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SUMO/ Feisty Konishiki challenges sport’s unwritten code on henka

时间:2024-07-25 23:11:01 出处:阅读(143)

SUMO/ Feisty Konishiki challenges sport’s unwritten code on henka

By KENSUKE SUZUKI/ Staff Writer

April 7, 2024 at 07:00 JST

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Photo/IllutrationRetired sumo wrestler Konishiki, a former ozeki rank holder (Kensuke Suzuki)

  • Photo/Illutration

In the highly structured world of sumo, wrestlers are expected to maintain decorum at all times, both in and outside the dohyo.

There is also an unwritten code of conduct over fighting styles and woe betide any transgressor.

Consider, for example, the playoff at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament last year when ozeki Takakeisho defeated lower ranking Atamifuji by using the henka technique, an evasive side step generally used at the start of a match.

Although the maneuver is legal, sumo bosses and fans generally disapprove of the move, viewing it as a way to avoid a direct clash against an opponent to secure a quick, easy victory.

In short, it is not considered an honorable or dignified way to fight, especially for champion yokozuna and ozeki, the sport’s second highest rank.

Now, hugely popular former ozeki Konishiki has come wading into the fray by defending Takakeisho and offering a different perspective.

One of the most beloved wrestlers of his generation, Konishiki was the first foreign-born rikishi to make it to ozeki.

The 60-year-old big Hawaiian, now long retired, sat down for an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Excerpts follow:

Question: Takakeisho came in for a lot of criticism for using the henka technique in his match with Atamifuji. What is your view on that?

Konishiki:I think Takakeisho had no other way. You can’t blame him. 

Takakeisho was in poor form after returning from a break due to an injury to both knees. He only managed to win his 11th match on the final 15th day of the tournament. He seemed too exhausted for the playoff. On the other hand, the 21-year-old Atamifuji was at the top of his game. I would have been tempted to use henka, too, in that situation.

Q:What sort of pressure do top-ranking wrestlers like Takakeisho face?

A:Rank is everything in the world of sumo. In particular, the top-ranking yokozuna and the following ozeki are in a class of their own. If an ozeki loses to a young wrestler, he will face bitter criticism. If a yokozuna loses a championship, he will be called “pathetic.”

The wrestler is the one who is fighting. Audiences certainly want to see exciting, dynamic bouts, but it is the wrestler who has to take the risk of losing. No one else will take responsibility for him. After all, he fights alone in the ring.

Q:Have you ever tried a henka yourself as an active wrestler?

A:I only did it once during my active career, but my stable master (Takasago, the former yokozuna Asashio) got mad at me for that. I don’t understand why it’s criticized so much. Is it because it’s not considered a “fair and square” sumo move?

I don’t think it’s cheating.

Actually, henka is the most risky technique. Your body lifts up when you jump to the side. If your opponent doesn’t get tricked and quickly reacts to your move, you’ll be pushed out and it’s over.

If you fail it, you’re almost guaranteed to lose. If the opponent has a strong, well-trained lower body, he’ll be able to counter the tricky move.

Atamifuji would have won the playoff had he been stronger.

In the first place, there is no rule against henka or hatakikomi (or slap down, a similar but more common technique), so there is no reason to complain.

I mean, is bunting in baseball bad? Is intentional walking a violation of the rules? I’ve heard that the Japan Sumo Association also criticized Takakeisho, but if that’s the case, they should just ban henka. Then no one will do it.

Q:But the association avoids establishing absolute rules, doesn’t it? And its criteria for promoting an ozeki to yokozuna is also vague.

A:That’s right. The association says a wrestler must win two consecutive tournaments as an ozeki or achieve a similar result to be promoted to yokozuna.

However, in reality, there have been wrestlers who have become yokozuna without winning a single tournament, such as Futahaguro (who was promoted in 1986). If consecutive tournament victories were an absolute requirement, there would be many wrestlers who would not have become yokozuna. On the other hand, I was not promoted even after winning three tournaments.

So Takakeisho doesn’t need to worry about the criticism. I didn’t care at all either. Most of the people who complain are those who wouldn’t dare say a word in the face of the person they’re grumbling about.

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