2021’s Hatsu Basho started amid fears, if not controversy, brought by the pandemic. It ended amid true controversy, on a different, albeit also health-related, matter: brain concussion among sumo wrestlers.
Before moving on this topic, let’s have a look back at what happened.
Makushita, day 10. Shonannoumi faces Asagyokusei. Shonannoumi botches the tachi-ai, moves forward as his opponent still stands behind the shikiri-sen. Asagyokusei raises, both collide heavily on the head, and Shonannoumi falls to the clay.
At this point, the gyoji has two options:
A) Approving the tachi-ai. In that case, Asagyokusei has to be called the winner;
B) Calling a matta. That’s what happened during the bout. The gyoji orders a redo – the shimpan judges even quickly reunite in order to discuss on that matter, only to order to proceed further. But Shonannoumi is obviously unable to do any kind of effort whatsoever – he stands up several times, only to lose balance and fall awkwardly again and again. Eventually, he stands on his feet, the bout is a go, and Shonannoumi even wins it. But that’s not the point at all. Obviously, his health has been seriously endangered.
Has it happened before?
Of course, the Hokutofuji bout against Ryuden, in May of 2018, springs to mind. Basically, the story is the same.
I’d also like to mention a crazy bout where Azumaryu and Tobizaru faced each other in juryo in 2019 (on day 9 of the Nagoya basho, to be exact). After a long fight full of twists and downs, after even a mawashi matta, both sekitori send each other outside the limits of the ring, and fall heavily to the ground. The catch is, it was realistically impossible to declare a clear-cut winner, and a torinaoshi was ordered. Here, Azumaryu, and especially Tobizaru, looked too exhausted to fight once more. The latter lost the re-match without being at full capacity.
What could have been done ?
My question would rather be: does a sumo bout necessarily have to see out a winner ? As a chess player, I know individual sports can see contests concluded without a winner. It does not happen in tennis or in Formula One, but it does happen in darts, another lesser known sport.
Anyway, if football or rugby have an extended medical protocol in case of a concussion, in my opinion a handy solution exists. If this were unfortunately to happen again in sumo (and some day, it will happen again): the reintroduction of draws in sumo.
In fact, sumo initially allowed various kinds of draw. Let’s examine them.
Firstly, azukari used to be called, when a bout’s issue was too close to call, and no clear-cut winner could be nominated.The bout then just ended in a draw.
Secondly, hikiwake used to represent the situation when the opponents fought for some time, and no one could take the advantage. Here, too, the result would just be a draw.
Obviously, both cases don’t appear any more today. Instead of an azukari, a torinaoshi would just be called; and instead of a hikiwake, the shimpan judges would raise their hands after four minutes, and a mizu-iri would be orderer: the “water break”.
To be exact, the last azukari was seen in 1951, whereas the last hikiwake could be witnessed in 1974. And, obviously, neither of these calls fit to Shonannoumi’s situation.
Thirdly, the case of a mushōbu is interesting. That call could be heard if a bout was too close to call, and if the gyoji decided not to point his gumbai to anyone. In the 1860’s, that system was replaced, and only the shimpan judges could then decide not to declare someone as the winner. And then, that system has been replaced by the torinaoshi rule.
And finally, the itamiwake is what we’re looking for. It occurred when a rikishi got injured and could not continue – usually, not taking part in a torinaoshi.
The last wrestlers to benefit from some itamiwake respite were Narutoumi and Wakabayama, back in 1958.
Couldn’t Shonannoumi benefit from such an allowance?
Let’s reintroduce itamiwake in sumo!
Update: that issue, and the Shonannoumi case have seemingly given fruits. The shimpan department has just decided to act, not allowing any more hurt rikishi to fight again. From now, rikishi suffering from concussion prior to a match (or, of course, right after a matta) will lose by default:
That may not be the end to all our problems, but that’s definitely a great start.
Sorry for letting life take me away from entertaining (or boring) you with bouts from the lower divisions. I’ll try to catch up over the weekend. And to do that, let’s start with a collection from days 4 and 5.
Kyushu basho is off to a great start, with some exciting sumo all around. Let’s tune in!
The day started with a match between Okunihisashi, from Nakagawa beya, who has been banzuke-gai for a while and returns this basho, and Tatsunami beya’s latest recruit, Yutakanami, here on the right:
Looks like Tatsunami oyakata got lucky with his pick this time. This boy goes on the “ones to watch” list.
We continue our watch Hakuho’s latest recruit, Senho, who had a meh basho in Aki, to see if the Dai-Yokozuna’s Midas touch is still effective. Senho, on the left, faces Shishimaru from Tagonoura beya.
While Senho’s tachiai is still naive, and his body language is still hesitant, he certainly learned how to yori-kiri like a pro.
At the top of Jonokuchi we meet Yamane, from Naruto beya. He is not quite in the same category as his formidable heya mates (Motobayashi, Sakurai, Marusho, and Mishima), but he is definitely the cutest. He meets Ogitora from Dewanoumi beya, on the right.
Too high, cutie-pie. It’s Ogitora who walks away with the white star.
The next division’s bouts start with Fujinoteru (the off-brand rikishi) from Onoe beya on the left, attempting to get his first white star from Shoryudo, a Shikihide beya opponent. Fujinoteru on the left.
That, my friends, was a sleek tsutaezori, and it’s only the 17th time it has been performed in Grand Sumo. You don’t need flashy back bends to perform that, apparently. It’s Fujinoteru’s win.
The next bout features the man best known for flashy back bends. That’s Ura. He is back, and he is here to conquer Jonidan. The first hurdle is Daishojo from Oitekaze beya, on the left.
Wham! This was a bout with one wrestler and one crash-test dummy. Sorry, Daishojo. Ura safely carries the white star back home.
Another one of my favorite watch list is Chiyotaiyo, the stick insect from Kokonoe beya. He is on the left, and Asahinishiki, from Asahiyama beya, is on the right.
Although Chiyotaiyo seems to have put on a half-kilo, maybe even a whole one, it is also apparent that he has leg issues. Too bad. I hope we’ll see better sumo from him in the coming days, because he certainly has some waza.
Last from Jonidan, our all time favorite bow twirler (emeritus), Satonofuji. On the right, the 42 years old faces Shunpo from Minezaki beya, less than half his age.
We can argue about this opening move. Is it a henka? Is it a half-henka? A HNH? A hit-and-shift? Whatever it is, Satonofuji is not here to get an easy slap-down. He grabs Shunpo and practices some heave-ho. Okuridashi.
Let’s start with Kaishu, from Musashigawa beya, whom we have been following for a while. Today he faced Miyabishin, from Futagoyama beya. Kaishu is on the left.
Kaishu makes up for his lack of weight with an extra helping of aggressiveness. He is all over Miyabishin in a jiffy, and ends up with a yori-kiri.
Now we move on to the first big gun from Naruto beya, Sakurai. His opponent today, on the right, is Oka, whom we formerly knew as Minatoryu, Ichinojo’s slightly cheeky tsukebito.
I was very surprised to learn that Sakurai lost on the first day. It’s certainly not something he is used to. We’ll see how he bounces back. Oka goes back to Minato beya with a white star in his belt.
We move from Naruto beya’s lead charmer to Hakkaku beya’s holder of the same position. Kitanowaka, a sujo favorite, stands opposite Kawabuchi from Shikoroyama beya. Kitanowaka is on the left.
And he is definitely not here just to be eyed by the ladies. Kawabuchi barely knows what hit him.
Finally, the top Naruto, Motobayashi. The man who wants to join the 21 club this basho. He also meets a Shikoroyama opponent, Seigo this time. Motobayashi is on the left.
If Motobayashi’s style reminds you of Takakeisho, you’re not alone. He considers himself a rival of the current Ozeki, who was in high school at the same time as he, and their score against each other is 2-2. Motobayashi chose to continue to university when Takakeisho opted to join the sumo world, but they have similar size, similar style, and similar ambition, and he hopes to catch up with his old rival.
We start by introducing a youngster who should probably be on our “ones to watch” list. The reason? He made it to Makushita, being only 17 years old. That’s not at all common. Even Hakuho and Ama were 18 when they hit Makushita. Kisenosato did make it at 17. The boy had straight kachi-koshi since he enlisted. His name is Tanakayama, and he is from Sakaigawa beya. On the opposite side (the left) we have Fukuyama from Fujishima beya.
Unfortunately, this was a bad match to follow that grandiose introduction, as Tanakayama is defeated in his first bout. It is the second time it happens in his career, and he has a good chance of keeping up his kachi-koshi machine going.
Next, we continue our follow up of the “Chiyoshoma wannabe”, Shiraishi. The man from Tamanoi beya is on the right, facing Bushozan from Fujishima beya.
The reason I call him “Chiyoshoma wannabe” is that he is quickly gaining notoriety for a backward moving sumo style, despite considerable bodily strength. Bushozan is not letting himself get slapped down, though, and shows the young rascal the way out.
Do you want another rare kimarite? Say no more! Here are Kizenryu (Kise) and Ichiki (Tamanoi). This was quite a prolonged bout, with lots of twists and turns, so it has been split over two videos. It starts with Ichiki with his back to us, and the taller Kizenryu facing us.
The kimarite is harimanage. And here it is from a better angle:
Kizenryu’s expression is worth a chuckle.
We move to the upper part of Makushita, and start with the former Ozeki, Terunofuji, who has been practicing with Makuuchi wrestlers before the basho, eyeing the Makushita yusho, which he’ll need if he wants to return to Juryo by Hatsu.
Terunofuji is on the right, and his opponent is Tsurubayashi from Kise beya.
Off the Tachiai, Terunofuji gets pushed all the way to the Tawara. He manages to circle and turn Tsurubayashi back, and catch him in a double “kime” (crucifixion by armpits).
But seriously, I’m getting very tired of those dame-oshi. As soon as the gyoji goes “shobu-ari”, let go. It’s dangerous, and it’s unsportsmanlike. And I’m a fan, dammit.
Next up is his heya-mate and former tsukebito, Tomisakae, the back-flipping rikishi. He meets Shonannoum (Takadagawa beya, left). But he looks almost more banged up than Terunofuji.
No back-flipping or acrobatics today. Shonannoumi takes this one decisively.
Next up, Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe), who dropped from Juryo, wants to get back there as soon as possible. Opposite him is Seiro (Shikoroyama), recuperating from Aseptic Meningitis, and hoping to also regain his place in Juryo. Seiro is on the right.
Chiyonoumi is on the attack from the get-go, and Seiro circles and circles but can’t get away. But unlike you-know-who, Chiyonoumi grabs hold of Seiro as soon as he’s out to prevent him from falling. Yay sportsmanship! Go go Bonito man!
The Makushita matches end with yet another Kokonoe man, Chiyootori, who needs a kachi-koshi to regain his long lost sekitori status. But his way is blocked by Asagyokusei (Takasago), who lost it just now and also wants back. Chiyootori, if you can’t recognize him, is on the right.
Although Chiyootori starts with great vigor, Asagyokusei traps him in his arms and finishes off with a tsukiotoshi. Chiyootori has plenty of time to pick those 4 wins elsewhere, though.
BTW, if you noticed, he is wearing a black tabi sock. When rikishi have wounds or injury in their feet, they are allowed to wear tabi socks to cover it. In Makushita and below, the tabi is black. Sekitori are allowed to wear white ones.
Almost all of today’s matches in Juryo were fun. We have newcomers, like the rikishi formerly known as Kototebakari (memorize “Kotoshoho”), and the much celebrated Hoshoryu, and the returning Aqua and Wakamotoharu. We have Kotonowaka, who is the bees knees if he’s healthy (he was kyujo from the latter part of the Jungyo). And there are veterans who are gaining back some of their power, like Ikioi and Kaisei.
Luckily, I found a YouTube Channel that aspires to bring Juryo digests every day. I’m not sure if it will stay around long, as Abema TV tend to be very impatient with the use of their materials, but for the time being, enjoy:
Hoshoryu is off to a good start! Akiseyama is very sticky, but his legs are his weakness and Hoshoryu made good use of that with this uchigake. He even got a Twitter compliment from his uncle.
Kotoshoho continues in his usual aggressive style, and beats veteran Gagamaru by yorikiri.
Now, Akua (Aqua) vs. the hapless Wakamotoharu. He is not going to be out-performed by his younger heya-mate when it comes to leg techniques. That kakenage deserves a replay.
Toyonoshima, Ikioi, Kyokutaisei and Kaisei seem to be genki. Kotonowaka seems to have come back from that kyujo with vigor. Takagenji, on the other hand, is very sloppy in that bout with Kiribayama.
And with this we complete our day’s report, tomorrow is also full of great matches!
Having visited Tochigi, we now go south, back to the center of sumo. Not quite Tokyo, but Chiba prefecture is home to several sumo stables and many savvy fans, as you will see from the number of photos and videos we have today.
By the way, if you want to feel something akin to actually being in a jungyo event, set a couple of hours aside. Hey, it’s Sunday, isn’t it? We have a video at the end of this report which covers almost all the essential points, including a lot of keiko and Makuuchi bouts.