Harumi Hotta for Le Monde du Sumo
The exclusive interview of Tomozuna oyakata
proofread by Barbara Ann Klein
On the eve of the shonishi in this Haru Basho 2006, few of us were confident about the future of the older among the ozeki. Kaio, who had been beaten on the previous day by the yokozuna Asashoryu, was now scored at 5-7. Though, cheered by numerous fans thoughout the world, the ozeki, who had announced that he would retire in case of a retrogradation, managed to find the physical and metal resources to win his last three bouts and grasp in extremis his kashi-kochi, thus securing his rank.
Alexandre Pecking, a.k.a. Kaio69, hardcore fan and webmaster of our Website of the Month, seeing that his idol was in a very difficult situation prior to a tournament that was expected to be crucial, had called for cheerings all over the wolrd. His call was heard beyond his expectations, and as the messages flowed, he sent them back to the Tomozuna-beya. Those cheerings were very important, in Kaio’s own consent, in the ozeki’s decision to continue sumo whatever the outcomes of the Haru could be.
After the end of the tournament, Alexandre got a message from Ms. Hirumi Hotta, a Japanese who is a sumo fan since she was a child, and does voluntary work for the promotion of the Tomozuna-beya. She proposed her mediation for an interview of the ozeki. And so be it, here’s this exclusive interview, done just prior to the Natsu Baho, that starts on May 7th, 2006. And, to perfect the fireworks, Tomozuna oyakata, the former sekiwake Kaiki, also agreed to answer our questions.
Tomozuna-oyakata is a gentleman. He speaks in a clear and crisp voice. His gentleness, warmth and strictness as a shisho are apparent throughout the interview. You can see him as one of the best shisho in the sumo world. He was elected as one of the Directors of the Japan Sumo Association in February 2006. Besides being shisho of Tomozuna-beya, he works for the sumo education school where new rikishi are trained to be professional sumo wrestlers.
Le Monde Du Sumo (LMDS) : What role do you play at the Sumo Education School?
Tomozuna oyakata: I go there from Monday to Friday. I enjoy working there.
LMDS : Do you teach them as well?
Tomozuna oyakata: No, I don’t teach rikishi. In the school, elder rikishi teach new rikishi. Some oyakata coach the elder rikishi about the teaching method. My position is to manage the school overall, as a Director.
Some rikishi just graduated from Junior High School, some rikishi graduated from universities. In the school, there is no distinction between university graduates and others. They are the same. They become professional from now on. Therefore, they learn what the professional sumo wrestler “mental attitude” is.
LMDS: Do you think Kaio is the best ozeki in modern times?
Tomozuna oyakata: Observing ozeki in the modern era, Kaio is not the best ozeki yet. He still has to learn a lot of things.
LMDS: When did you recruit Kaio?
Tomozuna oyakata: When I was still a sumo wrestler, there was a sumo competition in Kyushu (Kaio is from Kyushu). Kaio participated in the competition. He was already well-built as a teenager and was a nice boy. I had an acquaintance in Nogata (Kaio’s hometown) who introduced Kaio to me. When his graduation from Junior High School was approaching, I met him and invited him into the sumo world.
LMDS: Do you think he already deserved to be promoted to yokozuna, because of his 5 yusho?
Tomozuna oyakata: Yes, he has enough ability to become Yokozuna. The only negative issue is his physical condition. He needs to adjust his physical condition and his own sumo.
LMDS: Knowing his superman strength, do you know why Kaio spent so much time in sanyaku (about 5 years) before going higher?
Tomozuna oyakata: First, he didn’t have enough mental strength. Also, again, it was necessary to intertwine his physical condition and his own sumo. His power-oriented sumo is not always good for his body although his sumo often make his fans and audience happy. Kaio’s upper body is much stronger than his lower body. He does his sumo based on his upper body power, which leads him to have an overall negative body condition.
LMDS: Was it because the other rikishi like Akebono, Takanohana, Wakanohana, and Musashimaru were too good, or was it because of his lack of self-confidence?
Tomozuna oyakata: Musashimaru and Akebono were physically big. Therefore, they had more power than other rikishi, which led them to Yokozuna. As for Takanohana and Wakanohana, they based their sumo on their lower body power, which is different from Kaio’s. Watching sumo, the audience is happy to see Kaio’s powerful uwatenage, but, in fact, he is not good at uwatenage from the technical point of view. His upper body power is very strong, therefore, he throws his opponents easily.
Technically speaking, uwatenage needs the body axis, then, the body turns using a drawing arc to throw the opponents. Kaio does uwatenage with his upper body strength without a drawing arc based on the axis. Therefore, his body has too much pressure.
Really strong rikishi need to win by “yorikiri”. How many “yorikiri” can be done in 15 days - that is very important. The oshi-zumo type of wrestlers need to win by “oshidashi”.
LMDS : The last two bouts in Haru basho, Kaio took uwate, then pushed the opponents to dohyo-giwa throwing uwatenage, then, won by yorikiri in the end. What do you think of that combination?
Tomozuna oyakata: That is ok. Probably, the audience was confused why Kaio didn’t throw them down by uwatenage, but, what he actually did on the last two days was good for his body. If he can take that kind of sumo, he can continue much longer and will have fewer injuries.
LMDS: I think his sumo has changed a little since last November.
Tomozuna oyakata: Right. There are fewer “nage”.
LMDS: When did Kaio impress you the most? Why?
Tomozuna oyakata: Yes, there are many times. When he entered the sumo-world, he didn’t like sumo. In this early stage, we tried everything for him to make him like sumo. After a few years, he came to like sumo, then, his sumo changed.
Since then, observing his career, he developed a real sense of what sumo is.
LMDS: Do you expect Kaio to stay within the heya when he retires, or do you want him to start his own heya from scratch?
Tomozuna oyakata: It depends on him. If he wants to start a new heya, I am OK with that. If he wants to stay in Tomozuna-beya, it is also ok. One thing I want to say is that he will need at least a two- year stay in Tomozuna-beya to learn to be a good shisho before starting his new heya.
LMDS: Do you plan to change something in Kaio's training?
Tomozuna oyakata: Yes, it is necessary to change his keiko program. Previously, the programme was to learn technique. Now, he needs one related to his body condition.
LMDS: There has been less keiko with other sekitori. What do you think?
Tomozuna oyakata: No problem. At this stage, it doesn’t matter for Kaio to have keiko with other sekitori. What is important for him from now on is that he adjusts his body condition and muscle building to go through the 15 days of each basho.
LMDS: As a rikishi, what was your best memory?
Tomozuna oyakata: When I achieved a high enough rank to be able to oppose the Yokozuna at the last bout of the day. It was 1976, I think. The opponent was Wajima or Kitanoumi...
LMDS: Do you have friends or mates in the sumo world?
Tomozuna oyakata: Yes. Takekuma oyakata (former Kurohimeyama, who belongs to Tomozuna-beya) and former Haguroyama. They are my seniors and they give me advice even now.
LMDS: To date, what is your greatest pleasure as a shisho
Tomozuna oyakata: When my proteges grow up. If all of them could achieve success in the sumo world, it would be wonderful. However, some rikishi have to give up and leave sumo in the early stages. They change their careers. When they are content to work in other societies, I am happy for that. They tried their best in the sumo world, but unfortunately they didn’t succeed in this world. They move on to another sector and work hard, which is one of the signs that they are grown up, and I am happy to see that they are fine.
LMDS: Tomozuna beya is a relatively small heya. How do you feel about that?
Is it good or not?
Do you plan to recruit more rikishi?
Tomozuna oyakata: I became “sekitori” although the heya where I was raised was also a small heya. Therefore, I don’t care about the size of heya. I think I can take care of 15 rikishi, maximum. I cannot pay close attention to each rikishi if I have more than 15.
As for keiko sessions, sometimes it is inconvenient. However, there are many other heya near here. We often do keiko with Azumazeki-beya. So, being a small heya doesn’t matter.
LMDS: How do you recruit rikishi?
Tomozuna oyakata: I receive a lot of information from everywhere. Then, I go there to meet them.
LMDS: What do you think about the heya from a business point of view?
Tomozuna oyakata: I concentrate on developing rikishi. I always try to make a good environment for rikishi – a heya where all rikishi can concentrate on their sumo life. My wife takes care of the management of the heya. She doesn’t tell me much about the business situation, so I don’t know much about it.(laughing)
LMDS: Are you frustrated to see your former deshi, Sentoryu, now competing in Pride?
Tomozuna oyakata: Everybody has their own ideas.
LMDS: There are some former sumo wrestlers who move on to Pride, K1, and Pro-wrestling. What do you think of that?
Tomozuna oyakata: To be honest with you, I do not want them to move on to other fighting worlds. Akebono, Sentoryu… they changed their careers, but they are not so good in their new fighting styles. I think it gives a negative image of the sumo world.
I wonder if we can stop them from using the “shikona” such as Akebono and Sentoryu when they walk away from the sumo world. In the sumo world, there are “former Yokozuna” or “former rikishi”, but, I don’t want them to use those names in a different world. Those names belong to the sumo world only, I think. I wonder if the Japan Sumo Association can get a patent for that.
LMDS: Did the spirit of Tomozuna-beya change when Oitekaze oyakata left to create his own heya in 1998?
Tomozuna oyakata: No, there is no difference.
LMDS: How did you feel to see Hayateumi and Daishodai, future sekitori, leaving with him?
Tomozuna oyakata: I see them doing well. But I am a bit worried about Oitekaze-oyakata because he lacks diligence a little bit. (laughing) I am indebted to the former Oitekaze oyakata. Daishoyama married a daughter of the former Oyakata, then, he inherited the heya. Before he formally inherited the heya, he came to Tomozuna-beya to train to be oyakata.
Therefore, I am concerned about oyakata more than rakish. He is doing well, though.
LMDS: Do you feel the spirit of sumo has changed since you started your career in 1965?
What are the good and the bad things about it?
Tomozuna oyakata: It is very different. While it is getting worse, it is not only the sumo world, but also other aspects of society as well. Young people lack patience. Some young people jump into the sumo world but most of them consider sumo as “temporary work”. Of course, not everybody. I think it depends on their parents. Therefore, when I recruit young rikishi, I always try to meet their parents as well.
LMDS: Is sumo world changing because of so many foreign rikishi?
Tomozuna oyakata: Yes. Now, foreigners become sekitori much faster than Japanese rikishi. Therefore, we need to teach foreign rikishi about sumo customs, conventions, traditions, and manners very carefully. They become sekitori before learning those important aspects, then, the sumo tradition is sometimes destroyed. However, their mental toughness is great.
LMDS: By the way, do you have holidays? When you are off, what do you do?
Tomozuna oyakata: (Smiling) Well, there are no regular holidays. However, I play golf when I have time...
LMDS: Thank you very much for your time.
Tomozuna oyakata: You are very welcome.
Thanks a lot to Harumi Hotta and Alexandre Pecking
who made this interview possible !
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