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.
Herouth found a gem posted by the Sumo Kyokai over on Youtube. Kakuryu is the top dog at this stable after he moved over after the death of Izutsu oyakata in September 2019. The yokozuna has taken up-and-comer Kiribayama under his wing, helping him crack into the joi at Maegashira 3 for the upcoming Tokyo tournament. Kiribayama and his development are also the subject of an interview from Nikkan sports in the thread below.
Underlying this is the issue of the degeiko ban and how many top wrestlers are unable to practice with their peers close to their ranks. As Herouth has also reported, both yokozuna have expressed their worries publicly about how that lack of degeiko will impact their performance. Hakuho has Enho and Ishiura to practice with but neither could really be called a peer to the greatest Yokozuna to have climbed the dohyo? For Kakuryu, the timing means that perhaps this is a perfect moment to take on a beefier Kiribayama.
Now that Kiribayama is in the joi he is able to have these practice bouts with the Yokozuna, who completely outclasses him so far winning all bouts. The bit about doing 300 shiko stomps each day tells me I need to up my game, 10-fold. We’ll see what this does to my legs. The interview also touches on COVID and how Kiribayama, and really many sumo wrestlers, have become virtual recluses, rarely going out but for the essentials and only if wearing a mask. The death of Shobushi still weighs on the Kyokai.
The video opens at the stable’s entrance with a close-up of the wood sign. When Tokyo opens back up, I hope to go visit and will take a selfie from out front. Once inside, the video zooms in to a wooden sign with the shikona of the staff and wrestlers, starting with Michinoku oyakata on the right. Next are the coaches Tatsutayama- and Urakaze-oyakata, yokozuna Kakuryu, makuuchi Kiribayama and makushita wrestler, Yuki. Then we see Michinoku-oyakata’s yusho banner from Hatsu 1991, when he was an Ozeki fighting under the shikona Kirishima.
In that title run he beat a young maegashira by the name of Akebono and finished things off with three yokozuna scalps in a row, Asahifuji (Isegahama), Onokuni (Shibatayama), and Hokutoumi (The Great Octogon, Hakkaku). Unfortunately Chiyonofuji and fellow Ozeki Konishiki were kyujo. (You’re damn straight I’d put that picture up on the wall by the front door. Shoot, I’d carry it with me to the grocery store.) Then we see the man himself, wearing a proper facemask, not one of the gov’t issue postage stamps, as he presides over keiko. The man in black appears regal on his floral zabuton. If Kiribayama wins a bout over Kakuryu will he throw it? I would. Enjoy!
The Kyokai posted another practice video to Youtube! I will add further videos here, too if there are more updates…rather than create a new post for each one. Also, Herouth brings us more news in the degeiko-ban saga with Kakuryu’s appeal as the head of the players’ union. Lack of rigorous practice may increase injury risk, especially for those at small stables.
Kakuryu made an urgent proposal regarding degeiko, in his capacity as head of the rikishi-kai. The idea is to limit those present in the keiko-ba to a certain number of sekitori only, without low-rankers or spectators. "No practice means injury".https://t.co/mzPVihYOG8
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?”
Ishiura was involved in a fist fight with Makushita-ranked Hokaho. No, not Hakuho, though the big man himself stepped in to separate the two. Practice then ended abruptly and the incident was reported to the Crisis Committee. So, the scandal meter is reset to 1/4/2020, one week from the start of Hatsubasho.
Herouth’s got a thorough run-down of the events but in a nutshell, Ishiura took exception to Hokaho beating him. When he would lose to Hokaho, he’d lash out, with a kick or a punch. Since the incident has been reported, there will be an investigation into exactly how “hot-headed” Ishiura was and whether there is any need for punishment. That punishment could range from apologies and reprimand to potential suspension, likely hinging on how hard the blows were. Calls for retirement would be…a bit bizarre unless more back-story unfolds.
Keep in mind, this was practice where blows are supposed to be thrown…but not between bouts and fists and kicks are obviously a no-no. The location and reason would distinguish it from punches thrown as rebuke for chores done poorly but it will be interesting to see what standard is applied. Some, like Mitakeumi, are disparaged for low-intensity practice. The opposite end of the spectrum here, we have a practice that got out-of-hand.
For some insight about the practice intensity I’m talking about, there’s an interview of Steve Kerr a former teammate of Michael Jordan, where he reflects on a fist fight he had with Mike. Jordan is famous for a lot of things but one is the intensity that he brought to practice. Similarly, keiko is supposed to ready you for the real thing. So if you slack off there, how will you be ready when the harite is for a yusho?