Post Basho YDC – No Guidance to Kisenosato

Kisenosato-Salt

Do you feel it? With sumo done for now, it’s been a bit over 24 hours. No sumo video to watch, no commentary to write, no matches to preview. We are a bit more than a month away from the next banzuke, which will be for Aki, and there is a jungyo tour starting soon. But the work up for Aki has already started in some circles.

As is common after each basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council met to discuss the state of sumo. One could imagine that they would have quite a bit to say following a basho with zero Yokozuna participating on day 8, let alone day 15. The elephant in the room is, of course, the perpetually injured relic of Kisenosato, who sat out his 8th consecutive tournament since tearing his left pectoral muscle during Osaka 2017.

The the subject, the YDC took up the topic, and discussed encouraging him to participate in Aki, but decided to not take a stand or make any kind of recommendation. That’s it – no ultimatum, no guidance, no “hey, fatso, get your ass in the ring or get a haircut” statement at all. The NSK, under advisement from the YDC, are welcome to manage their talent however they choose to. But at this point the Kisenosato grows more comical with each passing basho. The damage that was done to his left chest muscles robbed him of his primary weapon. The extended break he has taken trying to heal has left him de-conditioned, most likely for good. The last time he tried any sumo, his footwork was all over the map, and he struggled to keep his upper body balanced.

I would love to see Kisenosato fight with strength and vigor once again, but that’s not going to happen. I suspect that soon he will make an appearance at a basho, knowing full well that it will be his last. He will enter it to go out “guns blazing” in a manner fitting a man who devoted his life to sumo. At some point Kisenosato’s pride and dignity will get the better of him, and he will chose his exit path.

I do recognize that there will be a YDC Soken conducted just before the Aki basho, along with health checks and a weigh in. It’s possible that the YDC will give clearer direction on the subject of Kisenosato at that time.

Yokozuna Kisenosato To Sit Out Nagoya Basho

Kisenosato-Dohyo-Iri

In a move that surprised exactly no-one, perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has declared that he will not participate in the upcoming Nagoya tournament. This marks a record-setting eight consecutive tournaments that Kisenosato has failed to complete, snatching the inglorious title from prior record holder Takanohana who had seven. In addition, this will be the third consecutive tournament where he will not even compete on the first day of the basho.

Although the article cited refers to him wanting to enter Aki, given the nature of his injury, his physical situation is unlikely to be substantially different in September. In recent practice/test matches against a variety of opponents, including Yokozuna Hakuho, his sumo looked chaotic and sloppy. Kisenosato has clearly picked up a significant amount of mass during his 18 month kyujo marathon, and that is likely to further hamper any attempts to return to competition.

As always, we hope Kisenosato finds some path back from the mess he is currently mired within.

June 30th News Round Up

News Update Banner

Another news round up, as we are now one week away from the start of the Nagoya basho. Everyone who is going to participate is practicing now, and we are in the midst of inter-stable / ichimon cross training sessions and practice matches. In many cases, this is where people can start sizing up who is genki and who is not.

Sumo Kyokai

There are zero new recruits joining the sumo kyokai in Nagoya. This is a somewhat unusual situation, but in and of itself it’s not a cause for any alarm or assumptions that the Japanese public have given up their love for sumo. Today marked the dedication dohyo-iri at the Atsuta shrine. The party attending included shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin, marking the first time he has been of rank to participate.

Tagonoura Heya

First and foremost is Kisenosato. He looks like he is not even close to being ready. He lacks power, he lacks poise, he struggles against mid-tier Makuuchi rikishi. As someone who loves sumo and deeply respects Kisenosato’s commitment to the sport, this is painful to watch. But we can more or less assume that he won’t be competing. Takayasu, however, seems to have put his upper body injuries behind him, and has been fighting with gusto. We can expect him to enter and to strongly compete for the yusho.

Isegahama Heya

Our beloved kaiju, Terunofuji, once again went into surgery in a desperate attempt to repair his knees. It’s obvious that he is going to drop as far as he drops in a last ditch attempt to regain some kind of fighting form, and barring that some kind of mobility to use for the remainder of his life. Don’t look for his at Nagoya or Aki, I would say. Meanwhile, Harumafuji’s retirement is set for the end of September at the Kokugikan. Some elements of Team Tachiai may be in attendance…

Miyagino Heya

Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho took 38 practice bouts against rikishi of all levels down to Jonidan. He won 22 of them. He also called on Asashoryu’s nephew, Hoshoryu for 3 bouts. Speaking afterwards, Hoshoryu said, “”Glad to face the Yokozuna”. Hakuho stated, “It’ll be nice to hand over the baton to him”.

Nagoya News Round Up

News Update Banner

Thanks to Herouth, a number of news tidbits that have been bumping around on Twitter are tee’d up for us to enjoy. At present, all of the stables are in the Nagoya area, with rikishi working hard to tune up for the basho that starts in 10 short days.

Kisenosato

As we all know, perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato is struggling to find a way to exit the active portion of his career with some element of dignity intact. He had been making good efforts in practice matches at the Tagonoura against Takayasu, and appeared to have some spark. Word today that during training he injured his right arm, but insists he is fine. Sadly the truth is it’s been more than a year since Kisenosato has really had intensive upper body training, and his muscles are now de-conditioned to some extent. With joint ichimon training over the next two days, we may get a preview of just how tough his situation is.

Hakuho

The Boss is taking practice matches against the like of Ishiura, Enho, Yamaguchi and Onokura. He ended the day with 14 wins and 2 losses. This (at least to me) indicates that the dai-Yokozuna may be in good fighting form by shonichi.

Goeido

During Sakaigawa’s degeiko, kadoban Ozeki Goeido took on Mitakeumi for a series of matches, finishing 14 wins and 3 losses. He stated that the problems with his left ankle have been resolved, and he is feeling positive about the upcoming bash.

Kisenosato Starts Training For Nagoya

kisenosato-workout2

On the 26th (Tuesday that is), Kisenosato took up some basic practice routines at the Tagonoura temporary base camp in Nagoya. He only did basic exercises and acted as the dead weight for butsukari. The article mentions that he hopes to start training matches on Wednesday the 27th against lower ranked opponents. Fans everywhere are wondering what Kisenosato’s end-game could be, and how long he will prolong his quite possibly tragic return to the dohyo.

For those of you with some kanji skill, feel free to have a look at the original text.

Nagoya Yokozuna Report

Kakuryu

It’s banzuke Sunday in the western world, and while the sumo fans eagerly await to see who came out on top, or how their guess the banzuke entry scored, let’s take a look at the top end of the Nagoya ranks. The Yokozuna have had their problems this year, and Nagoya may continue to underscore the tremendous change at work in sumo’s upper ranks.

First up is sumo’s top man for Nagoya, the unexpectedly genki Yokozuna Kakuryu. A year ago, if you had told me that Kakuryu would take back-to-back yusho and supplant Harumafuji as sumo’s anchor Yokozuna, I would have considered it unlikely. But he has somehow managed to get his body healthy and his fighting spirit aligned. His sumo looks quite good, and as long as he keeps from going for pulls, he tends to prevail. Kakuryu’s sumo is highly reactive. In most matches his approach is not to conquer his opponent at the tachiai, but rather to put up a strong defence and keep his opponent stalemated, waiting for a mistake. These mistakes almost always appear and Kakuryu is without peer in detecting and exploiting even the smallest error in his opponents. After his Natsu yusho, he suggested that he would like to see if he could achieve 3 consecutive titles, which would be remarkable for a man who many (myself included) suggested a year ago hang up his rope due to lack of competition. Prospect – Surprisingly Positive.

Yokozuna Hakuho is the Michael Jordan of sumo. There has never been any rikishi as dominant as he has been, and in all likelihood, none of us will live to see a day when some future sumotori surpasses his records. But his cumulative injuries are starting to impact his ability to compete. Specifically, repeated injuries to his big toes have robbed him of some speed, agility and power. Furthermore, the YDC has admonished him to change up his tachiai, which frequently features a slap to his opponents face. Hakuho has struggled with that guidance, and the lack of that first disorienting blow seems to have thrown his sumo off at least a half step. His performance during Natsu was a respectable 11-4, but his supporters wonder how much longer “The Boss” can keep going. His biggest issue in May was mental. His father had just died a few weeks before, and it clearly impacted the dai-yokozuna’s mental state. Hakuho’s father was his own larger than life figure, and was likely a driving force in his son’s life. Anyone who has lost a parent can attest to the mental impact it can have. But I suspect he took ample time during the summer break to come to terms with the loss, and his mental state will be nothing short of amazing for Nagoya. Prospect – Grim Determination To Win.

In 2017 the world welcomed the first Japanese-born Yokozuna in a generation. Many had their doubts about him, as he was promoted on his first yusho. He silenced all doubters with his outstanding performance the following tournament, winning his second yusho, and finishing in spite of a grievous injury that haunts him to this day. Sadly, since Osaka 2017, Kisenosato has failed to complete a single tournament. Fans have been rightfully depressed that a rikishi who would refuse to even miss a single day of practice would be sidelined indefinitely. As his kyujo tally mounted, he eventually reached a 7th excused tournament, matching Takanohana’s longest absence. For such a proud man, the strain of making the record books in such a inglorious manner must eat at him hourly. Fans have noticed in the past few weeks that he has been taking practice matches with his old training partner, Ozeki Takayasu. They have done this in the past, and it seems to have been mostly for show. But a rumor has been running around sumo fandom that Kisenosato has come to terms with the scope of his injury, and will retire shortly. But rather than fade out a defeated man, he will instead don the rope once more, and go out guns blazing in competition. Personally, reflecting on that outcome and the career of Kisenosato it would make perfect sense. It may not be Nagoya, but it will be before Kyushu. Prospect – Unlikely – or- Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

As we pointed in our Ozeki report, with two Ozeki pushing for 8 wins to relieve kadoban status, the pressure from the top of the banzuke on the rest of the san’yaku and the upper Maegashira will be enormous. Two or possibly three active Yokozuna all hunting wins could spell unrivaled carnage at the top of the banzuke. For fans of sumo, this means some of the most thrilling competition possibly in several months.

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.

Nagoya ’18 Banzuke Crystal Ball

Meisei_banzuke

Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Goeido

Takayasu

O2

Tochinoshin

Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.

Lower San’yaku

S

Ichinojo

Mitakeumi

K

Tamawashi

Shohozan

Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Shodai

Chiyonokuni

M2

Kotoshogiku

Ikioi

M3

Abi

Kaisei

M4

Kagayaki

Takakeisho

M5

Daishomaru

Yoshikaze

Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.

The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Daieisho

Endo

M8

Chiyoshoma

Kyokutaisei

M9

Myogiryu

Onosho (J)

M10

Chiyomaru

Aoiyama

M11

Nishikigi

Sadanoumi

Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoeko (J)

Arawashi

M13

Asanoyama

Yutakayama

M14

Tochiozan

Okinoumi

M15

Ryuden

Hokutofuji

M16

Ishiura

Meisei (J)

Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.

The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.

I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.

Genki Report – Yokozuna & Ozeki

tsuna

With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.

Yokozuna - Ozeki Participation

From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.

Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.

Let’s take a look at the rikishi:

Yokozuna Kakuryu
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.

Yokozuna Hakuho
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.

Yokozuna Kisenosato
Genki: ✭-
Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?

Ozeki Goeido
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.

Ozeki Takayasu
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.

Ozeki Tochinoshin
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

Act 1

After a somewhat tepid start, the 2018 Natsu Basho is beginning to heat up. So far we’ve seen some excellent sumo from one end of the banzuke to the other, especially from the men in the Joi who are in top form and have been delivering some great bouts. With Act One done and dusted, here’s everything you need to know after the first five days of the Natsu Basho!

Yusho Race

It’s still early in the Yusho race, but five days of sumo has quickly whittled down the numbers and we now have a very competitive leaderboard. At the top, we have Shodai, Tochinoshin, and Yokozuna Hakuho who all still have perfect records after Act One. Right behind them is the chase group of 4-1 rikishi such as Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ichinojo, and Kakuryu. brining up the rear is a massive hunt group of rikishi all with two losses, including Sadanoumi, Daiamami, Asanoyama, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Mitakeumi, and Endo just to name a few.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

While fortunes certainly can change,  there are several rikishi with a good shot of reaching their kashi koshi by the end of Act Two, and even more who will have to put some serious work in to avoid their make koshi. Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ikioi, Shodai, Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, and Hakuho all have four wins or more after the first act and are halfway to their coveted winning records. On the flip side of the coin, Aminishiki, Ishiura, Arawashi, Hokutofuji, Ryuden, Chiyomaru, Shohozan, Kaisei, Yutakayama, Tamawashi, Daiesihso, and Abi have all gotten at least four losses and will have to get their sumo in gear to avoid demotion in July.  Everyone else will have their fates decided later on in the Basho.

Kinboshi

We have only seen one gold star victory handed out so far this basho, and it was awarded to Maegashira 2 Shohozan, who defeated Yokozuna Kakuryu on Day 4. with upper Maegashira men such as Shodai and Ikioi off to very impressive starts, we may see the number of kinboshi rise if/when they get a crack at the two standing Yokozuna.

Kyujo

With the exception of Yokozuna Kisenosato and Ozeki Takayasu pulling out before the official tournament start, the Makuuchi Division has been remarkably kyujo-free so far. While this certainly can change later on in the competition, it does seem like the men in the mawashis are taking extra care of late to ensure that nasty falls off the dohyo are less common. With any luck, this new sense of camaraderie will mean fewer rikishi pulling out due to fall related injuries.

Act Two will see the heat rise in Tokyo as the competition gets fiercer and fiercer at the 2018 Natsu Basho. The Mid-Basho weekend is shaping up to be an excellent display of sumo and this fan can’t wait to see what will happen! Let Act Two begin!!

 

 

Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo For Natsu

Kisenosato-down

As Tachiai had speculated, perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has declared he will not start the May tournament in Tokyo.  This will be the 7th consecutive tournament that he has missed all or part of the 15 day competition. His Oyakata again is sighting continued difficulty recovering from injuries sustained in March 2017 at the Osaka tournament, where he won the yusho in his first outing as Yokozuna.

Full details (in Japanese) at the link

https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL595JHRL59UTQP01N.html

Why Am I Dreading the Natsu Basho?

Kisenosato

Like all sumo fans, I am eager for the next honbasho to get underway, yet in many respects I am apprehensive about the upcoming tournament. Many of the trends Tachiai identified early and have been dutifully covering are continuing to unfold, with both positive and negative aspects. Sure, I will be cheering as I watch day 1, but I worry Natsu is a preview for just how ugly things will be in the second half of the year.

In Yokozuna land, there is the clear indication that Kisenosato will sit out yet another basho. The man has his pride, and as Herouth mentioned a few weeks ago, there are some indications he may be preparing to announce his retirement from the sport. This is a natural result of his career ending injury sustained at the Osaka basho in 2017. If we consider things with honesty, there was never a very large chance that even with surgery that pectoral muscle would ever again support Yokozuna class sumo. Even the Great Pumpkin seems to be taking it seriously now. Why do I dread this? Once again, a segment of the sumo world (mostly in Japan) will erupt into a festival of complaints about Mongolians and other foreigners in the sport. Having lost their Japanese Yokozuna, some commentators may become insufferable.

But there’s a bright spot, right? Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin is moving to make his case to become Ozeki? That’s full of awesome, right? The Tochinoshin story is fantastic from a fan and from a blogger perspective. The man is a walking testament to never giving up and overcoming any obstacle. But he would be yet another foreign born rikishi at the top of the sport, further fueling the tribalist influences that sometimes are on display in sumo-fandom. He is also 30 years old with a bum knee. While It would be awesome to see the man from Georgia achieve the exalted status of “Great Barrier”, I get a sick feeling this is going towards a calamitous end.

Ok, so give the Japanese public a fresh Japanese Yokozuna and all is well, right? Sure, but then Takayasu shows that he’s banged up and probably needs to sit one out. His sumo devolved to where he was using his tachiai to ram one shoulder or upper arm into every opponent, and no one should be surprised that they are now injured. We will find out soon enough how bad it is, but don’t be surprised if Takayasu spends part or all of Natsu on the bench.

Don’t get me wrong, by the time that we are entering the final weekend, the Natsu basho will be a grand and epic arc of fantastic sumo. But as we get towards the middle of this transitional period, it can be a bit tough to watch the carnage.

Onward to Sunday!

Pre Natsu News Round Up – May 7th

Kisenosato-Salt

*Thanks to Herouth for scouting much of this content via twitter.

Across Tokyo, inter-stable training sessions are increasing as the rikishi continue to hone their preparations for Sunday’s start of the Natsu basho. While everyone is training hard and engaging in multiple test matches, it’s the top men who are getting the headlines.

Yokozuna Hakuho participated in the Isegahama Ichimon joint training session, going up against Kaisei, Takarafuji and Kyokutaisei, finishing with a 13-0 record. He is looking strong and confident going into Sunday’s tournament start, and will be a strong contender for the yusho. Observers noted that his tachiai no longer featured his usual face-slap, as requested by the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee.

Injured Yokozuna Kisenosato trained at the Nishonoseki joint training, held today at kaze-land (Oguruma). Kisenosato went against Yoshikaze for 9 bouts and won all of them. It should be noted that something has robbed Yoshikaze of most of his overflowing genki fighting form as of late, and today his right shoulder was heavily taped. One notable from the Nishonoseki rengo keiko was the early departure of Ozeki Takayasu, who complained of pain in his left arm. Previous training sessions featured the big Ozeki suffering pain in his right shoulder in between bouts.

Meanwhile, Yokozuna Kakuryu looked strong and dominant in joint training Monday at Tokitsukaze beya. He faced Endo, Abi, and Yutakayama, finishing 18 and 1. Yokozuna Kakuryu has stated his absolute goal is to score a back-to-back yusho, overcoming everyone including Hakuho to maintain his lock on the top spot in sumo, Yokozuna 1 East. Going into Sunday’s start, he is the man to beat, with his health seeming to be good, and his body in excellent condition, he is possibly in his best form ever.

Tachiai drops in on the YDC Soken

Kokugikan Interior - YDC Soken
The Makushita division moshiai during the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee’s soken

Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.

The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).

The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.

Juryo & below

Soken - Kaisho, Tomisakae, Enho
Kaisho and Tomisakae do battle as Enho awaits his turn. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.

Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.

Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.

Lower Makuuchi

Soken - Sumo Elders & Oyakata
Several oyakata look on as their charges mount the dohyo. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.

Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.

Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.

For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.

Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:

Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.

Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:

Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.

San’yaku

Soken - Kisenosato v Kakuryu
Kisenosato drives Kakuryu back. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!

Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.

Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.

Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.

Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.

Soken - Hakuho & Endo
Hakuho and Endo in butsukari. (Photo credit: @nicolaah)

Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.

Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.

Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!

May 2nd Sumo News Roundup

soken

As we count down the days until the Natsu basho kicks off in Tokyo, rikishi are preparing to battle it out for the tournament’s 15 days. In training we have seen alarming problems for Takayasu, who collapsed in pain during training at Tagonoura,but later seemed to recover. We have also seen Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin confess to a right shoulder injury during the jungyo tour, that may cause him significant problems as he pushes for double digit wins.

Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato seems to be doing better, but is (in my opinion) doubtful for this tournament. In reports from Herouth, there has been some kabu shuffling as of late, which could indicate that he has owned up to the prospects of ever recovering full use of his left arm, and is seeking a dignified exit from the dohyo, and a transition into coaching, running a stable or other role within the NSK.

Meanwhile, compact powerhouse Ishi-ura became the father of a baby at 3:30 AM Japan time. Both mother and child are doing well, and we congratulate the new father on his family. Former sekitori Osunaarashi has decided to switch to mixed martial arts (MMA), and we will likely see him in battle again before too long. We wish the big Egyptian luck, but recognize the battered condition his body was in during his final tournaments, and urge him find a way to stay healthy.

You want more from today’s soken? Josh and Nicola are attending, and Nicola is posting lots of great photos!