The YDC Convenes In Kyushu

YDC-2017-11

The Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following most basho to review the performance of the top rikishi, and give guidance to the NSK and the sumo world on the state of competition. These meetings usually take place in Tokyo, regardless of where the basho might be, but this Monday, the council convened in Kyushu. The primary subject on the table was the lack of Yokozuna during the second week for the second tournament in 2018, and the failure of Kisenosato specifically to win a single match.

The YDC could take a number of positions on the topic, ranging from “encouragement” to “caution” and finally “suggestion to retire”. Given the fact that Kisenosato has sat out part or all 9 of the last 10 tournaments, and was specifically admonished by this same council to not return to the dohyo until he was ready to compete as a Yokozuna, the fans would be right to expect a stern warning or guidance towards intai.

Instead the YDC returned “Encouragement”. Chairman Kitamura remarked on Kisenosato’s performance, saying that he should be showing physical strength and ability commensurate with his position and ‘the disappointment of the fans who had earnestly hoped for his recovery at the Kyushu basho was great’. Trying to put a good spin on things, he also said “There was a lot of excitement without any Yokozunae. So much so that people may be saying ‘Maybe we don’t need any Yokozuna..”.

If you are rolling your eyes at the last part, you are not alone. Clearly the YDC wants no part in pushing the only Japanese Yokozuna out of the sport. They see there is a problem, it’s easy to identify and its hurting sumo. If the broader sumo world tracks the intensity of interest that we see in traffic numbers at the site, a “No-kazuna” basho produced about 30% less interest. This has to be eating into the NSK bottom line at some point.

(Below is opinion only)

The sumo association is in a tight spot now. One would think that Kisenosato would have figured out that he is past his ability to recover, and take a dignified way out. He has his name beside an inglorious record in the annals of sumo history, and the numbers are just getting worse. In a broader sense, the NSK has a real problem with its kanban rikishi. As we have pointed out in the past, with the exception of the absolutely fantastic Aki basho, participation of the top ranking rikishi has been below 50%, and continues to be poor.

The NSK either needs to clean up its rosters, or accept that its going to fade in popularity among the core Japanese audience. This clean up is going to be painful and difficult. Many of the rikishi who may be past their sunset date are popular and well loved. But there is a significant cohort of older athletes who are not performing with the same intensity that they did 10 or 15 years ago. This has the quiet background effect of lowering the overall intensity of each basho, and I would guess it impacts the fan base, too.

Finally, it has to be said that the sumo fan base in Japan is elderly. To appeal to new (younger) fans, they need some new faces. Yokozuna Kisenosato should show his leadership, and step down to start his life as a sumo elder. We are always going to love him, and remember fondly how he put everything he had into attaining sumo’s highest rank. But for myself, I think it’s time to encourage some long serving favorites to start working towards their exit.

Aki Reflections – The Return of Kisenosato

Kisenosato Aki 2018

Aki 2018 was the most top-heavy basho of the past several years. All of the high rankers participated for all 15 days, and all were kachi-koshi or higher. This created massive pressure on the upper Maegashira, and many of these top rank-and-file rikishi went on to rack up terrible records.

Among the Yokozuna harvesting white stars from the upper Maegashira was a surprisingly genki Yokozuna Kisenosato. Tachiai has written extensively on Kisenosato’s injury, and the unlikely prospects of him ever competing as a Yokozuna again. But he did return, and he competed with strength and fighting spirit, picking up a respectable 10 wins and matching the record of Yokozuna Kakuryu. Kisenosato opened Aki with 5 straight wins, before dropping a surprise kinboshi match against M2w Chiyotairyu, who only managed 5 wins for Aki. From there Kisenosato struggled, finishing acts 2&3 with a 5-5 record.

When it was announced that Kisenosato would compete at Aki, many fans feared the worst – that he would struggle from the start and he would announce his retirement before the end of September. His day 1 match against Ikioi featured him overpowering his opponent, tossing him from the dohyo. There were literally tears in the eyes of many fans all over Japan when the goyji pointed his gumbai East.

His day 10 yorikiri over Endo clinched his 8th win, and sumo fans all over Japan breathed a sigh of relief. kisenosato had safely made it through Aki, and could continue to rebuild and work towards higher performance.

In reality, Kisenosato’s sumo ran out of gas early; even against Shodai on day 4, it was clear that the Yokozuna was struggling. Many of his matches were long running brawls that, in the past, would have been quick toss-out matches featuring his famous “crab walk” mie pose. What was behind this? We can speculate this is the outcome of not competing for 18 months. His stamina was low, is ring-sense was degraded, and his outstanding instincts were dulled.

But his survival at Aki means that we will likely see a significantly improved Kisenosato in November, and we may see something closer to 90% by January. Along with the rest of the sumo world, we are looking forward to an increasingly genki Kisenosato in tournaments to come.

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.

Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo

Kisenosato-down

The injured Yokozuna declared today that he would not be competing in the Haru basho, due to ongoing complications related to his un-treated left pectoral injury sustained at the end of last year’s Haru basho. Kisenosato previously had declared an ultimatum for himself that he would either compete at a Yokozuna level in the next basho he entered, or he would retire. Given this condition, he was not ever a real candidate for entry.

Fans want to see Kisenosato healthy again, and worry that he is not on a path to recovery given his current level of activity. We wish him the best and urge him to seek out the best sports medicine doctors and trainers to assist his recovery.

The Return of Kisenosato

Kisenosato Natsu Banzuke

It is reported (via Yahoo Japan) that on Thursday, August 10th, Yokozuna Kisenosato will join the summer jungyo, as the sumo PR tour makes a stop in his home ground in Ibaraki, where he is a local hero.

Readers will recall that it is the opinion of the Tachiai team that Kisenosato should have already undergone reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his left pectoral muscle in March. But clearly the first Japanese born Yokozuna in a generation wants no part of that, and instead will work with what he has and do his best.

His stable master is cited as saying that Kisenosato has limited training opportunities in Tokyo more or less alone when most of the sekitori are out on the PR tour. Therefore, in order to train and condition for the upcoming Aki basho in 4 weeks, he must go out on tour.

While I am sure sumo fans worldwide will be thrilled to see Kisenosato back in action, we all recognize that he is still hurt, and likely has no path to recovery short of a protracted medical intervention. We all wish him the best of luck and the greatest possible health.