Learn About Sumo With Konishiki and Naro.tv

Just as we gather ourselves together here to watch the Aki Basho, Konishiki offers up great content in the form of an introductory course on all things sumo, available from Tuesday morning Japan-time, so 7:30pm Eastern on Monday evening. A Tokyo-based startup, Naro, offers these courses on features of Japanese culture and cuisine, provided by experts in their craft. Their debut series this summer was a Tempura course featuring Shuji Niitome.  For the sumo fans among us, Konishiki’s video provides an awesome way to demystify the sport. Tachiai was lucky enough to take a quick look, and the folks at Naro.tv are offering Tachiai readers a special 15% discount code: TACHIAI15.

The two hours of content is like a documentary broken up into individual, digestible chunks. With the help of three former wrestlers to help demonstrate, Konishiki covers a variety of the warm-ups and excercises, from shiko to the teppo pole and suri-ashi. His insight here gave me more of an appreciation for the rhythmic, meditative side to the teppo pole that I wouldn’t have grasped, otherwise. Having had a heavy bag in my room after college, I could see myself taking a few hours to decompress in the corner of the keiko-ba — venting at the teppo pole.

The videos provide a great look at some of the basic moves and techniques, as well as a frank, eye-opening discussion of the heya lifestyle from the lens of an 18-year-old kid who rose to become a Champion. Over the span of the videos, Konishiki opens up about his experiences and the difficult lifestyle that any young man faces in that environment. It should be required watching for any of us romantics who dream (or dreamt) of giving it all up and joining a heya. The reality of it is the grind — endless laundry, cooking, cleaning toilets and floors, helping your senpai shower —  with no breaks, no “weekend”. The Heya Life is lived 24/7, drama or no drama.

While there have definitely been some changes to that lifestyle in the last two decades, so much of it surely remains. His experience will be just as relevant to a recruit today, though the degree of the drama he describes will be less now, than it was then. But any recruit will have to face the fact that they’re going to live in a dorm with a bunch of teenage boys and young men. For those not fluent in Japanese or familiar with the culture, the learning curve will be…parabolic. One requires a singular dedication to not only the sport but a brutal, communal livelihood.

Overall, I found Konishiki’s auto-biographical discussion fascinating. Content-wise, it’s a suitable, engaging introduction to the sport, a “Sumo 101” course. It acknowledges but gets us past the “fat guys in diapers” stereotypes and imparts an understanding and respect for what’s really more than just a sport — an entire way of living. I hope there will be more in the works, perhaps with rikishi from multiple time-periods to see how things have evolved, as well as more specifics on the Shinto traditions and symbolism; or a deeper dive into the various roles from gyoji, yobidashi, and tokoyama to okami to oyakata. Then there’s the organization itself, from riji-cho on down. As for sumo, we’d love more from keiko and honbasho to jungyo and hanazumo, I could go on. Sumo’s a complex topic.

Winning In Sumo. “Simple” Sport?

OK. Please bear with me for a few paragraphs. I have been hesitant to write this up because this is strictly opinion and I hate writing strictly opinion because I can be (and often am) wrong about things (not just sumo related). Also, sometimes I have been known to beat a dead horse after the worms already got to it and turned it to dust. So if this discussion bores you, I’m not hurt by you ignoring me. But, as a sumo fan, I have come to understand that the sport is NOT as clear cut as, “Winner touches last.”

One good example of the hidden complexity of the sumo rules is clear after the Hattorizakura/Ishihara bout. Thanks to Jake, Leonid, and John Gunning explaining this…but like Leonid mentioned on Twitter, I like to see rules written down. There’s an NHK Sumopedia video explaining tsuridashi. But what is the rule? Tsuridashi, according to the Sumo Kyokai website, does not mention that a wrestler is allowed to walk out.

A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle or throwing him in the dohyo. To lose the match, it is not necessary to fall in the circle or to be pushed completely out. The rikishi who touches the ground with any part of his body, his knee or even the tip of his finger or his top-knot, loses the match. Or he need only put one toe or his heel over the straw bales marking the circle.

“The Sumo” pg 3 by NSK

Unfortunately, Sumo Kyokai documentation is not quite as clear to explain. The text above is from the English-language pamphlet on the Sumo.or.jp website. USAsumo also claims that the rules “in both pro and international sumo” are “very simple”. “Either force your opponent out of the 15-foot diameter “dohyo” (sumo ring) or make your opponent touch the ground with any part of the body other than the soles of the feet.” Takakeisho did this last night to Enho. Enho did NOT do this to Takakeisho.

In a strict interpretation of the English as I’m still trying to find the Japanese, in neither case does it say, “when”. If my opponent forces me out but I land last, perhaps because I fell a farther distance (as in over the side of the dohyo), he still forced me out. In the case of Enho, the decisive move was the force applied by Takakeisho which resulted in Enho falling back and out. Enho’s mawashi touch (which connected) and the attempted trip (which missed completely) had nothing to do with Takakeisho’s trajectory out of the ring.

Anyway, we also see instances of wrestlers leaping beyond the plane of the dohyo or cases like last night’s Enho bout. Whether it be the “dead body rule” or another rule for these certain special occasions, it is clear that what should be simple, isn’t. But it can still be logical and does not have to be at the whim of whomever is enforcing the rule at the moment. I find this a favorable interpretation because (to me) it is just. But I could be wrong and when I am, I like to be skewered with indisputable evidence. Thank you for sticking with my train of thought and making it this far. :) Feel free to skewer me in the comments.

What’s all the commotion? Part 1: Name calling

Unlike most western spectator sports, the voices of the yobidashi and the gyoji are part of the sumo experience. But what exactly are they saying?

There are two main types of vocals during a day of grand sumo. One is the yobiage, calling of the participants’ names. This starts with the yobidashi calling out the names in sing-song fashion, and continues with the gyoji, who announces the names, and in certain matches, also adds an additional sentence about the nature of the match.

The other type is the vocals during a match. These are the exclusive domain of the gyoji. We will explain those in part 2. In part 1, we’ll concentrate on the match announcements.

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