SUMO ABC No. 91 / Up-and-coming Takakeisho faces future without mentor Takanohana

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Takakeisho, center, attends a practice session in November in Fukuoka.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterKomusubi Takakeisho won his first career title at the recent Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament with an impressive 13-2 record.

It took just 26 tournaments for the 22-year-old to grab the title in the uppermost makuuchi division. This tied the fourth fastest rise to becoming a champion since the current six-tournaments-a-year system was implemented in 1958, excluding those who were allowed to start their professional careers at the third-tier makushita division due to their strong records as amateurs.

While watching the bouts and interviews of Takakeisho, who now belongs to the Chiganoura stable, something came to my mind. I was particularly impressed by two of his wins: One against ozeki Tochinoshin on Day 9, the eighth win that guaranteed him a winning record at the tournament, and the other against No. 3 maegashira Nishikigi on the final day of the tournament that clinched the championship.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Former stablemaster Takanohana smiles for a group photo with supporters.

In both bouts, Takakeisho just continued to attack, which seemed to represent what good shape he had been in throughout the tournament.

“My weak self almost came to the surface,” Takakeisho said during an interview following his win over the ozeki. “I’ve squarely faced myself to prevent it from occurring.”

In an interview after receiving the Emperor’s Cup in his arms, Takakeisho made similar comments.

His remarks echo those often made by former stablemaster Takanohana during his career as a sumo star. The former stablemaster and yokozuna was Takakeisho’s mentor until his surprise resignation from sumo’s governing body before the Kyushu tourney.

Takanohana used to believe that facing his own self was the foundation of sumo, saying: “We lose because we’re weak. I train myself so that I won’t be defeated. That’s all sumo wrestlers can do.”

The more I noticed how much Takakeisho and his former mentor have in common in their philosophy, the more I have to think about how much criticism the former stablemaster deserves, as he left the Japan Sumo Association in a way that seemed to betray his disciples.

While it is natural that every sumo wrestler should build his career on his own, it makes a great difference whether or not a mentor he trusts is close at hand. Their circumstances are totally different, but yokozuna Kisenosato, when he was a sekiwake, lost his mentor, stablemaster Naruto (formerly yokozuna Takanosato), who died of a disease just before the 2011 Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament.

After the tournament, Kisenosato was promoted to ozeki, but some sumo observers note that he long struggled to become a yokozuna partly because he lost his master on his way to sumo’s top position.

Takakeisho is described as being extremely sincere to sumo, a manner that he has taken from his mentor. Many believe that Takakeisho could be promoted to ozeki if he can transform himself into a wrestler one or two levels higher.

This development process is one of the most difficult things in the sumo world. An illustrative example is sekiwake Mitakeumi, who won his first career championship at this summer’s Nagoya tournament but is currently struggling.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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