Sumo Fans Dissatisfied with System Limits; Experts Suggest Rikishi Review Training | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Sumo Fans Dissatisfied with System Limits; Experts Suggest Rikishi Review Training

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
In the May Grand Sumo Tournament, two ōzeki (champions), Kirishima and Takakeishō, withdrew partway through.

The May Grand Sumo Tournament experienced significant turmoil. On the first day, one yokozuna and four ōzeki were defeated. By the second day, both Yokozuna Terunofuji and Ōzeki Takakeishō had withdrawn. On the seventh day, Ōzeki Kirishima followed suit. Additionally, Sekiwake Wakamotoharu (who returned on the 11th day) and Komusubi Asanoyama also withdrew. This resulted in an unprecedented situation where five out of the nine top-ranked wrestlers (from komusubi and above) withdrew.

Moreover, Takanofuji, who achieved the remarkable feat of winning the tournament in his debut as a maegashira, a first in 110 years, also withdrew.

“Takanofuji twisted his right foot on the 14th day of the last tournament when he lost to Asanoyama. Despite resting throughout the post-tournament tour, he couldn’t recover in time and had to miss the entire current tournament. As a result, he is likely to be demoted to Juryo next tournament. Fans are frustrated, questioning, ‘Why can’t his injury during the match be considered a public injury?’ and ‘It’s unacceptable that he will be demoted to Juryo after just one missed tournament following such a historic achievement,'” said a sports newspaper sumo reporter.

The dissatisfaction doesn’t stop there. In recent years, many wrestlers have been promoted to ōzeki only to be demoted within a few tournaments. In 2021, Asanoyama (ōzeki for seven tournaments), in 2022, Mitakeumi (ōzeki for four tournaments), in 2023, Shodai (ōzeki for thirteen tournaments), and now, Kirishima (ōzeki for six tournaments) are facing demotion next tournament. Although yokozuna are not demoted, Terunofuji, during his 17-tournament tenure, has withdrawn ten times.

Fans are expressing concerns, questioning if the current schedule of six tournaments a year is reaching its limit and whether the rankings are losing their significance. They are wondering if the system should be changed, but what do the Sumo Association and experts think?

“Compared to wrestlers of the past, today’s wrestlers train less and, frankly, have become softer. Adjusting the system to accommodate these softer wrestlers could lead to a decline in the level of sumo, which is problematic.” Says sumo journalist and freelance announcer Reiko Yokono. 

Regarding Takanofuji’s demotion to Juryo, she explains,

“Although there is some outcry on social media about Takanofuji being demoted to Juryo after winning the previous tournament and then missing one, if a maegashira sixth ranker withdraws completely, it counts as 15 losses, leading to demotion to Juryo. Even a historic achievement like winning a debut tournament doesn’t make this unusual under the current system.”

Regarding the reasons for this situation,

“Even if the injury occurs in the ring, there is currently no public injury system. It used to exist, but it was abolished in 2003 under Director Kitanoumi. This decision was made because too many wrestlers were taking advantage of the system to withdraw from tournaments (the association took this seriously after 16 wrestlers, including seven with public injuries, withdrew from the July 2002 tournament),” explains Yokono.

As for changing the system, Yokono adds,

“This is a double-edged sword. Compared to wrestlers of the past, today’s wrestlers undoubtedly train less. As a result, not only their physical strength but also the mental toughness that should be developed through training has weakened, making the wrestlers softer. They neglect to build muscle to create injury-resistant bodies, which naturally leads to more injuries.

Some degree of relief measures might be necessary. However, there are also stablemasters in the association who believe, ‘We’ve been doing it this way since ancient times. The problem is the lack of training. Therefore, there’s no need to change anything.’ Rather than lowering the standards, I think wrestlers need to build bodies that can withstand injuries.”

Sumo writer Shoko Sato, known as Dosukoi Hanako, largely agrees,

“The fact that yokozuna and ōzeki are losing to newly promoted wrestlers indicates that the higher ranks are not performing adequately. Musashigawa Oyakata (former Yokozuna Musashimaru) often laments, ‘The rankings are collapsing. The value of yokozuna and ōzeki is diminishing.’ There are also issues with promotion criteria. Sometimes wrestlers can become ōzeki by simply achieving 33 wins over three tournaments when they happen to have a good streak. There’s no evaluation of the quality of their sumo or their mental strength, resulting in the wrestlers themselves struggling.”

“In recent years, there has been an increase in sumo wrestlers focusing on strength training similar to training gyms. Many experts and stablemasters point out that as a result of increasing muscle mass through load training such as barbells, wrestlers end up with stiff muscles, leading to injuries. It seems that the traditional wisdom of our predecessors is remarkable indeed, as ‘shiko’ (leg stomping), ‘teppo’ (thigh thrusts), and ‘suridashi’ (hip-pushing exercises) are considered the most suitable for developing supple muscles for sumo.

This has also been proven in research conducted by the NFL in America. However, recently, many wrestlers neglect these basics. Chiyonofuji, who was muscularly built (former yokozuna), avoided using equipment for training as much as possible. He built his body through push-ups to correct his tendency for dislocation and focused solely on basic exercises like shiko and teppo. I believe returning to basics is the best approach.”

From another perspective, Mr. Yokono also discussed the current problems:

“Today’s active wrestlers start sumo from elementary school, and they are all elite sumo kids who continue sumo until university. Therefore, their sumo age is not actually young. By the time they enter the professional world, they have already spent over 10 years in sumo and may have had some injuries during their student days or have stiff muscles due to excessive training. Shodai, Takakeisho have also suffered injuries, and by the time they become ozeki or yokozuna, they are in a state of constant injury. In the past, there were many wrestlers who scouted tall kids nationwide right after junior high school graduation and introduced them to sumo for the first time. They carefully developed the physique necessary for sumo in young boys at the age of 15, and as they grew, they became sumo wrestlers.

Hakuho and Kakuryu, who played basketball until junior high school, are perfect examples. Today’s Japanese wrestlers are like those who enter sumo after already passing their peak sumo age. There is a clear difference in sumo age between wrestlers who entered at 15 and became fully trained by the age of 25 and those who started sumo from elementary school to university and became wrestlers at the age of 25. There is a lack of patience to nurture them because they become immediately useful. Due to the declining birthrate and the fact that inexperienced individuals are not entering, there are many problems with the current situation, and it is not easy to simply say what should be done.”

There is no doubt that the Sumo Association also feels a sense of crisis, so I think there is a need to take some sort of action.

We are looking forward to receiving your information and tip-offs. Please send your information to the following information form or to the official X.

Information form:

Official X:

  • PHOTO Kyodo

Photo Gallery1 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles