SUMO ABC (67) / Commitment, determination to end violence are being put to test

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yokozuna Hakuho arrives at Fukuoka Airport in Fukuoka Prefecture on Nov. 30. He had just received a strong warning at a board meeting.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Following on from the previous installment, I’d like to write about the assault by former yokozuna Harumafuji on a junior wrestler.

A final report compiled by the Japan Sumo Association’s risk management committee almost entirely revealed the picture of Harumafuji’s assault on Takanoiwa. The former yokozuna chose “punishment by force” when reprimanding Takanoiwa for his attitude. This is nothing but “violence in the name of coaching.”

The committee also sternly placed responsibility on two other yokozuna — Hakuho and Kakuryu — who were at the scene of the incident but failed to stop the assault. The committee stipulated that they “ruined the credibility of the sumo world.”

Not only in the professional sumo world but also in other sports circles, physical punishments like this are still seen as acceptable and have yet to be eradicated.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Yokozuna Kakuryu leaves Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Dec. 20.

Why it that so? A hint lies in remarks by Nobutake Matsushita, 73, chief of S”om — a psychological counseling agency that provides training programs for athletes, including Olympians and players in competitive high school baseball teams. “It’s easy to say violence isn’t good and physical punishment is unacceptable. But it’s true that physical punishment does have a certain effect,” he said. “This is why it’s difficult to eradicate. Alternative measures to achieve the same results as physical punishments should be provided to trainers.”

For example, Matsushita referred to the training skills of Eddie Jones, the former head coach of Japan’s national rugby team. Jones would thoroughly observe players and give shrewd instructions and commands, but also prepare an alternative approach just in case the players failed to address their problems. Matsushita cited his own pet theory: “Without sharpening one’s skill of observing each player, it’s impossible to find training methods to replace physical punishment.”

In the old days of sumo, bamboo swords were used to hit wrestlers’ buttocks and mawashi belts if they lost focus. The practice was aimed at “recovering wrestlers’ concentration and preventing risks in the training room.”

“Such a ‘wakening’ effect may only be brought about through physical punishment,” Matsushita said.

Will the sumo world be able to put an end to old training methods? The association’s commitment and stablemasters’ determination to root out violence are being tested.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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