Can there be an oshi-zuna?

To rehash: at November’s Kyushu Basho, Takakeisho lifted the Emperor’s Cup and picked up with it all of the appropriate speculation over where his career will take him. Will he take advantage of the flux in the upper ranks and follow Tochinoshin to a swift Ozeki promotion? Or will that opportunity fizzle, as we saw from Mitakeumi? It may come down to a question of fighting style.

In the NHK’s English-language preview special, Murray Johnson makes the case that Takakeisho needs to develop his yotsu-zumo in order to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Oshi-zumo is a pushing-thrusting style of sumo while Yotsu sumo is generally known for grappling and heavy use of grips on the opponent’s mawashi, or under the arms.

I had an interesting exchange with Herouth and Leonid about belt-battling versus pusher-thruster-style wrestlers. My contention was that specialization can get a wrestler into the upper echelons of the sport. What I didn’t realize until I dug into the data was just how committed to oshi-zumo Takakeisho is…perhaps to the point of “one-trick pony” status.

Takakeisho kimarite, winning (top) and losing (bottom)

This chart (data from the amazing SumoDB) shows us how Takakeisho has won and lost bouts during his career. His bouts are almost exclusively fought to his style. Not only do his wins come largely from oshidashi, the majority of his losses do, too, with hatakikomi slap-downs. Tsukiotoshi is probably the most “grappling-style” that he uses to win, while his opponents have some success with yorikiri/yoritaoshi, as well.

I’m still in a bit of disbelief that Takakeisho is this allergic to yotsu-sumo. He has won two bouts by yorikiri…only one of those was a makuuchi bout. I had brought up the infamous Kotoshogiku as an example of a successful “one-trick pony,” this time of the yotsu-style. He has been able to reach Ozeki, nearly exclusively using his patented hug-and-chug.

Kotoshogiku kimarite, winning (top) & losing (bottom)

As we can see, nearly all of Kotoshogiku’s bouts are fought in his favored, yotsu-style. Even when he loses, the winner generally wins with yorikiri or with throws. I’ve always been surprised that Kotoshogiku has never developed throwing skills of his own and I think that (and being injury free) could have taken him to Yokozuna, without needing to develop an oshi-style.

The two styles seem to be diametrically opposed, physically, with entirely different muscle development and training needed for each. Kotoshogiku clearly focused on legs. Others who follow that mold are Toshinoshin, Terunofuji and Ichinojo. Large men with massive, powerful legs. Tochinoshin adds another muscle group complementary to that yotsu-style: the trapezius (neck/back/shoulder) muscles and powerful biceps. Arawashi is another yotsu-style wrestler, though he’s not quite as one dimensional. He’s clearly been able to evolve throwing capabilities to make up for his smaller size but he’s not quite as capable of dictating a yotsu-style bout, as the others are, since more of his opponents are able to force an oshi-bout.

We love the dramatic Kaiju-mode of Terunofuji, Giku’s hug-and-chug, and Tochinoshin’s atomic-wedgies. But it comes at a cost. All of these guys put immense strain on their knees and backs. With so many of the top ranked yotsu guys struggling with injuries, I’m not surprised by the sudden surge of the largely oshi-style tadpoles.

Abi is a great example of an oshi-wrestler, hoping to cross-over into yotsu-dom. As Herouth has mentioned in her Jungyo reports, Abi is trying to battle more on the belt but we haven’t seen it much “in prime time”. What shocked me most is that he actually LOSES more to oshidashi than he wins. The big difference seems to be his ability to win by hatakikomi. Perhaps this is why he’s felt the need to diversify a bit more urgently than Takakeisho?

This said, I don’t think we will see Abi successfully shifting any time soon because it is such a dramatic change. In the NHK preview video, Onosho – another oshi tadpole mentioned how his training has changed. And he seems to already have a bit more of a yotsu foundation than Abi. Takakeisho would probably be more like Abi, requiring a drastic shift in weight training and tactics. But he’s also a much more successful oshi-artiste so he may be able to carry on longer and advance further. Tamawashi has been able to remain a sanyaku main-stay with an almost exclusively oshi-style and Takakeisho seems better because he is able (so far) to dictate the style of sumo.

None of the current Yokozuna, however, are oshi-specialists so my question about whether Takakeisho can be one is still not looking good. I had pointed to Harumafuji. As a small(er) champion he bled kinboshi as larger opponents could pick off wins. He had that henka-non-henka-Tazmanian-devil-death-spin thingy that he could resort to…which may have exacerbated those elbow issues?

Anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see where this goes. But before I close, I want to mention Yago, Gokushindo, and Enho. These guys are interesting to me because they’re 1) successful, 2) young, 3) diversified. Yago and Gokushindo are very interesting as balanced oshi/yotsu guys. While Enho is just totally different, characterized by shitatenage throws.

I hope you enjoy playing with the new visualization. I’ve sure enjoyed building it. Keep in mind this is ACTIVE wrestlers only, for now. I hope to add some of the recently retired soon. Again, a huge thanks to the SumoDB for such amazing data.

Kyushu Day 2 Highlights

Today was Oshidashi Day in Fukuoka. Well, in reality, nearly every day is oshidashi day. But 8 makuuchi bouts, or nearly half of the matchups, were decided by this most basic of the basic kimarite. In my mind, tsukidashi is basically oshidashi with velocity (think Abi’s Superman) while yorikiri is oshidashi with intimacy (think Kotoshogiku and “hug-n-chug”).

So it’s fitting that we start out with Kotoeko’s oshidashi win over a hobbled Arawashi. After a well-met tachiai, Arawashi pulled to his left which may not have been the best idea on that heavily wrapped knee. Kotoeko adjusted and drove through the straw bales. The announcer said yorikiri but that finish really lacked the 四つ身 intimacy one would think of. Kotoeko had Arawashi at arm’s length, like one would hold my son’s socks, rather than in close like Bogart and Bergman. The distinctions I’m drawing here are my own and (as is usual) could be wrong…it’s just the way I think of it and welcome discussion in the comments. Arawashi is 0-2 and looking Juryo bound.

Meisei followed up by showing us what Arawashi likely meant to do. The quick left pivot and firm hold on Chiyomaru’s right arm left Chiyomaru struggling (briefly) to maintain his balance before getting tipped over the side and rolling down the slope of the dohyo. Kotenage, one of two finishing throws in the top division today. Meisei’s off to a great start at 2-0. Chiyomaru is not at 0-2.

After an initial yotsu tussle, Chiyoshoma seemed to realize that would not be wise paired with someone 50 kilos larger. So he disengaged but tried to keep hold of Daiamami’s mawashi. That wasn’t working so he backed away altogether, skirting the tawara when, Bam!. Landing the slap to the giant’s face turned the retreating Chiyoshoma back into the aggressor. He dove for Daiamami’s belt and as the larger man attempted to circle, a quick kick out brought Daiamami earthward. Clever kekaeshi to go to 2-0. I like those. Herouth’s post from yesterday has another great example from the flying monkey. Daiamami is level, 1-1.

Daishomaru had a plan. And thinking back on it, this approach may have served Arawashi well earlier. At the tachiai, Daishomaru’s paw found its way to the back of Takanosho’s neck. Backing away to the left, as Arawashi had tried before, along with the addition of downward force of the right hand dispatched Takanosho. Hatakikomi under duress (distinct from henka-ki-komi). Daishomaru improved to 1-1 while Takanosho is still looking for his first win, 0-2.

Onosho is looking good early in this tournament. It’s too soon to start handing out special prizes but he’s in a position to clean up. Aoiyama, on the other hand, is looking shaky. This starts off with a brief slapping tussle that ends when Aoiyama gets his hand behind Onosho’s head and retreats, attempting another hatakikomi. However, Onosho was far too high and well balanced for this to be effective. Onosho countered quickly by driving forward and sending Aoiyama over the edge, stumbling into the spectators, nearly squashing Endo. Lacking intimacy, and lacking the force required to turn a mountain into a projectile, we have an oshidashi #2. Onosho is rocking to a 2-0 start; Aoiyama heading in the opposite direction, falls to 0-2.

Endo proved unfazed by his near-death experience and quickly beat Okinoumi. A motivated Endo is great to see. Strong tachiai, driving forward, Okinoumi could only hope for a last minute change of direction. But Endo locked on, engaged, and Okinoumi had nowhere to go but out. Oshidashi #3. Both wrestlers are 1-1.

Sadanoumi copied Endo’s lead against Chiyonokuni. Lock on, engage, drive forward. The difference, this time, was rather than having his arms extended, Sadanoumi immediately gripped Chiyonokuni’s mawashi before getting into gear. Chiyonokuni ended up in a painful-looking heap at the base of the dohyo. The intimacy gives us “yori-” and Chiyonokuni couldn’t keep his feet, we get -taoshi. The yoritaoshi win means Sadanoumi is off to a great 2-0 start. Chiyonokuni is 1-1.

Yutakayama squared up against Daieisho for a great, thrusting slapfest. Both wrestlers committed early to pushing/thrusting attacks. After taking a battering, Daieisho yielded in retreat and Yutakayama followed in hot pursuit. Yutakayama may have been a bit overeager to end things as a subtle shift redirected the mountain over the cliff-face…with a little help…dropping like a boulder to 0-2. Daieisho improves to 1-1. Tsukiotoshi is one of the hinerite, twisting kimarite, not one of the similarly named tsukidashi/tsukitaoshi “basic” kihonwaza.

Next, Kotoshogiku was able to lock in his patented hug-n-chug against Ikioi. Yorikiri. Ikioi falls to 0-2 on a shaky looking ankle. Kotoshogiku’s off to a great 2-0 start. Next, Shohozan seemed determined to prove Takarafuji has a neck. He nearly decapitated Isegahama’s senior sekitori at the tachiai and kept pressing, eventually convincing Takarafuji to yield, as he stepped out for oshidashi #4. Takarafuji is starting off winless while a confident Shohozan is 2-0.

Abi’s next against Takanoiwa. Hmmm…belt battle? No, silly question. Abi charged forward, fighting to his strength. Takanoiwa retreated quickly, falling to oshidashi #5 and 0-2 while Abi gets his first win his way.

Kagayaki and Asanoyama locked in quickly for a belt battle. Kagayaki’s left arm wrapped around Asanoyama’s right, but while he was seeking a good belt grip with the left, Asanoyama dropped his shoulder, working his arm free, and planted his hand firmly behind Kagayaki’s head. With a firm left-handed belt grip, he pivoted, throwing Kagayaki to the clay. Uwatenage. Asanoyama improved to 2-0 and Kagayaki fell to 1-1.

After his great start yesterday, Shodai somehow went back into “sleep” mode. You can’t just absorb Chiyotairyu’s tachiai at full force and expect to stay at the top of the dohyo. Ryuden chugged forward into an overwhelmed Yoshikaze. And Mitakeumi followed up fiercely driving through Tamawashi. Oshidashi #6, #7, and #8 and all six men are 1-1.

Tochiozan is looking chuffed. I’ve got my eye on this confident veteran. Today he battled Ichinojo. He wasn’t going to be able to drive through the much larger Mongolian but he stood his ground pretty well and when the opportunity presented itself, he quickly twisted left and let gravity do its thing, as Ichinojo dropped to 1-1 and Tochiozan stays undefeated early.

Takakei-yusho? It’s still far two early, obviously, but after two days Takakeisho has now dispatched two of his toughest competitors. There’s really not much to say about this one but a real disappointing loss from Goeido. There was no plan but to slap a few times and fight Takakeisho’s fight? He telegraphed his second shoulder charge giving Takakeisho enough time to slip outside and have a smoke. Takakeisho 2-0, Goeido 1-1.

Nishikigi’s plan going into the Tochinoshin bout was likely, “keep him off your belt.” Job done. However, he didn’t seem ready for Tochinoshin to pivot and shift direction. After taking a Georgian forearm to the chin at the tachiai, Nishikigi seemed out of sorts as Tochinoshin was in front…and then not. Tochinoshin pivoted, and charged in from the side, keeping Nishikigi on the defensive and turning until he charged him out over the side.

Not to disrespect Takakeisho’s upsets but Takayasu must be the yusho favorite now, though. His bout today against Hokutofuji is my bout of the day. This was a great oshi brawl. After a good while trading thrusts, Hokutofuji got Takayasu spun around and saw his chance! But as an Ozeki should, Takayasu recovered quickly, maintained his balance, read Hokutofuji’s final charge, and timed his hatakikomi beautifully. Takayasu escapes and stays undefeated and while Hokutofuji’s 0-2, he’s looking strong.

After an embarrassingly quick loss to Takayasu yesterday, Myogiryu was looking for redemption…and a kinboshi. He’s not had many chances lately and unless he pulls off something unexpected and near kachi-koshi, today would likely be his only chance with Kisenosato as the lone Yokozuna. Boy did he buckle down. After an initial tussle, Myogiryu must have been stunned to find himself with morozashi and superior position as the Yokozuna was far too upright. He charged forward and importantly kept his balance as Kisenosato tried to twist out of the way, before tumbling into the head shimpan.

Kimarite Watch

“Kimarite” (決まり手) is the Japanese term for the winning technique used to decide each sumo bout. Those studying Japanese will be able to recognize the kanji as deriving from the verb kimaru (決まる), to decide, and te (手), meaning hand. I wonder if this is the term used for a winning hand in poker?

There are 82 of these winning techniques recognized in professional sumo. Of those, seven are known as the kihonwaza, or fundamental techniques which account for the vast majority of sumo bouts. In the most recent tournament, Aki 2018, more than 70% of wins came from these seven: tsukidashi, tsukiotoshi, oshidashi, oshitaoshi, yorikiri, yoritaoshi, and abisetaoshi. Abisetaoshi occurs much less frequently than the others but those main six comprise the go-to toolkits for many rikishi. In fact, oshidashi and yorikiri accounted for more than half of Aki bouts, and nearly half when just looking at makuuchi bouts.

Kimarite used during Aki basho 2018

During the upcoming tournament, Tachiai will be tracking and reporting on the kimarite used each day. My favorite group of kimarite are the throws, or nagete. Several of those are relatively frequent, like uwatenage and shitatenage. The spectacular ipponzeoi, though, was used only once last tournament, in a Day 1 Jonidan bout between Tatsunoumi and Wakasatake. It was a great way to start the tournament for Wakasatake. He ended up finishing with a 4-3 record while it sent the “victim”, Tatsunoumi, on a three-bout losing skid, ending 2-5.

はっきよい!

Jungyo Newsreel – Day 1, Ise Shrine

Preface and apology

Some of the readers may know that I’m currently on vacation in Tokyo. I thought that from Japan, I would be able to post better, high quality matter. As it turns out, it’s very difficult to post anything larger than a tweet when all you have is a tablet and a smartphone. Well, today I finally got myself to Akihabara and got an external keyboard for my tablet, so I’m ready to brave posting again, but I still can’t promise these jungyo posts will be up to par – or even that I’ll be able to post them daily. I’ll do what I can.

The Jungyo actually started on April 1st. So I’m sorry about the delay. Let’s start!

🌐 Location: Ise Shrine, Mie Prefecture

The Ise Shrine is Japan’s holiest and most ancient shrine – the main shrine of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. The visit to Ise Shrine was not just your regular jungyo visit, intended to entertain the residents of small towns and let them share in the national sport. It’s a “Honozumo” event – sumo bouts that take place inside the precincts of a shrine. Sumo originated as an entertainment for the gods, and Honozumo events bring it back to its origins.

12 sekitori are absent from the Jungyo. This includes Kisenosato who – unsurprisingly – still has that problem in his left chest. It also includes every sekitori from the Takanohana stable, except for Takagenji. Takanoiwa’s medical certificate indicates mental stress.

That same Takagenji stood a long time at the edge of the dohyo. The sekitori were doing moshi-ai, where the winner of a bout stays on the dohyo and chooses his next opponent. Nobody chose Takagenji and he looked pretty frustrated.

Takagenji is used to having his twin around during jungyo.

While the rest of the rikishi were practicing, the Yokozuna performed a ceremonial dohyo-iri. This is much like the one performed in the beginning of every year at the Meiji shrine, with a few differences. First, at Meiji it is performed right in front of the main Shrine building. At Ise, the grand shrine is actually off-limits to anybody but high priests.

Second point, the Meiji shrine yard is hard cement. Here, the Yokozuna had to do their dance in the sand. Hakuho had a really hard time doing the seriagari (the part where he gradually rises):

Kakuryu managed it slightly better:

As I said on Twitter, I’m pretty sure there were a couple of tsukebito that night who were muttering curses under their breath as they were trying to clean all the sand out of the fringes of the two Yokozuna’s kesho-mawashi.

Ah, you did notice that Hakuho is back and beaming, didn’t you? He was in a very good mood the whole day, and said that he was really eager to get back on the dohyo. When asked about the condition of his big toes, he said “so-so”, but was still wearing that big smile when he did.

The torikumi that day was in the form of an elimination tournament. Here is a demonstration of the kimarite known as “kekaeshi”. It’s a minor trip, usually accompanied by a pull that causes the rival to lose his balance.

Hakuho in a magnanimous mood, helping Chiyotairyu up. The final and deciding bout of the day was this:

That boy in the front row? He is not going to forget this visit to the shrine. And a very genki Hakuho takes the yusho for the day.

Note that dohyo, by the way. It’s not your regular beer-crate jungyo dohyo. It’s an old permanent dohyo. Many of those are scattered around Japan, in school yards and shrines. Not as pretty or straight as the one in the honbasho venues, but one where you really feel the Earth under your feet.