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Sumo in the Heisei Era Part 1: 1989

Discussion in 'Grappling Technique' started by Fork, Apr 2, 2019.

  1. Fork Forktopia

    Nov 7, 2005
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    As the Heisei era in Japan ends, officially coming to a close in May when Emperor Akihito abdicates the throne to make way for his eldest son Naruhito, I wanted to take the time to look back on the events in sumo during the period. Heisei saw records made and broken, the rise in influence of foreign wrestlers, and one of the biggest scandals in the sport’s history.

    These threads will largely follow the excellent video series The National Art of Sumo, a collection of highlight matches and events in the sumo world from the 1930’s to 2010, all of which I recommend for anyone interested in the history of sumo. For anyone completely new to the sport I would also recommend my Introduction to SUMO thread to help give a bit of context, but feel free to ask any questions you have about the sport.

    First, we’ll take a moment to look at just a few of the standout wrestlers of the previous Showa period, starting with a man who was there almost from the start, Futabayama. He made his debut in sumo in 1927 and competed until his retirement in 1945. Futabayama is most known for his series of 69 wins in a row, a record that has yet to be broken:

    Next, there was Taiho who was widely regarded as the greatest sumo wrestler in history, and who held the record for most top division championships (32) for over 40 years, and was thought of as a mentor by the man that surpassed him. He also held an impressive win streak, winning 45 matches in a row:

    Finally, there was Chiyonofuji who we’ll discuss as we look at the state of sumo at the end of the Showa era. Three Yokozuna, all hailing from the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, bridged the Showa and Heisei eras: Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, and Onokuni. Chiyonofuji, the most dominant of the three and likely the most beloved sumo wrestler in history, won the final four tournaments of the year and had just finished his astounding 53 match win streak when he lost to Onokuni in the final match of the Showa era.

    From left to right: Chiyonofuji, Hokutoumi, and Onokuni

    The start of the Heisei era (timestamped):

    The Showa emperor (Hirohito) died January 7th 1989, bringing the Showa era to a close. His reign saw Japan develop into the second largest economy in the world, but was marred by the country’s militaristic and expansionist policies, and role in World War II. In his honor a vase of Chrysanthemum flowers was placed in the Emperor’s seats to oversee the first day of the January sumo tournament, the first tournament of the new Heisei era.

    1989 would be dominated by the two Yokozuna Chiyonofuji and Hokutoumi, winning three and two yusho (championships) respectively. Chiyonofuji and Hokutoumi both trained at the same stable, and would meet in a playoff in the July tournament (stablemates do not compete against each other in tournaments, but can be matched up in playoffs if their records are tied) in a match which Chiyonofuji won, marking the first time that two Yokozuna from the same stable had ever competed against each other. After winning the September tournament Chiyonofuji becomes the first sumo wrestler to receive the People’s Honor Award, given by the Prime Minister for outstanding achievements in sports or entertainment.

    The sixth tournament, however, would set the stage for an era that would come to be defined by the influence of foreign wrestlers. That tournament, the final tournament of 1989 in November, was won by Konishiki, a Hawai’ian born Japanese-Samoan wrestler. This was the first tournament won by a foreigner since Takamiyama (the first foreigner to win a tournament, Konishiki’s hero, and the man who recruited him into sumo) won a tournament in 1972.

    A young Konishiki with Takamiyama

    In that same November tournament, the man who would supplant Chiyonofuji as the dominant Japanese Yokozuna of the Heisei era makes his debut in the Juryo (second highest) division at just 17 years old. At the time his ring-name was Takahanada, but he would go on to change his name to Takanohana, becoming one of the most popular wrestlers the sport has ever seen.


    (As usual, I'll tag everyone that has posted in recent sumo threads)
    @babycart @EL CORINTHIAN @shincheckin @rmongler @JkMMA @PurpleStorm @Asurah @Sano @josh from md @Okajima @RJ Green @winterbike @LC Shepard @Bluesbreaker @hyu244 @s_o_c_a_r @Slick_36 @Senshi @Muppettoker @argy-bargy @Edison Carasio @ChainFlow @Oshime2 @DatCutman @catchwrestle @rodgerdodger @cw1234 @Sapp @Apollo33 @MoreKane @Zvengeance
  2. JosephDredd Gold Belt

    May 29, 2013
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    If you ever see a video of the gokyu of sumo, please post it. This is the only good vid I've ever found:

    Or any instructional video for sumo. I've never found any of those.
  3. Fork Forktopia

    Nov 7, 2005
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    so i don't really know what a "gokyu" is, but i'm assuming you're looking for some kind of breakdown of techniques used in the sport. you're right that instructional videos are (as far as i know) pretty rare and i've never seen any. regarding techniques, the method of winning a sumo match is called a kimarite, and there are 82 of them.

    they're not all here, but you can find examples of many kimarite on the NHK World sumo website. each video shows the technique being used in a match, and then done again slower in a stable.

    here is a youtube playlist of 72 kimarite, again with examples from matches rather than instructional examples:

    and here is an admittedly goofy but informational look at the techniques used in sumo:
  4. DatCutman Blue Belt

    Jan 22, 2014
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    They don't really exist. Tom Zabel has a book on Sumo with some good basic info on stance, movement, strategies, and throws ranked by frequency in competition. I'd recommend this book if you're looking to get a basic idea of basic training and drills, footwork, gripping, etc. The throw descriptions leave a lot to be desired.

    There's "Sumo for MMA," but frankly, I don't care much for it. Half of it is telling us about how great of an idea it would be, some sumo history, and then the throws. The problem is the detail/insight on the throws themselves are pretty lacking. To be frank (and this may be from my own lack of knowledge) I'm not sure about the skill level of "Andrew Zerling," the author. He professes to be a black belt in "multiple martial arts," but I can't actually figure out what they are. Further I can find no indication of any Amateur US Sumo victories. His linkedin page mentions he's a technical writer, so I'm wondering if he had minimal/low experience in Sumo, and just kind of said "hey this should work in MMA, right guys?" That said, if he wants to correct my ignorance, I'm certainly open to it. I also don't want to puff myself up as if I was a bigshot of Sumo compared to him. I'm no one of note either; my biggest accolade was getting 3rd for my weight class at a tournament in San Antonio (though I was mentioned in a blog post, so that's kind of neat I guess?).

    There's no discussions of the techniques, throws, or tactics, in English, beyond that. Not even bad stuff. It's pretty much just two books.

    Hell, even finding good Japanese info is difficult. Sumo stables are secretive. Also I think they take an "osmosis" perspective in training. I remember watching an interview with a guy who ran a sumo stable that you have to "find your techniques in the midst of battle."

    If you want to learn in the US, it's going to be tough. US Sumo competitions are nothing like Japan. You see a lot of people doing Sumo, and bringing in their grappling background, rather than...well, doing Sumo. Many wrestlers find success in the US, even with nonexistent tachiai games. There's a lot of success with the eastern bloc crowd, because by and large they're wrestlers. The aggression translates well, and they'll take a bent over posture (while staying balanced, of course), grab a single, and either force you out or sit you down. Cornelius Booker, who I believe beat out Justin Kizzart to represent the US in their weightclass, is a former high school wrestler (how far he got and how good he was as a wrestler, I don't know). So, wrestling apparently translates well in some regards.

    Judo is a solid basis for learning to throw; in fact, Judo has been cross trained by both Amateur and Professional Sumo wrestlers (Mainoumi and Takanoyama spring to mind in the professional realm; I vaguely remember reading Tochinoshin is training Judo, but I may be mixing that up with someone else). You'll obviously end up modifying some things (no collar or sleeve), but without a base understanding of throwing mechanics, you won't be able to learn it via Sumo alone. I'm not trying to brag, but I did Harai Goshi Justin Kizzart in training, and I'm shit at both Sumo and Judo.

    That aside, ultimately, the level of the sport is low in the US. The interest rate is low (except amongst grappling hipsters, like myself) due to the weird customs, offputting attire, and fat guys. Participation is low because interest is low. Also, there just aren't big names here. Compare to BJJ, where America is the goal, to retire from competition and to open up a gym. For Sumo, that isn't happening. To put things in perspective, Byamba the "Hakuho" of US Sumo, didn't make it out of Makushita in Japan (two levels below the televised matches). And he's the best we got, and the rest are not very close.

    All that to say, that's why you don't see instructional materials in English. Which is a shame, because there is a surprising depth to Sumo, and it is a fun sport. The fact you can't touch the ground with anything other than the bottoms of your feet lead you into a very "safe" takedown style (very little risk of getting sprawled on, no maneuvers where you're throwing yourself on the ground, etc.). It's essentially one or two mistakes, and you're toast. Additionally, the fact that BJJ has a belt (and no rules regarding gripping it for takedowns) makes it at least somewhat-translatable. Granted, the mawashi going both around the hips, and between the legs, make for a much better handle on the hips. Though most people are going to pull guard on you anyway.

    If you want insight into the throws of Sumo, my advice is take Judo, get a base understanding of how to throw, and google the Kimarite. There's a lot of similarities (Uchimatas, Seoi Nages, Hip throws, etc.). Hell, Kawazu Gake (a move banned in Judo) is originally a Sumo technique. From what I understand, the Judo name is derived from the Sumo wrestler that popularized it. I'm lucky that my Judo coach thinks Sumo is interesting, and uses Sumo as a game at the end of Judo classes (even before the creation of the Sumo group). However, it's still fun to do it in a Sumo context, with a mawashi, and with the ring out aspect.

    Learning pushing/thrusting is tough, but there are a few seminars/clinics/camps here and there across the country, so if you can, try and make it to some of those. That seems to be all they focus on, for better or for worse.

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