dohyo. Ryuden chugged forward into an overwhelmed Yoshikaze. And Mitakeumi followed up fiercely driving through Tamawashi. Oshidashi #6, #7, and #8 and all six men are 1-1.

Tochiozan is looking chuffed. I’ve got my eye on this confident veteran. Today he battled Ichinojo. He wasn’t going to be able to drive through the much larger Mongolian but he stood his ground pretty well and when the opportunity presented itself, he quickly twisted left and let gravity do its thing, as Ichinojo dropped to 1-1 and Tochiozan stays undefeated early.

Takakei-yusho? It’s still far two early, obviously, but after two days Takakeisho has now dispatched two of his toughest competitors. There’s really not much to say about this one but a real disappointing loss from Goeido. There was no plan but to slap a few times and fight Takakeisho’s fight? He telegraphed his second shoulder charge giving Takakeisho enough time to slip outside and have a smoke. Takakeisho 2-0, Goeido 1-1.

Nishikigi’s plan going into the Tochinoshin bout was likely, “keep him off your belt.” Job done. However, he didn’t seem ready for Tochinoshin to pivot and shift direction. After taking a Georgian forearm to the chin at the tachiai, Nishikigi seemed out of sorts as Tochinoshin was in front…and then not. Tochinoshin pivoted, and charged in from the side, keeping Nishikigi on the defensive and turning until he charged him out over the side.

Not to disrespect Takakeisho’s upsets but Takayasu must be the yusho favorite now, though. His bout today against Hokutofuji is my bout of the day. This was a great oshi brawl. After a good while trading thrusts, Hokutofuji got Takayasu spun around and saw his chance! But as an Ozeki should, Takayasu recovered quickly, maintained his balance, read Hokutofuji’s final charge, and timed his hatakikomi beautifully. Takayasu escapes and stays undefeated and while Hokutofuji’s 0-2, he’s looking strong.

After an embarrassingly quick loss to Takayasu yesterday, Myogiryu was looking for redemption…and a kinboshi. He’s not had many chances lately and unless he pulls off something unexpected and near kachi-koshi, today would likely be his only chance with Kisenosato as the lone Yokozuna. Boy did he buckle down. After an initial tussle, Myogiryu must have been stunned to find himself with morozashi and superior position as the Yokozuna was far too upright. He charged forward and importantly kept his balance as Kisenosato tried to twist out of the way, before tumbling into the head shimpan.

Kimarite Watch

“Kimarite” (決まり手) is the Japanese term for the winning technique used to decide each sumo bout. Those studying Japanese will be able to recognize the kanji as deriving from the verb kimaru (決まる), to decide, and te (手), meaning hand. I wonder if this is the term used for a winning hand in poker?

There are 82 of these winning techniques recognized in professional sumo. Of those, seven are known as the kihonwaza, or fundamental techniques which account for the vast majority of sumo bouts. In the most recent tournament, Aki 2018, more than 70% of wins came from these seven: tsukidashi, tsukiotoshi, oshidashi, oshitaoshi, yorikiri, yoritaoshi, and abisetaoshi. Abisetaoshi occurs much less frequently than the others but those main six comprise the go-to toolkits for many rikishi. In fact, oshidashi and yorikiri accounted for more than half of Aki bouts, and nearly half when just looking at makuuchi bouts.

Kimarite used during Aki basho 2018

During the upcoming tournament, Tachiai will be tracking and reporting on the kimarite used each day. My favorite group of kimarite are the throws, or nagete. Several of those are relatively frequent, like uwatenage and shitatenage. The spectacular ipponzeoi, though, was used only once last tournament, in a Day 1 Jonidan bout between Tatsunoumi and Wakasatake. It was a great way to start the tournament for Wakasatake. He ended up finishing with a 4-3 record while it sent the “victim”, Tatsunoumi, on a three-bout losing skid, ending 2-5.

はっきよい!

Kimarite, part one: Force-out techniques

Introduction

I thought it would be interesting to write a post detailing the most common kimarite, and how to distinguish between ones that look quite similar. There are plenty of glossaries out there, but the brief descriptions don’t make it easy to visualize what’s going on, and they rarely take the time to elaborate on the differences between related techniques.

Then I realized that it was going to be an intimidating text wall, and it was probably best to break it up into a series of posts.

What exactly are kimarite?

When a sumo bout is over, a referee (gyoji) will declare the technique that was used to win. There is an official list of eighty-two of these winning techniques, ranging from the extremely common (such as simply pushing the opponent out of the ring) to the extremely rare (such as Shumokuzori, the bell hammer back body drop, on the official record as having been used exactly once in a basho).

But translating kimarite as “technique” gives the wrong impression. There are many techniques practiced extensively by rikishi and employed in the course of winning a sumo bout that are not kimarite, and there are kimarite that are not practiced and are not an important part of sumo skill – and even some that are not intentionally used to win a bout. Skill at sumo is far more than an extensive list of kimarite, and while a profile of a rikishi will sometimes mention how many different kimarite they have performed, this should not necessarily be taken as an indication of expertise. Similarly, commentators like to make a big thing out of rare kimarite, and it certainly is cool to see something unusual – but don’t read too much into it.

Force-out techniques

as20150919002560_comm

There are two main ways to lose a sumo bout: Touch the ground outside the tawara, or touch the ground with a part of the body other than the sole of the foot. For many rikishi, forcing the opponent out of the dohyo is Plan A, and these are some of the most common kimarite on record.

Tsukidashi: Forcing the opponent out with palm thrusts (tsuppari), without maintaining contact. Despite the prevalence of tsuppari in yotsu-zumo, this kimarite isn’t as frequent as you might think. Usually, the tsuppari barrage is enough to drive the opponent back to the edge, but because the tawara are a raised ridge to brace against, it’s difficult to push them over that way (unless they are already retreating, or you have a serious size/strength advantage, or they try to sidestep and mess it up). It’s approximately the tenth most common kimarite overall, and in my experience, is often indicative of a fairly one-sided match.

Oshidashi: Forcing the opponent out while maintaining contact, but not holding the mawashi. There is overlap between Oshidashi and Tsukidashi. In an ‘ideal’ Oshidashi, the victorious rikishi stays in contact, and does not fully extend their arms to push the opponent out. But what about occasions when the winner keeps bent arms but does not maintain contact, or when contact is maintained but the arms are mostly straight? From reviewing past bouts, the most important aspect of Tsukidashi seems to be the alternating left-right pushes, while a double-handed push – even fully extending the arms and not maintaining contact – is usually ruled as Oshidashi. For this reason, Oshidashi is much more common: The tsuppari barrage gets the opponent to the tawara, but it takes a double-handed shove to get them over.

Yorikiri:I have to admit to something – I was wrong about the definition of this kimarite previously. I was under the impression that it required forcing the opponent out while holding the mawashi, on one or both sides – but there are examples of bouts won by yorikiri where the victorious rikishi did NOT appear to have any kind of a mawashi grip. I am not, in fact, completely certain where Yorikiri ends and other techniques begin. It seems that if there is a mawashi grip, it’s Yorikiri, but if there isn’t, it might be Yorikiri if the two rikishi are chest-to-chest and the winner is essentially using their whole body to conduct the force-out.

Yorikiri is by far the most common kimarite on record, occurring approximately twice as often as the second most common, Oshidashi, and nearly ten times as often as Tsukidashi. In fact, Yorikiri and the similar technique Yoritaoshi were the kimarite of record in over a third of recorded bouts (although you should note that these are the all-time records, and in recent years, Yorikiri and Oshidashi are approximately equally common).

This is a situation where the translation of kimarite as “technique” is misleading. Just as yotsu-zumo is a field with a great variety of different styles and techniques within it, there are many styles of Yorikiri. Kotoshogiku’s is one of the more recognisable, putting that belly to good use. Terunofuji’s is more of a lift-and-carry.

Kimedashi: Forcing the opponent out while holding and immobilizing the arms. Substantially less common than the above kimarite, and not considered a basic technique, this sometimes shows up as the counter to a moro-zashi (an inside grip with both hands on the back of the opponent’s mawashi). The idea is to wrap your arms around the outside of the opponent’s arms from above, clasp your hands together, and lift and pull in tightly, applying pressure to the elbows, locking their arms straight and minimizing their ability to apply leverage effectively. You can then use this double-armbar to walk them backwards out of the dohyo. You can see it perfectly here. It doesn’t always involve that double-overarm grip, though: In this bout, Komanokuni (not Komanoumi; the video title is wrong) pushes Sotairyu out with one arm lock and a throat push (nodawa), and the kimarite was ruled as Kimedashi.

Related techniques

If the opponent falls due to one of these techniques, striking the ground with a part of the body other than the foot, the kimarite name changes, becoming Tsukitaoshi, Oshitaoshi, Yoritaoshi, or Kimetaoshi. Generally, one doesn’t try to perform these kimarite – they’re often the result of the opponent slipping or catching a heel on the tawara while being driven backwards, or resisting until the last possible moment until they can’t step out without falling. Very heroic, but not necessarily good for one’s health.

As an aside, the rules for these seem to be a little confusing. It appears that Yoritaoshi specifically refers to falling out of the dohyo while being held by the mawashi (falling inside the dohyo in this way is Abisetaoshi), but it’s easy to find examples of Oshitaoshi and Kimetaoshi that take place comfortably inside the ring.

shimpan
One wonders how they cope.

Tsuridashi: Picking the opponent up by the mawashi and lifting him out of the dohyo entirely. Not considered a basic technique, and only really seen in the Makuuchi and Juryo divisions thanks to the strength required. Here we have an ample demonstration of why a moro-zashi grip is so strong – it gives you leverage that you can use to lift a much heavier rikishi (if you’re really strong, you can do this without the moro-zashi grip, like Chiyootori does to the colossal Gagamaru here). The defining feature of Tsuridashi is that the opponent is lifted entirely off the ground, and then lands with one or both feet outside the tawara. Terunofuji and Mitakeumi have been trading these on the Jungyo recently.

Okuridashi: Pushing the opponent out from behind. The trick is getting there! There are several other techniques with the “Okuri” prefix, and they’re all moves performed from behind the other rikishi. Once this happens, the match will usually be over quite quickly. Although there are exceptions, and sometimes a rikishi will even be able to drive out an opponent behind them by aggressively walking backwards (Ushiromotare, an essential inclusion in any basho drinking game).

In conclusion

That’s all I have time for in this initial post. There will be more later, covering other types of kimarite, to hopefully make the gyoji decisions a little less opaque, and to make it easier for you to search for videos of the most exciting victories. Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions in the comments, or correct me if I got something wrong. I am bound to have got at least one thing wrong.

Torikumi Forecast & Notes On The Kyujo Wave

Yoshikaze-Cartoon

Some fans may be wondering why Yokozuna Kisenosato and Kakuryu announced they were going kyujo Thursday morning Japan time. The fact of the matter is the NSK is building the torikumi (order of battle) for the start of Aki, and it was time for the walking wounded to decide if they wanted to give it a try, or sit out from the start.

Much to my surprise, Hakuho has not declared one way or the other yet. Just to be clear, I do not expect him to be present on day 1 of Aki, but I think that he may be struggling with that decision. He did in fact declare to his fans at Natsu “I am back!”.

I believe the Torikumi for days 1 and 2 are being published in the next 8 hours or so. Some of the matches we can expect in the first two days (my guess)

  • Hakuho vs. Tamawashi – If Hakuho starts Aki, we can see how banged up the dai-Yokozuna is early.
  • Tochiozan vs. Harumafuji – You might be tempted to assume that Harumafuji will fold and spindle Tochiozan, but Tochiozan has made some useful adjustments to his sumo.
  • Takayasu vs. Tochinoshin – Big and strong vs strong and big. This could be a sumo battle for the ages as these two love to use brute strength.
  • Goeido vs. Kotoshogiku – Goeido has been looking dailed-in back to his 2.0 setting, and a likely match against Kotoshogiku will be speed vs strength.
  • Terunofuji vs. Aoiyama – Terunofuji is a far cry from the light schedule Aoiyama enjoyed in Nagoya. This match will sort reality from fiction in about 5 seconds.
  • Mitakeumi vs. Chiyotairyu – Chiyo who you say? Believe it! I expect Mitakeumi to pick up where he left off in Nagoya.
  • Shohozan vs. Yoshikaze – Big guns vs the Berserker. Yoshikaze has been opening very strong in recent basho, before he gets banged up by the end of the first week. We might see some exotic kimarite.
  • Shodai vs. Ura – I am going to assume that Ura is in rough shape, and I am just going to hope that Shodai fixed has tachiai.
  • Ichinojo vs. Takakeisho – Ok Takakeisho fans, his road back can start with the huge Mongolian.

Please feel free to add your day 1 / 2 torikumi guesses in the comments.