For tournaments that happen in Tokyo, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council conducts a supervised practice session, referred to as the “Soken”. The YDC is a body of sumo enthusiasts who are outside the Japan Sumo Association, who advise the Association on matters concerning the sport, and the leading men of sumo. They frequently state opinions on all manner of rikishi, but it’s undefined how much actual sway they have over the Sumo Association.
The Aki Soken was conducted on Friday August 31st, and most of the rikishi who are part of the joi-jin were present, going through training routines, and a few practice bouts under the watchful eye of the council. One notable absences was Ozeki Takayasu, who did not even appear. This is typically a sign that a rikishi is in poor health, and we may now consider him doubtful for the Aki basho.
His stablemate, the perpetually injured Kisenosato, was present, and in fighting form. He faced fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu, and Ozekis Tochinoshin and Goeido, finishing with a 4-4 record. He dropped 2 bouts to Kakuryu, but his 4 matches against Goeido were of the most interest. After a rough start against Goeido, Yokozuna Hakuho encouraged Kisenosato to re-engage and re-challenge himself. Entering the ring, he proceeded to dominate Goeido in what can best be described as rough and vigorous sumo. His form still looked a bit off, but his fighting spirit was on full display.
More disappointing was Ozeki hopeful Mitakeumi, who turned in a dismal 1-13 result against a variety of opponents, including a pounding by Yokozuna Hakuho. Fans pulling for Mitakeumi to reach Ozeki should take note that he seldom shines in these events, and is generally considered much weaker in practice than he is on the dohyo. A video below for your review.
Once a year, the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee opens their soken to the public. Anyone can simply turn up to the fabled Kokugikan in the Ryogoku neighborhood of Tokyo and watch all the stars (and more besides) work out in front of the Committee and a selection of esteemed stable-masters, several of whom are also on the board of the Sumo Association. Oh, and by the way – it’s free.
The soken started from 7:30am and ran until just after 11am. The open training session and assessment contains a few features, the two most prominent being moshiai (where two rikishi fight and the winner stays on and picks his next opponent from an eager crowd) and butsukari (one rikishi holds firm while the other tries to essentially plow him across the dohyo). At the end of the day, each Yokozuna also picked a handful of friends to come up for some sanban (a series of 1 on 1 matches).
The crowd at this event was overwhelmingly elderly in nature, though there were a handful of families in attendance. Again, a gift shop was set up, and curiously, I spotted a rare piece of Harumafuji merch: a statue that retailed for about $120, a beautiful collector’s item for any super fan of the former champion. In the arena, the lower boxes were almost completely full, and the upper deck of Kokugikan was about 10% full. Owing to my vantage point, occasionally the odd punter walks in front of my camera, so please mind any interruptions in the videos below.
Juryo & below
Terutsuyoshi gave Enho butsukari, but the wee Miyagino man either really had some trouble pushing the wee Isegahama man across the dohyo, or Terutsuyoshi was digging in with some incredible strength. The soken is meant to be a quiet training session, but the first sign of the day that that clearly wouldn’t be the case was the big cheer given to Enho when he mounted the dohyo for this first practice.
Wakatakakage put a nice little run together when picked for moshiai, but got a little over ambitious in picking the experienced Azumaryu, as he was no match for the veteran on this day. Wakatakakage seems a little more ready than Enho was for the lower end of Juryo, and his promotion may be well timed.
Fellow Juryo promotee Hakuyozan was by far the most popular pick in the Juryo moshiai, and also the recipient of the most losses. That said, no one in the Juryo division was really able to put a run of more than 3 wins together in the moshiai. Rikishi were presumably getting tired quite quickly with so many repeated matches under the hot lights. Tokushoryu managed to stay up for 5 matches which seemed the longest run in the division.
Uncle Takarafuji (the heir to the Uncle Sumo mantle whenever Aminishiki hangs em up) put together a nice run in the moshiai. He also called on shin-makuuchi man Kyokutaisei for his first moshiai in the top division. The Hokkaido movie-star gave him a good match before disposing the veteran. Kyokutaisei in turn then got even more ambitious and selected Mitakeumi, and… he learned a lesson.
Everyone wanted a piece of Tochinoshin. And a lot of them were able to get it, because he was an absolute monster on the dohyo. The only time the Georgian relented during a remarkable stretch where he laid waste to about 10 rikishi in a row was simply to get his man servants to come over and wipe him down from all the sweat he accumulated under the lights.
Chiyotairyu was the man to finally beat him, and must have enjoyed it so much that he then pushed the crowd away to give the Kasugano-beya star a rematch, which he also won. Chiyotairyu must make a great DJ because he was in a real crowd pleasing mood, and evoked a massive applause from the crowd by giving shin-Komusubi Endo his first outing of the day.
For those of you who haven’t been to Kokugikan, if you walk around the halls, the only non-yokozuna rikishi that you see anywhere is Endo. He’s on advertisements, he’s on cardboard cutouts where you can have your picture taken with him, he’s a bona fide sumo rock star. That said, his wins were far and few between today as he did not look particularly genki.
Here’s Endo knocking off Myogiryu before losing again to Chiyotairyu:
Chiyonokuni was tapped by Yoshikaze to take the stage and this was a brilliant street fight, with Yoshikaze getting dumped off the dohyo having been thrusted out by the man from Mie. I cursed myself for missing out on filming this (but an iPhone battery can only take so much abuse in one sitting), but I look forward to a rematch here in the Natsu basho, Great Sumo Cat-willing.
Maegashira basement-dweller Nishikigi was a popular selection for many rikishi in the moshiai. Here he is, taking on and defeating everyone’s favorite pony-tossing sekiwake:
Notable absentees included many of the same men absent from jungyo, as Ikioi and Aoiyama were nowhere to be seen. Injured men Takakeisho and Aminishiki were in attendance, and fan favorite Abi did not take the dohyo but performed stretching activities out to the side. Another man who didn’t spend much time on dohyo was Chiyomaru, but he was certainly a favorite amongst the fans gathered outside after the event: when the rikishi exited the soken, many of them had to walk right through the fans and over to the taxi rank outside Ryogoku station, and the hungry man had to stop to pose for more fan photos than anyone else I saw.
The men of the top ranks mostly fought against each other, and this was prime fare for the sumo watcher. Luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve got lots of video!
Kisenosato was very active and got several rounds in, mostly against Goeido and Kakuryu. He snuck a couple wins but didn’t look great. Again, Goeido showed no mercy and looked like he had the beating of him. If this Goeido shows up to Natsu, it could be a really good basho.
Kakuryu looked really good. He looked like a yokozuna. Ichinojo was on hand for the san’yaku moshiai but didn’t as feature much either in the moshiai, or later, the butsukari, as the other men of the san’yaku.
Takayasu spent most of the day hanging out on the sidelines with his man-servant and doing stretching activities. It was clear before he even got on the dohyo that he was not in good shape, and his feet were heavily taped. Goeido wasn’t in the mood to show any man from Tagonoura-beya any mercy today: when Takayasu eventually did mount the dohyo, he was dispatched multiple times by his fellow ozeki. His final attempt at battle had the hairy man ending up howling in pain, grasping his right shoulder, and stumbling back to the corner to stretch out for the rest of the morning.
Hakuho showed once again why he is such great entertainment. As you can see from the videos, he waits off to the side for ages. After everyone has had their little fun, The Boss takes the stage and he is utterly and completely box office. It’s san-ban time and Hakuho goes several rounds with Mitakeumi, then Endo, then Mitakeumi again. Mitakeumi gives him more of a game than Endo, who just looks totally overmatched. Hakuho looked like he still had it in for Mitakeumi for breaking his win streak last summer. Towards the end it gets humiliating, like when Hakuho spins Mitakeumi around and just kicks his leg out from under him. The very next fight, Mitakeumi finally pushes his man out of the dohyo, only to be rewarded with yet more san-ban.
Hakuho later gave absolutely brutal butsukari to Endo that lasted at least 10 minutes. I captured perhaps the least humiliating parts of that encounter in the below video, because I didn’t want Endo to see much video evidence of what happened today on the internet. From time to time Hakuho threw a few kicks in for the dirt-covered star while he’s lying prostrate on the clay. Hakuho also took reverse butsukari from new maegashira Kyokutaisei, in what must have been another cool moment for the Tomozuna rikishi.
Tochinoshin and Kisenosato were butsukari bros for the day, alternating attacks. When Tochinoshin was on the offensive it looked like he was targeting Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral in particular, and I wondered if that might have been more with Kisenosato in mind than Tochinoshin, perhaps to show those in attendance (and perhaps the Yokozuna himself) how much the beleaguered Yokozuna could withstand from a strong Sekiwake at the peak of his performance. Tochinoshin was absolutely on fire all day, displaying a confident and authoritative presence, and if he turns up to the upcoming tournament displaying the form we saw today, then he will make a very strong case for a promotion to Ozeki.
Many thanks to Tachiai’s instagram moderator Nicola for many of the photos in this post. For more photos from the soken, head over to Tachiai’s instagram profile!
As we count down the days until the Natsu basho kicks off in Tokyo, rikishi are preparing to battle it out for the tournament’s 15 days. In training we have seen alarming problems for Takayasu, who collapsed in pain during training at Tagonoura,but later seemed to recover. We have also seen Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin confess to a right shoulder injury during the jungyo tour, that may cause him significant problems as he pushes for double digit wins.
Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato seems to be doing better, but is (in my opinion) doubtful for this tournament. In reports from Herouth, there has been some kabu shuffling as of late, which could indicate that he has owned up to the prospects of ever recovering full use of his left arm, and is seeking a dignified exit from the dohyo, and a transition into coaching, running a stable or other role within the NSK.
Meanwhile, compact powerhouse Ishi-ura became the father of a baby at 3:30 AM Japan time. Both mother and child are doing well, and we congratulate the new father on his family. Former sekitori Osunaarashi has decided to switch to mixed martial arts (MMA), and we will likely see him in battle again before too long. We wish the big Egyptian luck, but recognize the battered condition his body was in during his final tournaments, and urge him find a way to stay healthy.
You want more from today’s soken? Josh and Nicola are attending, and Nicola is posting lots of great photos!
Earlier this week, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council held another of their periodic open trainings sessions, referred to as Soken. These are typically held in front of the committee and a few choice members of the press and the public. They allow committee members to gauge the strength, health and competitive nature of the top rikishi in the sport. This time, as the upcoming basho is in Tokyo, and there has been a massive public uptick in sumo interest, the soken was held at the Kokugikan and was open to the public.
As mentioned earlier, Kisenosato was not present, and this resulted in quite a bit of outrage from the committee.
But of more interest to us at Tachiai, was that the other three Yokozuna, both Ozeki, and a host of others from Makuuchi were present and going through their paces. First and foremost was Hakuho, who has looked very tentative in the past few basho. For Wednesday’s soken he was fierce and fit, winning all nine of his test matches. Kakuryu paired off against Goeido and Terunofuji, racking up 8 wins. Both Goeido and Terunofuji were looking healthy and strong, which is a huge relief for those fans fearing a “noZeki” future.
Takayasu was there, and paired off against Harumafuji. With Kisenosato being unavailable as a training partner, there has been genuine concern over Takayasu’s ability to hone his sumo for this critical basho. He must score at least 10 wins to secure the Ozeki promotion he has been chasing for the past year. He only won 4 out of 10 bouts against Harumafuji, but he looked strong and was moving well. Following the bouts with Harumafuji, he was treated to an exhaustive session of butsugari with Hakuho. From which Takayasu emerged covered in dirt and sand.
Far from being any kind of “hazing” by the Yokozuna, they all know that Takayasu is on the cusp of an important basho, and without his training parter, he needs all the help he can get. Takayasu fans everywhere are grateful that Harumafuji and Hakuho gave their time to help tune him up.
Video of the soken, including Takayasu’s butsugari below