JOINT PRACTICE!

“No Kensho…no Jungyo…no degeiko…no…”

This song has been playing on a loop inside my head since March, as events and gatherings that I had taken for granted were ripped away.

 

Slowly, activities are coming back in our own lives. And today, the sumo world took another step back to normalizing as several heavyweights gathered for the first joint practice session in half a year. No name is bigger than Hakuho, obviously. Kakuryu was not there, but stablemate Kiribayama was, along with Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, and yusho holder, Shodai.

Hakuho didn’t just sit on the sidelines, hamming for the camera, either. He got in a little action, here doing butsukari with Shodai and practicing his tachiai with Ikioi. It’s great to see the Boss back in a mawashi, offering his chest and a few pointers to up-and-comers. But now that he’s gotten a few pictures in it, hopefully he folded it neatly and left it in a corner to gather dust for a few more weeks. There’s no need to push it.

Aki Day 15 Highlights

Day 15 was an absolutely fantastic day of sumo. In contrast to some previous tournaments, no one really phoned it in today. It seems that everyone found they had a bit of energy left in the tank, and they threw it all into their final match. It was possibly the best day of sumo, all around, of the tournament.

First and foremost, my congratulations to Shodai. I know readers of this blog think I dislike this fellow, but my complaints were always technical. His sumo was sloppy, and his tachiai was ineffective. But following his 3-12 record last Aki, he changed. These kinds of changes are never on accident, they are the result of hard, relentless effort. Yokozuna Kakuryu’s influence can now clearly be seen in Shodai’s sumo with one critical difference – Shodai does not yet suffer the chronic injuries that will soon usher Kakuryu into his post competition life. My compliments to Kakuryu for finding a proper student, and nothing but praise to Shodai for taking this knowledge and making it his own through relentless work, and I would guess toughening up some degree. Word has come that he will be minted Ozeki in the days to come, and I think if he can stay healthy, he will make a formidable Ozeki for years to come.

Several of today’s matches had the sad overtones of a goodbye. We may have seen final matches from Kotoshogiku and Shohozan. I continue to wonder how much longer Ikioi is going to endure as well. These mainstays of sumo have given their all to the sport, but it seems their bodies are telling their unquenchable fighting spirit that it is time to move on.

While the focus is (rightly) on celebrating Shodai’s yusho, and his elevation to Ozeki, it’s worth noting the Ozeki yusho drought continues. Both Asanoyama and Takakeisho finished with fine scores (10-5, 12-3) worthy of an Ozeki. But both must have considered this no-kazuna basho to be their best chance at starting the promotion process by taking the cup. For Asanoyama, the pre-basho pressure was huge, and I think it disrupted his focus, and cost him important early matches. I also cannot stress enough that the lack of degeiko, and frankly jungyo, with its mass joint training sessions among top division rikishi has degraded the fighting capabilities of the top ranks. This may be especially true for Asanoyama, whose Takasago stable does not have another Makuuchi ranked rikishi to spar against. Shodai has Yutakayama, and Takakeisho has Takanosho, and yes, I think it did make a difference.

Highlight Matches

Ichinojo defeats Chiyonoo – Ichinojo’s sumo returns for this final match of Aki, and it was good to see. I would think he could have dispatched Chiyonoo at the tachiai, but the match went to extra time after Ichinojo got his left hand outside grip and decided to let Chiyonoo try to out muscle him. Credit to Chiyonoo, he rallied twice, and survived holding up the boulder longer than I thought he could. Ichinojo gets his 8th win, and will remain in the top division for November.

Shohozan defeats Ikioi – Shohozan has been struggling the entire tournament, but today he threw everything he had left into this fight against Ikioi (their 15th match). Both are heavily make-koshi, and I would expect at least one of them to consider intai following Aki. Shohozan will be ranked in Juryo for November, and Ikioi is just too hurt to really compete. But just for a moment, it was 2014 again, and these two were genki and beating the tar out of each other. Thanks guys.

Hoshoryu defeats Sadanoumi – I am happy that Hoshoryu was able to secure his kachi-koshi in his first top division basho. But the fact he was relegated to a Darwin match when ranked at Maegashira 16 shows that he still has work to do. I think because of his family connection to Asashoryu, people put a lot of pressure on this talented young guy, and just maybe it impacts his sumo at time. With luck he will shake that off one day, and we will see what he is capable of in his own right.

Wakatakakage defeats Shimanoumi – Absolutely brilliant tournament from Wakatakakage, and I am a bit surprised they did not award him a special prize. He will be riding a big wave toward the top of the banzuke, and I hope he can endure the intensity of the competition. To many it looked like Shimanoumi won this match at first glance, but Shimanoumi had clearly stepped out even before his throw attempt had completed rotation. An 11-4 final score for the leading Onami brother.

Tokushoryu defeats Onosho – Outstanding 10-5 final for Onosho, and we should see him back in the joi-jin for November. It was a bit troublesome that he dropped his last 2 matches. He ended up tucked in against Tokushoryu’s enormous belly, and from that position, it’s tough to do much. With the belly in control, even the remainder of Tokushoryu was forced to go where the belly demanded, and that was putting Onosho out of the ring.

Ishiura defeats Ryuden – By all rights, Ishiura should be trying to mend that ankle, but he not only showed up, we saw Ishiura’s quality sumo today. I was really impressed that he could shut down Ryuden’s forward power, and hold him checked at the center of the dohyo while he set up that throw. Ishiura finishes Aki 4-11. With any luck, lksumo may give us a hint on if that may be enough to keep him in the top division.

Kagayaki defeats Kaisei – The second “Darwin” match had a tough to describe kimarite. Really maximum effort from Kagayaki to keep Kaisei from establishing his desired hold, and preventing the Brazilian from overwhelming him. That attempt to finish the match fell apart in spectacular fashion, with each man counter-rotating and falling back to back.

Takayasu defeats Meisei – Takayasu controlled the center of the dohyo, and kept Meisei reacting to his sumo. Unable to really maintain his footing, Meisei found himself drive out of the ring. Both finish with respectable kachi-koshi, and we will see Takayasu in the joi-jin for November.

Kotoeko defeats Takarafuji – Holy smokes, what a battle! The third “Darwin” match was a long running chest to chest contest between Takarafuji’s defend and extend sumo, and Kotoeko’s overwhelming drive to beat him no matter what. Takarafuji eventually had to settle for a left hand outside grip, but could not overcome Kotoeko’s defense. Excellent sumo from these two.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoshogiku – This might have been the final for Kotoshogiku. My thanks to Terutsuyoshi for not employing some punk move or henka against the former Ozeki, and let him go out fighting.

Enho defeats Myogiryu – It gave me a smile to see Enho finish out with a solid match like this. Myogiryu went in with a solid plan, but if Enho is dialed into his sumo, you are sometimes just along for the ride. Both finish with 6-9.

Kotoshoho defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi is another who seems to have lost about 30% of his power, and I have to wonder how long he will be able to keep up with the younger crop of rikishi who seem to be showing up in the top division, and coming into their own. Tamawashi had a big opening nodowa, but Kotoshoho just kept working forward, and overcame. A 10-5 finish for Kotoshoho – great stuff!

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin drove to get his left hand toward Hokutofuji’s mawashi, but could never connect. If you are Tochinoshin, and your main weapon gets shut down, what do you do? Why you pull of course! Hokutofuji is primed for that, puts the left hand death grip on Tochinoshin’s throat and moves him over the tawara.

Takanosho defeats Aoiyama – Impressed that Takanosho was able to resist Aoiyama’s initial attack. But I guess that if you share practice with Takakeisho every morning, you are used to getting a hundred or so kilograms of force applied to your face and shoulders. Takanosho focused center-mass and pushed forward for the win. Another solid 10-5 finish, and I am curious where that lands him in the san’yaku for November.

Daieisho defeats Okinoumi – Both end the tournament with more than 10 losses, and will be dropping out of the san’yaku. This match was dominated by Daieisho’s pulling effort at the close, which saw him galloping in reverse while tugging on Okinoumi’s head. Ok…

Kiribayama defeats Mitakeumi – Ah, Mitakeumi, the eternal Sekiwake. That last increment to Ozeki is outside of your grasp yet again. Mitakeumi was in reaction mode from the start today, and he let Kiribayama dominate the match. I am sure Kiribayama is delighted to return from kyujo and end the tournament with 9 wins, I just hope he did not permanently damage that left shoulder in the process.

Shodai defeats Tobizaru – A win here was all Shodai needed to finish his yusho run, and it was a great match. I have to compliment Tobizaru who contested strongly for the yusho in his first ever top division tournament. The opening gambit nearly overpower Shodai, and put Shodai’s heels on the tawara. Shodai rallied and bodily tossed Tobizaru nearly across the ring. Tobizaru grabbed an arm and reverse Shodai to the bales again, but an inspired pivot at the edge dropped Tobizaru as he lunged forward to finish Shodai. I would remind readers that, in my opinion, this is an early form of Shodai’s sumo, and a year from now, all of this stuff that looks rough and improvised may become polished and amazing to watch. I hope the Aki yusho winner and shin-Ozeki can stay healthy and compete with strength for many years to come.

Takakeisho defeats Asanoyama – Some might assume that with the yusho decided just minutes before, that this match would be anti-climatic. But to me it was quite informative in that Asanoyama, at the fundamental level, is a stronger and more versatile rikishi than Takakeisho. This was all about mental focus and stamina, and it seems, a bit to my surprise, that Takakeisho had more to bring to the dohyo today. I have not seen Asanoyama have to generate that much forward force in a long time, and it really distracted him from getting an effective hand hold, which is crucial to his sumo technique. With his offense disrupted, Asanoyama worked to break contact and re-engage. While that is solid sumo tactics, it merely set up Takakeisho’s penultimate attack. With all of that power now focused in Asanoyama’s chest through Takakeisho’s hands, Asanoyama found himself powerless to stop the fast run over the edge. Asanoyama has nothing to feel down about following this Aki basho, but I suspect he will assess his performance as falling short of expectations. Tip from an old man who has had wonderful successes in a few areas of life. Put the expectations aside, and enjoy what you are good at. When you can find a path to that, you will unlock your potential. You are an Ozeki, and the sumo fandom adores you. Have fun with it, like you did in your early days at the bottom of Makuuchi. The rest will take care of itself.

To our dear readers, thank you for spending the Aki basho with us. It’s been a blast covering this wide-open nokazuna tournament, and Team Tachiai appreciates you taking time to read and contribute.

Aki Day 14 Highlights

A fine day of sumo for all. I am starting to think that Shodai has his act together. I am going to be interested to see if he can keep this level of consistency up, because if he can, he will be a force to be reckoned with. If he is going to be regularly at the top of the division, he may need some kind of occasional use nickname. One internet sumo fan suggested “booger”, as Shodai has been found on camera this past week picking objects out of body openings while he waits for his match. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

The whole thing comes down to Shodai’s match against Tobizaru as the second to last fight of the tournament. Right now, Shodai controls his fate. He is the sole leader in the yusho race, with only Takakeisho and Tobizaru able to challenge if Shodai should lose tomorrow. Pro tip to Tokitsukaze oyakata – go buy the fish now.

Highlight Matches

Shohozan defeats Nishikigi – I liked this match because Shohozan actually was able to generate some offense against Nishikigi. Of course Nishikigi worked hard to establish an arm bar (his favorite grip), and lost the hold at least once. But Shohozan got a nodowa in with his right, and then pulled. This is a risky move, which frequently gives the initiator a swift loss, but Shohozan got Nishikigi down before he stepped outside himself.

Ishiura defeats Ikioi – Watching Ikioi get up after a loss like that is painful. I can’t imagine what it’s like for him. Both end the day at 3-11, and maybe they can fight it out in Juryo in November.

Sadanoumi defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo never could set up any kind of defensive footing, and the smaller Sadanoumi moved him around the dohyo with minimal effort. Both are 7-7 and are headed for Darwin matches. Ichinojo continues to be an enigma, he will fight well one day, and be week and ineffective the next.

Kotoeko defeats Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi could not come up with anything other than defense against Kotoeko’s attacks. But that was a really solid defense. Kotoeko kept working to get his hands inside, and kept moving Shimanoumi back. Shimanoumi gets his 8th loss, and Kotoeko improves to 7-7 and qualifies for a day 15 Darwin match.

Kotoshoho defeats Tokushoryu – In sumo, much of a rikishi’s defense comes from their lower body. This is a great example today, as Kotoshoho maintains his stance and balance under Tokushoryu’s offense. We saw Tokushoryu load up that “magic” tsukiotoshi that took him to the yusho in January, but Kotoshoho kept his feet. Tokushoryu’s 8th loss, and is make-koshi for September.

Ryuden defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku really has no power left in his legs. I marvel at how gentle Ryuden is with him. Good show sir. With a 2-12 score at Maegashira 11, we may be saying goodbye to the Kyushu Bulldozer soon. He might hang in for the November basho if it were to return to his homeland in the West, but I am pretty sure November it will be another basho re-homed to the Kokugikan.

Kaisei defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama gave Kaisei a V-Twin attack, and Kaisei held his ground. Aoiyama found he could only move Kaisei a little, and tried for a doulbe handed slap-down. It was at that moment Kaisei lowered his hips and charged. His win leaves both of them at 7-7, and excellent candidates for a day 15 Darwin match.

Hoshoryu defeats Kagayaki – After getting multiple combos to his face, Hoshoryu shifted from direct attack to deflect and move. Kagayaki followed, keeping the pressure up. As Hoshoryu came perilously close to the tawara, he hooked his leg around Kagayaki and pivoted into kakenage. It was great to see, and some mighty fine sumo. Both end the day at 7-7, and its MORE DARWIN!

Meisei defeats Myogiryu – Congrats to Meisei for a solid kachi-koshi (now 9-5) in his rebound match from his quick trip to Juryo. He was there long enough to pick up a yusho, and rough up everyone in the farm league. Hopefully he has recovered from his injury in November of last year. Myogiryu’s 8th loss, and make-koshi.

Enho defeats Terutsuyoshi – We all expected there to be a parade of shenanigans when these two were already make-koshi and facing off late in the basho. Enho employed a flying henka, a reverse battle hug, a quick spin on the Enho-go-round and a push out by the rear for Terutsuyoshi. Bye!

Takayasu defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji kept looking to get a nodowa in against Takayasu, and this caused him to reach in a few times toward the former Ozeki’s neck. Takayasu exploited Hokutofuji’s gambled and slapped him to the dohyo. Takayasu improves to 9-5.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – These two threw everything they could think of at each other. It was a wild and chaotic match, and the sumo on display here underscores how far both have degraded from their genki forms. Points to Tochinoshin for sticking with the shifting fight modes, and keeping his balance centered.

Takanosho defeats Onosho – Look at Takanosho’s stance. His amazing defensive posture and footwork robbed Onosho of his offense, and at one point his frustration leads to a pull attempt. But Takanosho is planted and is going nowhere. When he finally gets Takanosho on the move, Onosho’s too far forward and wide open for Takanosho’s hatakikomi. Not sure how Takanosho applied that much force when only his little toe had a grip on wrong edge of the tawara, but he made it work. Seriously genki pinky-toe. Feed it some roast beef, sir!

Kiribayama defeats Okinoumi – Very evasive sumo from Kiribayama, with a step to the side at the tachiai. But it was enough for kachi-koshi today, after sitting out a few days earlier in the tournament due to a shoulder injury.

Takarafuji defeats Daieisho – This is a great match to watch a few times at regular match and in slow motion, as Takarafuji has much to teach today. As is frequently his plan, he comes on with a strong defense and works to endure his opponent’s opening attacks. Note where his hips are relative to his feet when Daieisho attacks his neck. Takarafuji his high, but stable. His body is at the extent of Daieisho’s reach, so Daieisho can only apply fraction force. As the fight continues, Takarafuji keeps his feet as close as possible to the center of the ring. Although Daieisho is attacking like mad, Takarafuji converts any attempt by Daieisho to move forward into Daieisho circling around. It only takes a few exchanges before Daieisho notices this and tries to change up his attack. It’s at this point that Takarafuji engages offense, and Daieisho find he is nearly out of territory to work with. The match ends shortly after that. Lesson learned – control the center of the ring, and a strong stance correctly balanced can be a tool to overcoming a vigorous opponent’s energetic attacks.

Mitakeumi defeats Wakatakakage – Mitakeumi recovered after a rough start that saw Wakatakakage claim the attack position from the tachiai. Mitakeumi’s attempted a pull down, and that nearly cost him the match. I do wish he would cut that stuff out. A few moments later, Mitakeumi settles into the fight and gets a proper body position and hand hold on Wakatakakage, and takes him apart. I think this match is a great example of what may fans perceive as Mitakeumi’s inconsistency. He’s an opportunist, and frequently he has a tough time with his second step. Opponents have this figured out, and can goad him into trying to pull, and use Mitakeumi’s release of forward attack to beat him. Fortunately, Mitakeumi prevailed for his 8th win and is kachi-koshi. But yet again his campaign to reach Ozeki are likely reset to zero.

Shodai defeats Asanoyama – Good heavens, that version of Shodai is quite the overpowering monster. Asanoyama’s grip attempt at the tachiai failed, and he found himself turned to the side, with his right flank exposed. Shodai latched on and rapidly dispatched the surprised Ozeki. Excellent sumo, and excellent match plan from Shodai today. He is now the sole leader for the yusho.

Takakeisho defeats Tobizaru – Really impressed with how well Tobizaru did in this match. Takakeisho was trying whatever came to mind, and it was clear that Tobizaru was on defense, but his ability to hang in and stay on his feet was notable. I predict in a year or less, their future matches will have a different tone. Both men end the day 11-3, one win behind Shodai, whom Tobizaru will meet on day 15.

Aki Day 13 Highlights

In a surprising development early Friday, Chiyotairyu and Terunofuji were both declared kyujo. Chiyotairyu had not really appeared hurt, but his medical certificate cited injury to both feet. We hope he gets well and can come back in fighting form. Fans who had been cheering the remarkable comeback of Terunofuji were initially surprised to read he had dropped, and they are now worried as his medical certificate cites injury to his left knee. Terunofuji’s knees are little more than gristle and pain at this point, and we assumed it would be the first thing to fail on him. I wish him best of luck getting them back together and back in the fight. He had a score of 8-4 when he went kyujo, so he will (at minimum) keep h is Maegashira 1e rank for November.

In competition, Shodai prevailed over Takakeisho, and for at least one day, the yusho race is between Tobizaru and Shodai. The schedulers have chosen Asanoyama to face Shodai on day 14, and Tobizaru gets a try at Takakeisho. Depending on day 14 results, there could be as many as six (6!) rikishi tied for the yusho on the final day. A brilliant job of shaping the yusho race by the scheduling team.

Highlight Matches

Shimanoumi defeats Shohozan – Shohozan cements his position as captain of the slow barge of the damned headed to Juryo. He’s a great competitor, but injury seems to have robbed him of his sumo. Thanks for all of the great matches, “Big Guns”.

Hoshoryu defeats Ishiura – Ishiura had a lot of guts to jump back in the basho with a damaged ankle. I am sure it was an attempt to pick up any wins he could to soften his demotion. I can’t blame his motivation, and only time will tell if his judgement was sound. Hoshoryu picks up a much needed win, but his best possible outcome now is a day 15 Darwin match.

Ichinojo defeats Kotoshogiku – Also in the grizzled veteran who may be making his last top division appearance is dear former Ozeki Kotoshogiku. He had almost no defense today against Ichinojo, thanks to knees that are completely worn out from decades of sumo.

Sadanoumi defeats Kaisei – Kaisei was not happy with his hand and body position at the tachiai, and his moment of indecision was all of the opportunity Sadanoumi needed to win the match. Both men are on a solid trajectory for a day 15 7-7 Darwin match.

Meisei defeats Enho – Meisei starts the match taking Enho to his chest, but a moment later Enho breaks contact. The familiar cat-style fight ensues, with each pawing the other with a series of tentative strike and withdraw combos. Meisei loses interest in this, lunges forward to grab Enho and power him on a flight trajectory to the tarawa. Meisei kachi-koshi.

Kotoeko defeats Aoiyama – This match was full of suprises. The first that Aoiyama decided to go chest to chest with the much smaller Kotoeko. Second that Kotoeko somehow tapped into some kind of energy reserve and was able to out-brute the man-mountain Aoiyama.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshoho – Takayasu gets his 8th win to secure kachi-koshi for September. Kotoshoho had a lot of power and forward momentum in the tachiai, but Takayasu completely blocked out Kotoshoho’s attempt for a grip. Kotoshoho kept up the pressure, but lost footing while trying to swing Takayasu around. The kimarite is listed as tsukite, meaning Kotoshoho fell down and lost.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – This match makes me wonder if Takarafuji has some kind of back / hip pain he is contending with. Not to detract from Onosho’s powerful and efficient attack. But Takarafuji had no chance to set up any kind of defense, and quickly found himself pushed out of the ring.

Kagayaki defeats Tochinoshin – Oh, I am sure the drama in sumo fandom will rage around this one. The match proper featured Kagayaki initially overpowering Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin responded by setting up a back of the neck pull, that seemed to take forever to deliver. But Kagayaki went face first to the clay, and the gumbai went to Tochinoshin. A monoii decided that Tochinoshin’s heel touched out before he even completed the pull against Kagayaki, and the match was awarded to Kagayaki. I can only imagine the shimpan saw something I could not from the video.

Myogiryu defeats Tamawashi – Myogiryu put a huge effort into this match, and found a way to deflect or nullify almost every move Tamawashi could deliver. Tamawashi was limited mostly to responding to Myogiryu’s attacks but showed some really great balance. The final move saw both men locked chest to chest, each throwing the other down. A very athletic twisting move by Myogiryu ensured that Tamawashi landed first. Great ring sense from Myogiryu. Tamawashi make-koshi.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Hokutofuji – I am going to guess that Hokutofuji is the only person in the sumo world who did not see this one coming from a mile away. Two matta by Terutsuyoshi followed by a henka. That’s loss number 8 for Hokutofuji, and he once again can claim “The most powerful make-koshi in sumo”.

Tobizaru defeats Takanosho – Takanosho had great position in the tachiai, but found himself with a bit too much forward power. Tobizaru gave way and allowed Takanosho to move forward while Tobizaru’s third step turned him to the side, and positioned him to drive Takanosho out. Tobizaru maintains his spot as co-leader.

Ryuden defeats Okinoumi – The word for this match – makikae (grip shift). Ryuden does this very well, and he was able to nullify Okinoumi’s early advantage, and get both hands inside and on Okinoumi’s mawashi. Sadly both were make-koshi before this match, so now they are just fighting to figure out how far down the banzuke they will drop.

Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Kiribayama comes back from kyujo and brings some decent sumo with him. Daieisho generated almost zero forward resistance against Kiribayama. I am not sure if he had his heart set ons some kind of pulling move, could not get his feet set, or is nursing an injury. Kiribayama looked pained following the win.

Shodai defeats Takakeisho – Shodai absorbed everything that Takakeisho could land on him. Under a rain of blows from the Ozeki, he kept his feet and stayed in the match. Again I see Kakuryu’s sumo showing itself in Shodai, and it’s great. Shodai’s first attempt to swing Takakeisho by him on Takakeisho’s thrust failed, but the second one a moment later delivered, and the Ozeki hit the dohyo. Shodai maintains his portion of the lead in the yusho race. Perfect selection of tactics for this match on Shodai’s part. Well done.

Asanoyama defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi looked like little more than practice ballast for Asanoyama today, and it did not take more than 3 steps to get the original tadpole airborne. Asanoyama stays in the hunt, and will have his one chance to pull himself back in the yusho race on day 14 when he faces Shodai. Frankly, I can’t wait.