The Kisenosato Dilemma


Kise-Arm

No Easy Way Out

With Kisenosato out for kyujo for a second straight basho, there is a growing concern among the men who run sumo. Kisenosato’s elevation to Yokozuna has been a huge boon for the sport, raising it’s profile among the broader Japanese public, and driving huge ratings for the daily broadcasts. But as it becomes clear that Kisenosato cannot “heal naturally”, the sumo world faces a set of tough choices.

Fans who have come to sumo recently may not know how far out of the public’s minds sumo had wandered earlier this decade. The Japanese are proud people, and rightfully so. The nation of Japan and Japanese culture wield an oversized influence across the globe. They consider sumo to be their national sport, and it is in fact a sacred ritual. When it became clear that the top men of sumo were Mongolian for the foreseeable future, a section of the population lost interest. Sumo still had it’s fans, but it had become a sport dominated by outsiders, making it more like football (soccer) or any other imported event.

At the new years basho in 2017, this dynamic changed. For some time, the sumo association had wanted to promote Kisenosato, but lacked the final ingredient: a Yusho. In January, there was a confluence of events that gave Kisenosato his best chance ever at a tournament championship, and he took it. With his promotion secure, suddenly sumo had a Japanese born man at the highest rank. The public went absolutely insane for sumo and all things Kisenosato. He was Babe Ruth and John Glenn rolled into one. He had broken the lock Mongolia had on sumo.

March 2017 in Osaka, and Kisenosato is a freshly minted Yokozuna. The Japanese public is glued to their televisions, as the Osaka arena sold out all 15 days in mere minutes. In his day 13 match against Yokozuna Harumafuji, Kisenosato takes a hard fall off the dohyo and ruptures his left pectoral. Kisenosato is left handed by birth, and this injury robs him of his massive strength. Like every other sumo injury, nobody wants to talk about it. But the Japanese public (even if you are not a sumo fan) knows that the hero of Sumo is wounded. Somehow, he takes the yusho by defeating Ozeki Terunofuji not just once but twice on the final day. Again Japan erupts in jubilation as not only has their champion won his first tournament as Yokozuna, he overcame a grievous injury and prevailed against all odds.

After the party that follows a yusho, there were serious decisions to be made. Kisenosato had an injury that always requires surgery to heal. This would mean that the hero of sumo would be out of commission for at least 6 months, and even then might not ever return. This would remove the key figure that was driving interest in the sport back to where it belonged from the stage, possibly forever.

For whatever reason, the decision was made to try and “heal naturally”. This mean Kisenosato was to spend weeks resting his left upper body. He did not train much, and he was to do everything he could to not use that muscle group. Anyone who has trained athletically can tell you, over a period of weeks of non use, the related and supporting muscle groups de-condition, and lose their power. By resting, Kisenosato was losing the strength and stamina that had made him Yokozuna.

For the past two basho, he has tried to compete, but he is completely out of shape now, and most likely that pectoral muscle is still damaged and generating a faction of its former power. Kisenosato cannot compete in his present physical form, and that form cannot change without medical intervention.

So the question is – what do to? All of the answers have huge down side. Here are a few

  • Continue to wait and hope – So continue to “heal naturally” knowing that every day that goes by without intense strain on the left upper body diminishes your strength. Medically, there is no way to naturally heal a pectoral tear. So Kisenosato never regains left side upper body strength. We get a sub-standard Yokozuna lingering in the shadows (like Kakuryu) but instead it’s your Japanese born hero rikishi. Eventually (probably later this year) he is pushed to retire due to lack of performance.
  • Medical intervention – You take your prize Yokozuna to the best sports medicine doctors in the world, and just tell the fans he’s gone for 6 months. Surgical repair of the pectoral and any other nagging bits that were plaguing him. Hakuho did this for the big toe on his right foot, and he had to train like a madman for months just to step on the dohyo and not embarrass himself. It took him a year to return to 90% of his former glory. For Kisenosato this would likely mean intense physical therapy and endless workouts with Takayasu to try to get back to the form that won Hatsu 2017.
  • Admit you are done – Ugly solution, but if you are not going to try surgery to fix your left upper body, may as well go intai now and save yourself further damage or the fans any further disappointment. This would be a nightmare scenario of the sumo association, as it would return them to the days of being considered a foreign dominated sport.
  • Hold the fort – The most cruel of the outcomes, Kisenosato can continue to compete as best he can until another Japanese rikishi is ready for promotion. The most likely candidate would be Takayasu, although Goeido 2.0 could get it done sooner. This would allow the sumo association to shift everyone’s affections to a new hero, and Kisenosato could quietly bow out and retire.

Goeido (豪栄道) Cancels Personal Appearance In Nara


goeido-meal

Possible Major Right Ankle Injury.

News and details of injuries to sumotori are always hard to come by. For a variety of reasons the actual physical condition of sumo’s top stars are a closely guarded secret. But now word comes that Ozeki mainstay, and Aki Zensho champion Goeido may be facing a significant injury, suffered on Hatsu day 12 in his bout against Endo.

In the web article published here (in Kanji), it would seem to indicate that Goeido will miss a scheduled public appearance February 3rd at the Kasuga Shrine in the city of Nara. As Goeido is a “hometown boy” from that region, his appearance is a significant event, and his withdrawal is noteworthy.

The article also states he is continuing treatment to his right ankle, including screws to keep things in place. If true (and translated correctly by myself), this could indicate a significant injury that may limit his participation in the upcoming Osaka tournament, or worse yet end his career.

Tachiai wishes Goeido good fortune in recovery, and we dearly hope to see his Aki fighting form back again soon.

Hatsu Basho Re-Analysis


damage

Why So Many Maegashira Wins?

A hallmark of the Hatsu 2017 basho were the fantastic scores racked up by mid and lower level Maegashira / rank and file rikishi. To followers of sumo, this immediately looks strange, as typically there are 2-3 (at most) stand outs, and the rest is a brutal blood-bath of demotion and make-koshi.

We had 6 rikishi (outside of Yokozuna and Ozeki) who had double digit wins, which is frankly unusual. What happened?

Devastation at the top end of the banzuke. During the second half of the tournament, there was only one functioning Yokozuna and one functioning Ozeki. While two other Ozeki remained in rotation, both were fighting well below Ozeki level, and were not presenting much challenge to anyone.

Not to detract from Kisenosato’s yusho and imminent promotion to Yokozuna, but this basho was perhaps the easiest possible configuration for his victory. The Yokozuna and Ozeki are there to cull the Maegashira and test the San’yaku, and in Hatsu they failed. The result was run-away score inflation by some young, healthy and talented men.

This underscores some important facts about sumo:

  • Sumo is a combat sport. Unlike what most Americans are used to in terms of wrestling on television, these men are really battling to win, each and every time. When you weigh in excess of 300 pounds and someone throws you off of a 4 foot high clay platform, you may get hurt. Over time these injuries, if not healed or treated, will degrade your performance.
  • The upper ranks are past their prime on average. Due to the nature of sumo as a combat sport, it is rare that a rikishi can remain truly competitive past age 30. Takekaze is a wonderful and noted exception. The upper 2 ranks (Ozeki and Yokozuna) have been largely static for several years, as the men in the ranks have been exceptional performers, and have dominated the sport in ways unseen in the modern age. For those of us (such as myself) who dearly love to see them perform, the time is coming to say goodbye as the retire and move to coaching and fostering the sport they love
  • The current sumo year leaves not time for recovery, rest, recuperation or proper medical treatment. With the exception of the Yokozuna, there are no breaks in sumo. You show up and compete every tournament or you face some fairly brutal demotions (for example, Osunaarashi). This means that talented rikishi such as Okinoumi, Terunofuji, Kotoshogiku and possibly many others much continue to compete with injuries that may have been simple to treat at first. But lack of prompt and thorough therapy translated them into performance limiting and eventually career ending problems.

As of the end of Hatsu, we have Yokozuna Kakuryu and Harumafuji, and Ozeki Goeido, Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku injured. The start of the Osaka basho is about 6 weeks away, and the chances that any of the men above will be back to full potential is close to zero.

Sadly, we are looking at what may become a changing of the guard, as high-skill rikishi are forced out by their failing bodies, and a younger, healthier crop of wrestlers step forward to fill the gap.

Yokozuna Hakuho Recovery Progressing


hakuho-narita

Spotted at Narita, En-Route To Mongolia

Earlier, 69th Yokozuna Hakuho was spotted at Tokyo’s Narita airport. In an article in Nikkan Sports, the boss was looking thinner, in good spirits and looking forward to his time in Mongolia.

It appears that during Aki, he intentionally dropped weight (about 10kg) via fasting (at least 3 days), as part of his planned recovery process. The article also seems to confirm that the left knee injury involves the MCL, which is an injury that may impact his performance long term.

His remarks included is reaction to watching the Aki basho, and eager anticipation of returning to the dohyo in November.

Tachiai notes that The Boss looks to be in good spirits, and in good form.  We are hoping his health supports his return to sumo soon.

As with all of my Kanji translated articles, I apologize if I am mostly or completely wrong!

Hakuho Recovery Update


hakuho-pa-2

The Yokozuna Back To Making Public Appearances

While the sumo world was focused on the excitement at the Kokugikan in Tokyo, Yokozuna Hakuho underwent surgery to repair damage to his right big toe and repair ligaments in his left knee. In a earlier article, we copied a recovery picture showing his foot and knee from the hospital. Several days later, a photo appeared on twitter showing Hokuho resuming training. It should be noted that he was (in the photo) working his upper body, and it should be expected that he will only lightly load his knees for several weeks, allowing the surgical repairs to heal.

hakuho-pa-1

Now comes a new series of photos on Twitter, showing Hakuho is well enough to resume limited public appearances. For sumo fans everywhere this is great news, thought I would urge caution. At present everyone assumes he will return for the November basho in Fukuoka. While I am sure Hakuho wants very much to return to the doyho, is healing may require a longer departure from sumo. Given his long term goals, and the delicate nature of his knee repair, he would be wise to default to health over competition for as long as he can.

Osunaarashi – They May Have To Carry Him Out Soon


Osunaarashi (Juryo 1) remains steadfast in his conviction to compete, no matter what the cost to his body. Below we see his bout on day 10 against Azumaryu (Juryo 3). The Egyptian Osunaarashi is clearly massively hurt, with muscle injuries to his hips, knees and lord knows what else. But the man gets on the dohyo and gives it his all.

Notice at the end, Osunaarashi tries for a throw, but simply cannot execute due to the state of his damaged body.

If he ends up being carried out of the Kokugikan on a stretcher, will it finally be time to bring back Kōshō Seido? – recuperative / injury periods for rikishi, which were eliminated in the early 2000’s.