August 2022 Degeiko

In just over two weeks the sumo world will be gearing up for Aki and I cannot wait. The banzuke will be out in a few days and we’ll be digesting all of the moves. It will be a unique situation and we’ll probably see some unprecedented “banzuke luck” for wrestlers with several losses and incomplete records at Nagoya, the chief beneficiary being Ozeki Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi also missed out on a portion of the jungyo because of another positive test at Dewanoumi beya.

Takayasu’s situation will be more straightforward since he missed the entire tournament. To get himself primed for action he’s been among the more active wrestlers venturing to other stables for degeiko. In the video here, he’s taking on Yokozuna Terunofuji at Isegahama stable. He’d also visited Tatsunami earlier in the break. We’ve also seen Takasago simultaneously hosting Miyagino, Asakayama, and Naruto.

So, as we’ve seen here and over the past couple of weeks, sumo stables are easing back into pre-pandemic rituals: degeiko, Jungyo, and vacations. This must signal a shift in the Sumo Association’s Covid policies in order to avoid another mass kyujo mess. But Mitakeumi’s kyujo from the last day of Jungyo, after just recently having Covid, would suggest that we’re in for another raft of Covid kyujo. Especially given the sudden openness, however, I wonder if the testing regime won’t be scrapped altogether, or at least significantly altered (if there were already some exceptions to testing for those who had recovered from their infections).

In our kids’ schools last year, there was a weekly testing regimen. Kids who tested positive for Covid were sent home for a period that would follow the latest guidelines. But in a crucial element for us sumo fans — those students were not retested for 90 days because people can still be shedding the virus and testing positive after they’re no longer infectious.

If a similar protocol were put in place for rikishi who tested positive and were kyujo from Nagoya, it’s possible that a large chunk of wrestlers wouldn’t even be tested before Aki…if they still conduct the pre-basho testing, at all. Otherwise, one would think there would have to be a surge in positive cases during pre-basho testing.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if testing will only be required for those who are symptomatic with kyujo for positive tests, and mask wearing (off the dohyo) for those who have been in close contact. Let’s take a look at the four-stable degeiko I mentioned above.

Takasago hosted a good crew of three other stables: Asakayama, Miyagino, and Naruto. Enho had several “smaller” wrestlers to spar with and help coach, from Ishizaki to Asakiryu. Unfortunately, I did not see Ishiura and have not heard any news on that front. If someone else has, please leave it in the comments.

Asakayama coaching Ishizaki

I really want to see the return of happy Asanoyama. Takasago shared some great video of the former Ozeki taking on Oshoma. The last year must have been rough and he’s just starting to claw his way back. From top dog, he’s now 8th in the chanko queue. As for Oshoma, covid kyujo put an early end to the latter wrestler’s sekitori debut. Both wrestlers are certainly eager to put their best foot forward.

It would be unreasonable to demote wrestlers like him who posted more wins than losses but I wonder if he may actually receive a modest promotion out of this. The bigger question, which will be answered in a few days, is how to handle wrestlers with losing records before their exit? Sometimes wrestlers are able to recover in week two but these wrestlers lost that opportunity.

After keiko, though, out came the pick-axes. The keiko-ba was destroyed in that great ritual of renewal. The stable will rebuild the fighting surface and to complete the process, a gyoji will perform a ceremony like a small scale dohyo matsuri, to bless it. The pictures below show the process of destruction.

This will be repeated at all of the stables. As an example, we have Oshiogawa oyakata, proud of the work done by his stable, recreating the dohyo.

Let’s hope there’s no more covid and no more covid kyujo.

Joint Practice LIVE!!!

Thanks to Herouth for keeping us on top of things. Joint practice is live. I see Enho and Nishikigi in there early. I’ve not seen a Yokozuna yet but will keep my eyes peeled after dinner. Our “chanko” tonight is my homemade stuffed crust pizza and the kids are hungry. SHODAI IN THE HOUSE!!! The best news is, their internet bandwidth may have been upgraded. I am also skeptical of a Takakeisho appearance but we shall see…

It is also worth noting that Terunofuji’s Dohyo-iri will be streamed live.

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.

“Practice?”

Your not-so-humble correspondent cannot process the word practice (or the Japanese word keiko) without thinking of Allen Iverson. In the clip below, I skipped past most of his infamous rant on the topic, which begins around the 7:21 mark. I skipped forward to where he says, “How the hell can I make my teammates better by practicing?” (Gaa! The embed is not queuing it up the way I want. The quote is at 8:53.)

Enter today’s reporting from Herouth via Twitter. The ban on practice outside the stable will continue until the basho. In between tournaments, and especially in the lead-up to a tournament, top-ranking wrestlers travel to other stables to take on their would-be opponents. I’m taking liberties here with the point behind Iverson’s quote since the issue here is that a wrestler will ONLY be able to wrestle with their stablemates. But I do wonder how effective these degeiko trips are and am very eager to see how the first few days play out.

As she points out, Tamawashi and Ichinojo will not be able to face off against other sekitori until they climb onto the dohyo. I also want to point out that this means no sanyaku will be able to warm up against other sanyaku. While Daieisho has Endo, Takakeisho has Takanosho and Shodai has Yutakayama as peers in the same heya, this restriction against degeiko could mean there will be considerable ring-rust during “Act I” of the Tokyo Basho. To get a quick sense of how this will impact our top wrestlers, I again offer up the Heya visualization I created a few weeks ago (though the ranks have NOT been updated for the new banzuke).

Despite my inability to get the new ranks updated for everyone in time for this article the promotions and demotions will not, for the most part, be of a totally different class. For Arashio stable, Wakatakakage and his brothers will not be able to get pointers from other makuuchi wrestlers. Will this limit his ability to compete with the likes of Takayasu, Terunofuji, and Great Wall of Sadogatake?

In the past, the news that trickled out of these degeiko sessions has not always been a reliable indicator of a top wrestler’s fitness or ability to hold his own for a week of competition, much less two. I’m not looking at you, Tagonoura-beya — or perhaps I am? Takayasu’s top competition, aside from picking on the retired old geezers (I jest), will be Sandanme-ranked Akashifuji. Without the PR trips to take on Sadogatake or Isegahama powerhouses, will we be left with a more realistic picture of his prospects?

So, with much love to The Answer*, I lean toward agreeing with Herouth. Ichinojo’s in much the same boat as Takayasu. I’m not entirely convinced Shodai is going to have a huge advantage, or if Ikioi and Nishikigi will regain their sanyaku form, but it will be very interesting to see if Sadogatake comes out of this without needing an industrial case of Rustoleum.

* The Glove is Gary Payton as Todd pointed out. Allen Iverson was “The Answer.” The Answer to the question of, “Practice?”