The Choice To “Pull”

“Back, and To the Left”

For the facts and the debate about the Tochinoshin-Asanoyama match, I will refer you to Herouth’s thorough, Oliver Stone-esque, examination of the Zapruder film. There was one more decision that I want to look at, Tochi’s decision to “pull.” When I refer to “pulling,” it’s the act of moving backwards, with the hand cupped around the back of the opponent’s head, in an attempt to drag him down for a hatakikomi victory. For example, Abi used this tactic to defeat Tochinoshin on Day 11, starting this three bout losing streak.

In the bout against Abi, there was no doubt as Abi’s heel remained high in the air when he backed up against the tawara. But in all honesty, when a rikishi makes the decision to pull, he is frequently putting his fate in the hands of video review. Either someone steps out, falls first, or there’s a hair pull. I wish there was a way to query the SumoDB for failed pulls because we’ve all seen them cost Kakuryu and Goeido shots at titles.

The move often begins in the center of the ring, or sometimes even closer to the straw bales. In many instances, the “attacker/retreater” springs off the dohyo hoping the opponent falls before he himself plummets beneath the plane of the dohyo and onto an unlucky ojisan in the front row. This was the case of Abi’s attempt in yesterday’s bout against Aoiyama, immediately prior to the Tochinoshin/Asanoyama bout.

Watch the replay from the opposite, original angle and watch Tochinoshin’s foot twist in recoil immediately after his heel goes over the boundary. From the head on angle you don’t see whether it touches and it’s honestly a moot point. He knows that outside the dohyo is “hot lava” and he got close enough to get singed.

Followers of Tachiai’s reporting will likely be familiar with the rather dimly held view we have of “pulling”…particularly when employed by members of the elite corps of Yokozuna and Ozeki. When it’s used by Goeido, Kakuryu, or even Hakuho and Takayasu, it’s a signal that a nagging injury may have cropped up. Lower ranked guys like Abi get a bit of a pass. In Abi’s case, it is one of his preferred attacks, accounting for nearly a fifth of his wins. This fact will likely keep him from progressing further up the banzuke unless he develops stronger thrusting approaches or adds some belt work to his repertoire.

If Tochinoshin wants to regain his ozeki rank in a few hours, he will use the brand of sumo that got him here. Or, Kakuryu may tempt fate by employing his own disastrous pull as he’s been known to do at times. While Kakuryu dominates their long term head-to-head rivalry, over the last year they’ve been very evenly matched, trading wins over the past few basho, and it may be Tochi’s turn.

The bottom line is, Tochinoshin put himself in great position to get his 10 wins and hopefully he’ll get there. He will have the best chance, doing it on his terms, using the brand of sumo that got him where he is. Clinching his rank against a Yokozuna or Ozeki, when his win against Takakeisho came by fusen, is honestly more deserving and poetic than against a maegashira. He’ll get there. I gotta keep telling myself, “he’ll get there.”

Decisions, decisions…

At the risk of having a post that’s more controversial than anything the president of the USA is going to do in the Kokugikan two days from now… I happen to disagree with Bruce’s opinion regarding the Tochinoshin/Asanoyama decision.

Possible, but inconclusive, touch

It’s true that Onomatsu oyakata is a well-known butcher of kyogi explanations. But is he a well-known butcher of actual decisions?

Before we go, let’s mention that no single frame can be proof that there was no touch. Take a look at the photo posted that Bruce posted earlier:

Here it’s clearly not touching

But this frame could have been taken just before or just after the critical moment. If you have a touching frame, it proves a touch. But if you have a not-touching frame, it doesn’t prove that there was no touch. Take a look at the video:

So, was that a touch? Was that just a shadow? Not even the luckiest photographer can conclude that there is no touch at all. The frame I posted could be a touch, or it could be shadow filling in the pixels. The cameras are not right next to the dohyo, and the resolution is not all that good.

An article at Asahi Shimbun (paywalled, but a good soul on Twitter took screenshots) reveals to us what happened during the monoii and the kyogi (conference) that followed it.

The monoii was raised by Hanaregoma oyakata, who was the one sitting closest to where tochinoshin’s foot was hanging over the tawara. He saw it touch, and raised his hand to mark a monoii.

The judges needed to make a call about it. Point one: the call cannot be a torinaoshi. Torinaoshi may only be called in cases where both rikishi touch ground at the same time (“dotai”). This wasn’t the case here. Either Tochinoshin touched out, in which case Asanoyama was still in and wins, or he didn’t touch out, in which case Tochinoshin is alive and wins.

The judges then called the video room. Unfortunately, the video room told them they cannot see a touch or a janome disturbance.

Point two: that doesn’t mean there was no touch. It just means that the videos they had were not conclusive. As I said, the frame I posted above could mean he touched, or it could just be shadow that fills the pixels.

Point three: a light enough touch would not leave a discernible mark on the janome. That is, discernible by the same video cameras. Yes, Tochinoshin is a heavy guy. But his huge muscles were working hard at keeping that heel from touching ground. If it did, it didn’t do so with all of his weight on it.

So at this point, the referees start to discuss the matter, because they have to reach a decision. All they have to go on is what they saw, and the only one who saw it up close is Hanaregoma. People in the crowd shout for a redo, but again, that’s impossible. Hanaregoma suggests a vote. But Onomatsu oyakata decides that Hanaregoma should call it, because he was the one who saw it and the other’s haven’t. Hanaregoma says there was a very light touch, and that’s the decision.

When a monoii is called, the ultimate decision is the judges’, and theirs alone. If there is a conclusive video that shows the monoii is wrong, it’s fine. But the video is there to help the judges – it’s never the decider.

Now, I’ve seen references to football or other sports. Those do not apply here. In sumo, the gyoji has to make a call at the end of each bout, no matter if he is sure or not. He has to call it even if there is a dotai. So the ultimate decision is not his, it’s the judges. One of my followers complained “if there is no conclusive evidence, it’s ridiculous to reverse the gyoji’s gunbai”. But the gunbai is not holy. It’s not “right by default”. A judge sat half a meter from the dohyo, was looking at the tawara, and saw something that the referee didn’t see from his side.

The shimpan don’t watch the bouts for entertainment value like we do. They concentrate on contact points and centers of gravity. While we may be admiring somebody’s kotenage, they will be watching the boring feet.

Were they right? Was Tochinoshin out? Well, it’s hard to tell. Because the video is inconclusive – even the good footage that is available to the video room, which is better than the footage that’s currently circulating through social media, most of which is taken with a smartphone from a TV screen (probably including the footage I included above).

Only one man saw the alleged touch. He may have been wrong. But was the decision making process bad? I think not. In particular, I don’t think Onomatsu oyakata’s decision to let the only man who saw it decide is unreasonable. The others didn’t see it, so they only act on hearsay. He has to have a decision by the end. It’s a tough call, but that’s what he had to work with.

But yes, he butchered the explanation again.

BruceThanks all for reading and commenting on this post. At this time I am going to end the ability to add further comments to this post. The call and the win / loss are recorded, and the tally has been settled. Endless thanks to Herouth for wading into a hot button subject and taking the time to explain.

There are 2 days left in the basho, and we will see if Tochinoshin can make his 10th.

2019 Natsu Basho Preview

With the Natsu Banzuke published, it’s officially Basho season again! With less than a week until the return of sumo action, here are some of the biggest stories and most pressing questions on the minds of sumo fans this May!

Keep watching until the end for a sneak peek of a new series coming soon.

Jungyo Newsreel – Day 21

🌐 Location: Hidaka, Saitama prefecture

We have a short one for you today. The Jungyo is back in Saitama, which means these guys are once again in the spotlight:

Hokutofuji, Daieisho

“Hey, hey, hey, wait a second! What about me?!”

Yes, Abi, you’re a home boy, too. Now stop obscuring the other ones.

Not many visuals from the sidelines today, except Chiyoshoma, quietly doing his shiko in the hanamichi while others are practicing on the dohyo:

The practice on the dohyo includes some attention to Wakamotoharu, who has been very popular with the upper echelon this Jungyo:

Can’t say whether that’s a full fledged kawaigari or just plain butsukari. Meisei is also getting some quasi-Ozeki attention. But in his case, it’s pretty clear that when you look like this from the front:

And like this from the back:

…it’s kawaigari. Tochinoshin is making good use of his last days at Ozeki.

Practice bouts: Shimanoumi-Wakatakakage, Endo-Sadanoumi (with a bit of Yokozuna shiko at the end):


Actually, the more interesting san-ban is taking place away from the dohyo. Kotoshogiku and Toyonoshima are having at it in the corner:

Then again:

And again:

Good stuff!

Enho – we can’t do without Enho in any report – has finished his practice and wants to go get a shower, when all of a sudden, a team of hoodlums gangs up on him:

“Shortstuff, meet Yuki. He is my VP of Beating People To Pulp”

“Now, for some reason it looks like you think I was born yesterday, but I was not.”

“So I can’t get you to see reason? OK, Yuki, you have a go at making him see reason”

Poor pixie… Got in trouble with the Tamawashi-gumi.

I have absolutely nil material from the afternoon part of this event, sorry. All I have is Hokutofuji serenely having his head shampooed.

Rikishi don’t wash their hair every day, and when they do, it’s basically done with car-mechanic-grade grease remover, because the suki-abura used for their hairstyles is pretty much like having a head full of butter.

So I bid you farewell with our pin-up of the day, Tsukahara, from Kasugano beya, who is also a Saitama home boy:

Jungyo Newsreel – Day 19

🌐 Location: Takasaki, Gunma prefecture

Unlike our previous location, which boasted a local sekitori, a local tsukebito, and a semi-local former Yokozuna’s nephew, Gunma prefecture is really short on famous or high-ranked local boys.

The local organizers gave Hikarifuji and Kayatoiwa their due glory, but their real pride and joy is not regularly a part of the jungyo anymore. He was brought in specifically for this event.

That, of course, is 42 years old Satonofuji, the grand master of the bow, who hails from Gunma prefecture. And while all the other low-ranked rikishi were working on the dohyo, Satonofuji was working with the struggling new performer, Shohoryu, giving him a master class.

This was just one of the various outdoor activities today. The weather was deemed warm enough to have the handshaking sessions outside:

Though the sky looks pretty gray, if you ask me. Not all the rikishi just stand for handshakes. Some famous veterans sit in a separate corners, and fans can go and have a photo taken with them:

But actual practice takes place inside the venue. The first sekitori arrive and pull their taping kits:

Asanoyama, get, set, tape!

Others start stretching:

Some squatting and suri-ashi are in order:

Takarafuji is showing us his his good side.

Wakamotoharu works on his upper body:

But then he and Mitakeumi decide to gang up on poor Enho:

The Yokozuna synchronize:

But then each goes his own way. Kakuryu manages an exercise that doesn’t look ridiculous:

While Hakuho is doing suri-ashi in the hana-michi, and interacts with the spectators:

Near the wall, a group of lower-ranked rikishi prove to us that titty obsession is not just a Tamawashi thing:

What are you doing, guys?

Up on the dohyo, Ichinojo is giving butsukari:

While Terutsuyoshi seems to have… a toothache?

By now, you should know who it is who makes Takakeisho smile this wide:

Takayasu finishes stretching, has a bout with Mitakeumi, and butsukari with Onosho.

Some more practice bouts: Daieisho-Takakeisho, Myogiryu-Ichinojo, Kiribayama-Takanofuji:

Practice over. Lower-ranked rikishi get their hair done and go about their chores:

Some sekitori go out and enjoy the food stalls outside the venue. Namely, Terutsuyoshi, Chiyotairyu and Enho. Enho starts well with some yaki manju:

But seems to pick up something that doesn’t suit his dainty palate:

Or maybe it’s the camera crew that affect his apetite.

Terutsuyoshi and Chiyotairyu enjoy some yakisoba:

With everybody fed and in good order, it’s time for the afternoon part of the day. We begin with a Jonidan bout, because of course we don’t want to miss Satonofuji:

Nice throw. Next up, we have the Juryo dohyo-iri, or as Gagamaru calls it, “cheeky time”:

The cheeks in question being Takanosho’s of course.

Azumaryu and Akiseyama have a less painful way to enjoy the wait:

Next up, the Juryo bouts, and we have Aminishiki vs. Hidenoumi for you:

Nice effort from old Uncle there, but to no avail.

Chiyomaru makes short work of Daiamami:

And we are up in Makuuchi. And the dohyo-iri there is not free of sin, either:

No, no, you have to wait for the Ozeki!

For some reason, Chiyotairyu decides that facing the spectators is just too much for him and turns around in the middle of the dohyo-iri. Abi tries to argue with him.

Takakeisho, by now getting used to all the “shin-ozeki” stuff, receives gifts of local produce – rice, meat, etc.:

The bouts start, and Yoshikaze has a wardrobe malfunction:

Is it me or does Toyonoshima surreptitiously improve his mawashi hold during this matta? Zurui… he won this bout.

Next up, Terutsuyoshi throws his usual bucket load of salt… and seems to hit his own eye:

Typical Terutsuyoshi sumo. Sorry, Yago, maybe next time!

Next up, Ichinojo vs. Endo:

Ichinojo is not sleeping.

Kaisei is pitted with Nishikigi, and doesn’t let the green mawashi man set up any sort of defense:

Last before the san-yaku, Hokutofuji vs. Mitakeumi:

Takakeisho is up next vs. Tamawashi:

No rolling into the crowd today. The last bout whose footage I got is Goeido vs Tochinoshin:

And after Kakuryu beats Takayasu (sorry, no video), comes the part everybody has been waiting for – good old Satonofuji’s yumi-tori shiki. Watch it, then go back to previous reports and compare with Kasugaryu, never mind poor Shohoryu. This is the work of a true master:

Our pin-up of the day is Wakamotoharu. Adieu!

Jungyo Newsreel – Day 18

🌐 Location: Kashiwa, Chiba prefercture

Another lengthy one today. Make some coffee, feed the baby, here we go:

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