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.

Yokozuna Kisenosato To Miss Summer Jungyo

Kisenosato-Dohyo-Iri

As reported today in Nikkan-Gendai Jiji News, Yokozuna Kisenosato will sit out the summer sumo tour of northern Japan. The Jungyo (literally, making the rounds) is a daily traveling sumo show that takes a set of some 50 rikishi to medium sized cities across Japan to bring sumo closer to the fans and the public, and is responsible for driving and maintaining sumo’s popularity.

His absence should be view as part of the larger program to heal up the very popular Yokozuna, and may be a sign that he will or currently is undergoing expanded medical treatment for what could be a career ending injury to his left pectoral muscle.

Corrected: Thanks to Herouth for catching the wrong link. I need to sleep instead of wading through Kisenosato news.  The other article is more focused on his injuries. You can find it here.

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.