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SUMO ABC No. 85 / ‘Kadoban’ rule a compromise between public opinion, rikishi’s pride

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Tochinoshin throws salt before a match against Kotoshogiku on the fifth day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on July 12.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterTochinoshin, who grabbed the title of ozeki with his dynamic tsuri (heaving) and powerful yori (belt technique), is now driven into a metaphorical corner in the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament, his second basho as ozeki.

Tochinoshin is in “kadoban” — sumo jargon commonly interpreted as “in a corner,” which refers to a situation of being at risk of demotion from ozeki. He is the fifth wrestler in the Heisei era, and the first in 18 years after Akebono, Chiyotaikai, Musoyama and Miyabiyama, to find himself in this predicament.

The current kadoban rule was established after twists and turns.

Yokozuna are not deprived of their rank even if they have a losing record, or makekoshi. Ozeki, however, will be demoted to sekiwake when they have makekoshi for a second consecutive tourney. At the same time, the rule offers them a chance to make a comeback to ozeki if they win 10 bouts in the tourney after their demotion. The current rule was established in July 1969, but its roots go back to 1958.

It was in 1958 that a six-tournament-per-year system was introduced when the Nagoya basho in July was added to an annual round of grand tournaments.

Rikishi agreed to fight more tournaments under the new system but also requested the Japan Sumo Association to “change the ozeki’s demotion rule to makekoshi in ‘a third consecutive tourney’ because the six-per-year system will require heavy work for rikishi.”

The JSA accepted the request. Beginning in January 1958, the standard for an ozeki’s demotion was set at “after making makekoshi for a third consecutive tournament.”

Public opinion was critical, as it was seen as a lax standard compared to that applied to sekiwake or lower-ranking wrestlers, whose rank easily declines when they have makekoshi.

The JSA, seeking to save face for ozeki, insisted that “ozeki are in a period of special education to become yokozuna.” However, because of the nature of sumo being entertainment, the association could not ignore a backlash in public opinion. The issue long remained under deliberation.

In 1968, stablemaster Musashigawa (the former top-ranked maegashira Dewanohana) came up with an idea for a compromise. Ozeki would be demoted after making makekoshi for just a second consecutive basho, but would then be offered a chance at redemption. They would be restored to ozeki rank if they won 10 wins in their following tournament as sekiwake.

The compromise plan was welcomed by rikishi and stablemasters and also won over public opinion, which honored the wisdom of Musashigawa’s “not-too-strict-nor-too-lax” strategy.

The current ethos in the sumo world that “double-digit wins are the expected winning record for yokozuna and ozeki” may have stemmed from this compromise plan.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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