By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterGeorgia-born Tochinoshin claimed his first top-division title by winning the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
While yokozuna Hakuho and Kisenosato withdrew from the tournament, the maegashira-ranked wrestler outmuscled yokozuna Kakuryu, and the two ozeki Goeido and Takayasu, to take home the title.
The high-ranking wrestlers were truly pathetic.
Kakuryu deserves particular blame. He had missed the previous four tournaments, but made an initially strong return by flawlessly winning his first 10 bouts. While the two ozeki were easily defeated, the yokozuna’s performance seemed to be a declaration of his superiority at the basho.
Yet, from Day 11, Kakuryu suffered four consecutive losses. His two losses by Day 12 knocked him out of first place, and another two losses ruled him out of contention.
What led to his four consecutive losses?
It has long been said that yokozuna can only say they have more wins than losses in a tournament if they win at least 10 bouts. (In reality, it takes eight wins to earn a positive record.) Before the most recent tournament, Kakuryu had resolved to retire if his return to competition went poorly.
With this in mind, it cannot be denied that he was relieved to win his first 10 bouts. Perhaps this explains the drastic change in his fighting style from Day 11, when Kakuryu exchanged shoves with Tamawashi in a bid to force his opponent out of the dohyo. Ultimately, the yokozuna was first to relent.
After the match, Kakuryu could only drop his head, saying, “I couldn’t endure. My bad habits came out.”
Many sumo matches are decided in a matter of seconds. In bouts that are decided moment-by-moment, a wrestler’s bad habits become his enemy, regardless of his opponent’s condition.
The late stable master Hanaregoma, formerly the ozeki Kaiketsu, often lamented that, “good habits are quickly forgotten, but bad habits never disappear regardless of one’s efforts.”
Deep-rooted bad habits emerge at decisive moments. Because actions stemming from bad habits are involuntary, they are hard to control. As Kakuryu is a serious person, he seems to have thought too much about not stepping backward during bouts. He thus reflexively acted to pull down his opponent. The result was a nightmarish four-match losing streak.
Kakuryu has no one to blame but himself for blowing his chance to win a fourth title and the first in seven tournaments. Though it is too late to change the tournament outcome, Tochinoshin taught him a lesson about the importance of an offensive stance in sumo.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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