Sumo’s Injury Issues Boil Over


Yokozuna-crew

A theme that Andy and I have been chasing for more than a year is the problem sumo has with headline athletes and their injuries. For a variety of reasons, most sumotori are never given enough time or resources to heal from the injuries they sustain, and their cumulative effect quickly degrades their performance, and in short order, their prospects for continued competition.

In general the health of the rikishi, especially the headliners, is not discussed and not publicized. These men are to be icons of the strength and power of the sport, and to show injury or weakness is not part of the facade. In reality, the health of many of these headline athletes has been in tenuous and degrading conditions for the last few years. With the advent of web-based media and near constant attention, the ability to dismiss a rikishi’s difficulties are almost impossible to mask.

Which brings us to the Aki basho. Three Yokozuna of four are laid up due to injuries they can’t seem to heal. The fourth (Harumafuji) is also in tough shape, but he is going to compete anyhow. I think at this point, the NSK knows they have a problem. A list of rikishi who are kyujo before the first day of competition

  • Yokozuna Hakuho
  • Yokozuna Kisenosato
  • Yokozuna Kakuryu
  • Maegashira Aoiyama
  • Maegashira Sadanoumi

That means that both he yusho and jun-yusho winners from Nagoya are out. The majority of the faces on the promotional posters will not appear. The sport is having an injury crisis, and they can no longer hide it.

The following quotes are courtesy of Kintamayama, who (as always) is the man with the inside knowledge.

Sumo Association Chairman, Hakkaku“It’s really regrettable that we’ve come to this at this point.. We finally have 4 Yokozunae and the fans have sold out the venue in anticipation of seeing this wonderful sight.. I think this is extremely inexcusable towards all the fans. The banzuke is well balanced with the newcomers and the veterans, so I have a lot of expectations from the young guys..”

PR Director Shibatayama“It’s really inexcusable that three Yokozuna are missing during these days when the fans are filling the seats. Still, a Yokozuna is a human being. Showing up in bad shape will not do any good for anyone..”

To be clear, both men are laying blame not on their athletes, but on the Sumo Kyokai for putting on a Honbasho that will be missing a large number of the headline competitors. It’s bad enough for fans in Japan, but consider the growing number of sumo enthusiasts that fly to Japan during the basho to take in a few days at the matches. While we at Tachiai joke that we are an adjunct to the sumo world, I am quite sure that both the NSK media have noticed that sumo is flowering into a global sport.

What happens next? No one can tell, but I will take my best guess

  • Look for retirements, both within the NSK and within the upper ranks of sumo THIS YEAR. Much as it will pain them to clear the decks, they will need a team of headliners that they can count on to appear at every tournament. That’s what puts butts in seats, sells banners and drives ratings.
  • Look for Fall and Winter Jungyo to be curtailed or even eliminated. The current pace set by the Jungyo team has been punishing, and leaves the rikishi little to no time to maintain condition or seek medical attention for their injuries. This could be billed as a “Health and safety training period”, and given the Aki carnage, it would be accepted.
  • Modifications to the area around the dohyo – This is quite unlikely, but many of these rikishi are injured falling from the dohyo during a match. There may be some unobtrusive ways that maintain the aesthetics of the dohyo and decrease the injury potential of a ungraceful dismount.

As Aki progresses, the team that makes up Osumo will band together to make Aki possibly one of the great, anything can happen bashos of our time.

Yokozuna Hakuho Will Not Compete In The Aki Basho


Sumo Grand Champions Celebrate The New Year
TOKYO, JAPAN – JANUARY 08: Sumo Grand Champion Hakuho Sho performs ‘Dohyo-iri’ (ring purification ritual) during Dezuiri ceremony at the Meiji Shrine on January 8, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. It is a custom for Sumo Grand Champions to celebrate the new year by performing the ritual at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. (Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images)

As expected, injured Yokozuna Hakuho will not compete in the Aki basho in Tokyo, as was announced minutes ago. Definitive word came via the NHK news web site.

Hakuho has been nursing an injured left knee since the Nagoya basho, but it has been getting steadily worse. This is the same knee that had surgical repair during September of 2016. The repairs seemed to have worked for a time, but now the pain, swelling and stiffness has returned.

We wish Hakuho good fortune and a speedy recovery.

His withdrawl leaves Harumafuji as the only Yokozuna who will start the Aki basho on Sunday.

Aki Basho Genki Report


Genki-Report

The Injury Count Increases

Once again, we are on the cusp of a basho that is marred by injuries and likely outages for Sumo’s star attractions. Tachiai readers will note that this is part of the longer overall trend, where the men who have dominated sumo for years are reaching the end of their completive period, and the cumulative damage done to their bodies now comes due.

The aggressive rise of a new crop of riskishi, that I sometimes jokingly call the “Angry Tadpoles” can be thought of as the result of two forces. The push factor of their individual training, work, dedication and flat-out skill that propels them to higher ranks. There is also a pull factor of the men who have occupied these positions increasingly being less healthy and able to defend their ranks.

To be clear, I am expecting Yokozunae Hakuho, Kisenosato and Kakuryu to not participate in the Aki basho. I also think it is strongly possible that both Endo and Ura may announce they will not be competing either.

Just from injuries alone, I expect Aki to be a basho that may be dominated by a rikishi who has never before won a basho, and it may be a glorious run.

Rikishi: Hakuho
Genki: ✭
Notes: Last year, the dai-Yokozuna skipped Aki in order to undergo surgery to repair his left knee, and remove a painful bone chip from his right big toe. He drove himself relentlessly to recover to excellent fighting form, and took the May and July tournament championships. But now that left knee is causing him constant pain, and he is likely unable to execute effective sumo.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Harumafuji
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: Do I think Harumafuji is healthy? No indeed. But he is tough and he is going to will himself to compete at Aki, no matter what the pain or discomfort. He has injuries to both knees, both elbows and lord knows what else. But it’s clear he is only going to leave the dohyo when he is too injured to walk.
Forecast: Yusho contender

Rikishi: Kisenosato
Genki: ✭
Notes: Kisenosato has not been training. His body is still weak, and we still have to wonder if his torn pectoral muscle will ever be useful again. Granted he did some training with shin-juryo Yago, but this level of combat is a ridiculously light compared to what he would face in Makuuchi. The YDC has urge Kisenosato not to return to the dohyo until he is fit and ready to compete. We will know he is ready when he resumes training with his stablemate Takayasu.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Kakuryu
Genki: ✭
Notes: Kakuryu is in a weak and perilous position. He has been so wracked with injuries since withdrawing from Nagoya that he has not been training (see a theme here?), and he is in no condition to compete. Furthermore, it has been made clear his next basho really needs to be a strong performance, or he will be asked to retire.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Terunofuji
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: He had to withdraw from Nagoya, as his June knee repair surgery was not healed enough for effective sumo. He took the entire summer off to rest and recover, and seems to be somewhat improved. He has been active in pre-basho training matches, and he even looks to be fairly strong. If he is mended, he is a yusho candidate. But he is one bad fall away from retirement now. Keep in mind, he is kadoban and must have 8 wins to hold on to his Ozeki rank.
Forecast: Double digit wins

Rikishi: Goeido
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: Last year Goeido surprised the sumo world by coming into Aki kadoban, and leaving with his first yusho. Furthermore, he was undefeated at Aki, making his victory all the more impressive. Goeido is very hit-or-miss, but his pre-basho training seems to indicate that he is mostly in “Goeido 2.0 Mode”, and could in fact be a contender.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Takayasu
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: His conditioning has deteriorated because for several months he has not been able to hone his sumo in daily scrimmage against Kisenosato. As a result, I suspect he is not nearly as ready as he was a year ago, and in fact we may see him kadoban for the first time. His practice matches during jungyo and his inter-basho warm ups have been good but not great. Furthermore, Takayasu has had a bad habit in the past of letting himself worry and over-think his sumo.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Mitakeumi
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Mitakeumi is the chieftain of the Angry Tadpoles, a rank he should wear with pride. He has shown remarkable strength, talent and adaptability in his climb to Sekiwake 1E, and he is now in a spot where he can try to assemble 33 wins. Furthermore, it’s quite clear that like the great Hakuho, he is having the time of his life, and every day on the dohyo is joy to him.
Forecast: Double digit wins, Possible Yusho contender.

Rikishi: Yoshikaze
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: Scarred by years of battle, and once again at Sekiwake (though as the oldest one in the modern era), Yoshikaze is never one to ignore. He can and will beat any rikishi on any given day. In recent tournaments he has shown a fantastic breadth of sumo skills, and never surrenders. There has been some speculation in the Japanese sumo press that he might become the oldest Ozeki ever, but frankly I think “The Berserker” just wants to get the job done.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Tamawashi
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: He has been dethroned from his long term posting to Sekiwake, and it’s now time for him to either fade lower in the banzuke, or battle back to the top. His fans know he has more than enough sumo to re-take his rank from Mitakeumi, but it remains to be seen if he can muster the energy to win.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Tochinoshin
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: The big Georgian suffers from injuries that have held him back, but in Nagoya he turned in a strong kachi-koshi to follow up from his Jun-Yusho in May. Many fans expected him to be posted to a San’yaku rank, but he should feel no shame for being the top Maegashira. His enormous strength and nearly boundless endurance means that anyone who dares him to a yotsu-zumō battle will be in trouble.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Kotoshogiku
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Sorry Ojisan, but your time has passed. Listen to your body and retire soon. We all still love you, and your back bends and pelvic thrust sumo will never be forgotten.
Forecast: Maki-koshi

Rikishi: Hokutofuji
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: I am very excited that Hokutofuji is solidly in the upper Maegashira ranks for his second basho. Few rikishi can survive at this level, and this is why you see some favorites yo-yo up and down the banzuke. Hokutofuji, if he can remain healthy, is likely to be a big deal once the current crop of leading sumotori take their bows and retire.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Aoiyama
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: For whatever ridiculous reason, this guy got played up as a spoiler to Hakuho’s yusho in Nagoya. Frankly, his sumo was never up to the task of combating even the lower half of Hakuho, let alone the entire Yokozuna. Now he finds himself squarely in the joi, and he has a difficult schedule ahead. He has a very limited range of kimarite, but with few Yokozuna competing, he may not face the pounding he would with a healthy roster.
Forecast: Make-koshi

Rikishi: Onosho
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Onosho faces his first time in the upper part of Makuuchi. As with Aoiyama, the expected Yokozuna recuperation basho will likely give him an easier time than he might have had otherwise. He is strong, he is skilled and like Hokutofuji, he is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy. Still, I expect he is going to find him self out-matched for now, but he will improve.
Forecast: Make-koshi

Rikishi: Ura
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Ura left Nagoya injured. He was injured to the extent that he did not even participate in any sumo activities over the summer break. Like far too many rikishi, he now faces the prospects of nursing a damaged knee back to usefulness. Prior to the banzuke, many fans (myself included) hoped for a stiff demotion, to allow him time to work in the lower ranks to maintain his sumo while his body healed. Sadly he is once again in danger of being an opponent for the Ozeki and San’yaku battle fleet. At this point his goal must include survival.
Forecast: Make-koshi

Yokozuna Hakuho Still Nursing Injured Knee


Sumo Grand Champions Celebrate The New Year

May Not Compete At Aki

With 5 days until the start of Aki, Yokokzuna Hakuho is still too injured to train or prepare for the fall basho. The winner of the past 2 tournaments withdrew from the summer PR tour, complaining of increasing pain in his left knee, which had been bothering him since before the Nagoya tournament.

Quoted in this article in Nikkan Sports, Hakuho states that since withdrawing from Jungyo, he has been unable to do any real practice, no test matches, and has not participated in the intra-heya practice sessions currently happening across Tokyo.

For fans of the great Yokozuna, this comes as hard news, as he is likely (and perhaps encouraged) to sit out the Aki basho.

UPDATE: Some notes from the Tachiai archives on Hakuho’s left knee problems, from September 2016:

(2016) Concerns For The Boss (Hakuho)

(2016) Hakuho Out For September Tournament

Nagoya Follow Up #2 – Hakuho’s Record Run


Hakuho-Meter

The team at Tachiai anticipated that Nagoya would be the basho where Hakuho finally broke the all time win record, surpassing first Chiyonofuji and then Kaio, to add yet another record to his name. On his way to racking up his 39th yusho, he was only defeated on day 11 when he was surprised by future Ozeki Mitakeumi.

His “go-ahead” victory came against Takayasu on day 13, and it was “The Boss” side-stepping the shin-Ozeki’s tachiai that put him in control. Some sumo fans were outraged that he would use essentially a henka to win his record setting match, but I think it is perfectly in keeping with Hakuho’s approach to sumo. He uses everything at his disposal to win every time he can. He does so with power, and uncanny speed.

For those that want to review the match, it’s at the end of Jason’s day 13 highlights on YouTube

Sadly, because of his loss, Hakuho cannot even begin to consider an assault on a record fans know he lusts for – the all time consecutive win streak owned (possibly forever) by the god of sumo, Futabayama.

Hakuho’s fans (and they are legion) are justifyibly jubilant, and many have proclaimed that he is once again unassailable. Sadly, Hakuho is all too human, and has put a very fine image forward that hides the fact that having been the top man in one of the world’s brutal combat sports, his body is one big injury away from retirement.

Tachiai notes with some worry that Hakuho withdrew from the summer jungyo to rest up a nagging knee injury he has been nursing since before Nagoya. We continue to hope that he will get his wish to be front and center at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies, performing a dohyo-iri on a grand scale in front of the whole world.

Yokozuna Hakuho Withdraws From Summer Jungyo


Hakuho-Jungyo

Reports from the summer sumo PR tour in central Japan are that Yokozuna Hakuho has withdrawn. Complaining for persistant and increasing pain in his left knee, Hakuho has returned to Tokyo to rest prior to the Aki basho in just one month.

Fans have greatly enjoyed seeing “The Boss” back in fighting form for the past two tournaments, but as we have cautioned, he is one injury away from having to struggle to make it through a basho. Like any combat sport, the mechanical injuries sustained by the athletes never really go away, you can only get them so that you can continue to compete. In the case of this injury, the Yokozuna declared that this had been troubling him since before Nagoya.

This leaves only an injured Harumafuji and an injured Kisenosato remaining with the tour. Fans might infer from this that the roster for Aki could in fact be rather light at the top ranks if none of sumo’s grand champions are fit to fight.

Yokozuna Hakuho Enjoying Time In Mongolia


Following his yusho at the Nagoya basho, Yokozuna Hakuho has retired for a brief rest in his native Mongolia. Courtesy of twitter user azechiazechi, we have this nice video of the Boss sinking a putt in rather glorious fashion.

The summer Jungyo will start shortly, and Hakuho will be the only Yokozuna in attendance, as most of the rest of the upper champion ranks are out attempting to heal up from their various injuries and maladies.

This video begs the question: Have Hakuho and Yoshikaze ever faced each other on the golf course? I understand the man form Oita is an excellent shot.