For most rikishi, maezumo is the required on-dohyo initiation to sumo tournaments. An exception is made for amateur champions from major tournaments in Japan. They are allowed to forgo maezumo and take advantage of a privileged entry directly into Sandanme or Makushita. This year is clearly a difficult year for recruiting — and the amateur sport — but there are still quite a few young men ready to join the heya life.
The goal in maezumo is for the participants to reach three wins in kind of a round-robin style. Top recruits will pick up their three wins very quickly and not participate in further bouts. If unsuccessful after even five matches, this does not preclude the wrestler from continuing their sumo career but it sure does not bode well for a rapid rise.
We have eight wrestlers who participated in maezumo this tournament, including five brand new recruits (shin-deshi), a drop from more than forty in March — but an increase compared with last November when there were only two. Aside from the two veterans who had fallen off the banzuke and hope to remain in sumo, we’ve got a nice new group of six men making their debuts.
The top recruit in the November cohort is Atamifuji. Born Takei Sakutaro in Chiba, he moved to Atami and his shikona is a nod to his hometown. He joined Isegahama stable this fall, at age 18. He’s the rikishi at the front on the far left. Joining Atamifuji at Isegahama are Onofuji (back row, left) and Minorufuji (back row, right).
Arauma, front and center, is Atamifuji’s biggest competition from this particular set of recruits and he joins Isenoumi stable. If I’m not mistaken, he’s the only Isenoumi recruit this year. The two faced each other for their third bout, the maezumo equivalent of a Darwin bout. Atamifuji came out on top but I’m sure we will be able to revisit this rivalry in January in Jonokuchi.
Lastly, Kyoda (front row, right) has joined Futagoyama and Harada (back row, center) joined Oguruma stable. Kyoda defeated Onofuji twice and Minorufuji once during the maezumo bouts to pick up his three wins. Harada also beat Minorufuji twice for his two wins. Onofuji picked up three wins but Minorufuji was winless in four bouts after being thrown in his bout against Arauma.
Sometimes people wonder what it takes to be a sumo wrestler. I don’t blame them because whenever I watch a Jonokuchi bout, I’m usually thinking the same thing, half, “That looks like fun!” and half, “I could clean up!” The five brand new recruits, shin-deshi, and had to pass the entrance physical.
*Hat tip to Herouth for explaining that Arauma’s physical was passed in September, so he’s not actually a “shin-deshi” in this maezumo cohort. Shishi also joined in January but had to wait until March for maezumo.
To qualify, recruits must be healthy, taller than 167cm and weigh more than 67kg and under 23 years old. From the list above, we can see all recruits easily met these standards, though Atamifuji was the tallest and heaviest at 185 cm (6 feet) and 166 kilos.
There are age exceptions for amateur champions, who must still be under 25 and middle school recruits must be at least 165cm and weigh more than 65kg. And since you’ll be hanging out in standard issue white boxers, you likely need a heafty dose of humility and have the personal hygiene skills to not leave skidmarks.
For exceptional talents, maezumo a very brief blip before they rocket up the banzuke, often pausing at the rough-and-tumble makushita joi. On the other end of the spectrum, wrestlers who are injured will sometimes fall completely off the banzuke (banzuke-gai) and will need to do maezumo again. Some wrestlers avoid this by fighting one bout each tournament, like Ryuden did before his storied come-back.
Despite the challenges of this year, maezumo cohorts from 2020 have offered up some amazing talents who we will likely see transition from part-time to full-time, like Hokuseiho, Shishi, and Hayatefuji, already well into Sandanme and likely set to get their own kesho mawashi within a year or two. We look forward to following all these new wrestlers in the new year.*
*I must apologize to the sumo fan universe, and all Americans, for the challenges that we have faced this year. My wife has informed me that 2020 is my Yakudoshi. I had thought that was next year but I’m told that next year will be better. Mea culpa.