Yokozuna (sumo): Wikis

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A Makuuchi fight with 69th Yokozuna Hakuhō beating his rival as 68th Yokozuna Asashōryu watches in the background

Makuuchi (幕内 ?) or (makunouchi (幕の内 ?) is the top division of professional sumo. Its size is fixed at 42 wrestlers, ordered into five ranks according to their ability as defined by their performance in previous tournaments.

This is the only division that is featured on NHK's standard live coverage of sumo tournaments. The lower divisions are shown on their BS satellite coverage, with only makuuchi broadcast having bilingual commentary.

Makuuchi literally means "inside the curtain", a reference to the early period of professional sumo, when there was a curtained-off area reserved for the top ranked wrestlers to sit prior to appearing for their bouts.

Wrestlers are considered for promotion or demotion in rank prior to each grand tournament according to their performance in the one previous. Generally, a greater number of wins than losses (kachikoshi) results in a promotion, and the reverse (makekoshi) results in demotion. There are stricter criteria for promotion to the top two ranks, which are also privileged when considered for demotion.

Contents

Overview

At the top of the division are the "titleholder" or sanyaku ranks of yokozuna, ōzeki, sekiwake and komusubi. There are typically 8-12 sanyaku wrestlers, with the remainder, called maegashira, ranked in numerical order from 1 downwards.

Sanyaku (三役) literally means "the three ranks", even though it actually comprises four ranks. The discrepancy arose because the yokozuna was traditionally regarded as an ōzeki with a special license to wear a particular rope around his waist and perform a distinctive ring entry ceremony. In modern use sanyaku has a somewhat flexible definition, sometimes not including yokozuna — thus resulting in three sanyaku ranks — and sometimes even ōzeki is not regarded as part of sanyaku.

There are normally two wrestlers each in sekiwake and komusubi, although there may be more and there must be at least one. Although there is usually a yokozuna there is no requirement for one, and it has sometimes happened that no active yokozuna are listed in the ranks. If there is more than one yokozuna but only one ōzeki, the lower rank will be filled out by designating one of the yokozuna as yokozuna-ōzeki. There is no recorded instance of there being fewer than two yokozuna and ōzeki in total.

There are a number of privileges and responsibilities associated with the sanyaku ranks. Any wrestler who reaches one of them is entitled to purchase one of the membership shares in the Japan Sumo Association, regardless of the total number of tournaments they have spent in the top makuuchi division. They may be called on to represent all sumo wrestlers on certain occasions. For example, when the president of the Sumo Association makes a formal speech on the opening and closing days of a tournament, he is flanked by all the sanyaku wrestlers in their mawashi. Similarly they may be called to assist in welcoming a VIP, such as the Emperor, to the arena.

The sanyaku can be split into two groups: The senior yokozuna and ozeki, and junior sekiwake and komusubi.

The former group have special promotion criteria and higher salaries, and have additional perks such as a higher number of junior wrestlers to assist them, an entitlement to park in the Sumo Association compound and voting rights in the election for Association directors. Senior yokozuna and ozeki also have added responsibilities. They are expected to represent wrestler views to the Association, assist in advertising events and meet event sponsors.

The latter group, sekiwake and komusubi, have lesser responsibilities and are still eligible for one of the three special prizes, or sansho that are awarded for exceptional performance at the end of each tournament.

Yokozuna

For more information on individual yokozuna please see the List of yokozuna which also has links to their individual articles.

Yokozuna Asashoryu (center) performing the ring-entering ceremony while flanked by a sword bearer on the left and dew sweeper on the right.

Yokozuna (横綱 yokozuna ?) is the highest rank in sumo. The name literally means "horizontal rope" and comes from the most visible symbol of their rank, the rope (tsuna) worn around the waist. The rope is similar to the shimenawa used to mark off sacred areas in Shinto, and like shimenawa serves to purify and mark off its content. The rope, which may weigh up to 20 kilograms, is not used during the matches themselves, but is worn during the yokozuna's dohyo-iri ring entrance ceremony.

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History of yokozuna

The birth of the rank of yokozuna is unclear, and there are two competing legends. According to one, a 9th-century wrestler named Hajikami tied a shimenawa around his waist as a handicap and dared any to touch it, creating sumo as we know it in the process. According to the other, legendary wrestler Akashi Shiganosuke tied the shimenawa around his waist in 1630 as a sign of respect when visiting the Emperor, and was posthumously awarded the title for the first time. There is little supporting evidence for either theory — in fact, it is not even certain that Akashi was a historical figure — but it is known that by November 1789, yokozuna starting from the fourth yokozuna Tanikaze Kajinosuke and the fifth yokozuna Onogawa Kisaburō were depicted in ukiyo-e prints as wearing the shimenawa. These two wrestlers were both awarded yokozuna licences by the prominent Yoshida family.

Prior to the Meiji Era, the title yokozuna was conferred on ōzeki who performed sumo in front of the Shogun. This privilege was more often determined by a wrestler's patron having sufficient influence rather than purely on the ability and dignity of the wrestler. Thus there are a number of early wrestlers who were, by modern standards, yokozuna in name only. In these early days yokozuna was also not regarded as a separate rank in the listings, but as an ozeki with special dispensation to perform his own ring entering ceremony.

At first, the Yoshida family and a rival family, Gojo, fought for the right to award a wrestler a yokozuna licence. The Yoshida family won this dispute, because the 15th yokozuna Umegatani Tōtarō I, one of the strongest wrestlers, expressed his wish that he be awarded a licence by the Yoshida family in February 1884, and Gojo licences are no longer recognized officially.

In May 1890, the name yokozuna was written on the banzuke for the first time due to the 16th yokozuna Nishinoumi Kajirō I's insistence that his yokozuna status be recorded. In February 1909, during the reigns of the 19th yokozuna, Hitachiyama Taniemon, and the 20th, Umegatani Tōtarō II, it was officially recognized as the highest rank. Since the establishment of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council (横綱審議委員会 Yokozuna shingi iinkai ?) on April 21, 1950, wrestlers have been promoted to yokozuna by the Japan Sumo Association. The first yokozuna promoted by the Sumo Association was the 41st yokozuna Chiyonoyama Masanobu.

Criteria for promotion to yokozuna

In modern sumo, the qualifications that an ōzeki must satisfy to be promoted are that he has enough power, skill and dignity/grace (品格 hinkaku) to qualify. There are no absolute criteria, nor is there a set quota: there have been periods with no wrestlers at yokozuna rank, and there have been periods with up to four simultaneously.

The power and skill aspects are usually considered with reference to recent tournament performance. The de facto standard is to win two consecutive championships as ozeki or an equivalent performance. In the case where the "equivalent performance" criterion is used the wrestler's record over the previous three tournaments is taken into account with an expectation at least one tournament victory and two runner up performances, with none of the three records falling below twelve wins. Thus a consistent high level of performance is required. Winning two tournaments with a poor performance between them is not usually sufficient. The rules are not set in stone and hence the Yokozuna Deliberation Council and Sumo Association can interpret the criteria more leniently or strictly and also take other factors, such as total number of tournament victories, and the quality of the wins and whether the losses show any bad vulnerabilities in reaching their conclusion.

The issue of hinkaku (dignity and grace) is more contentious, as it is essentially a subjective issue. For example Hawaiian born ozeki Konishiki, in particular, was felt by many to be unfairly kept from yokozuna status due to his non Japanese origin, and many Sumo Association members even openly said that foreigners (gaijin) could never achieve the hinkaku needed to be a yokozuna. In the case of Konishiki, other issues such as his weight were also cited.[1] Other wrestlers in the past have also been held back. For example Chiyonoyama in the 1950s was not immediately promoted due to his relative youth despite winning consecutive tournaments, although he later achieved the top rank.[2] On the other hand, Futahaguro was given the title of yokozuna in 1986, despite immaturity being cited in opposition to his promotion.[3] After being promoted, he was involved in several misbehaviors that embarrassed the Sumo Association such as hitting one of his tsukebitos (manservant or personal assistant) over a trivial matter in a scandal that had all of his six tsukebitos decide to leave him.[4] The promotion again proved to be a total fiasco when it was later revealed that he had a heated argument with his stable boss, Tatsunami, and stormed out of the heya, allegedly striking Tatsunami's wife on the way. Futahaguro eventually retired after only one and a half year at the top rank and became the only yokozuna in sumo history ever to retire without having won at least one top division championship.

The debate concerning foreigners having the dignity to be a yokozuna was finally laid to rest on January 27, 1993, when ozeki Akebono was formally promoted to yokozuna after only 8 months as an ozeki. Since then three other overseas wrestlers have also achieved sumo's ultimate rank: Musashimaru, Asashoryu, and Hakuhō.

Becoming a yokozuna

Elevation to yokozuna rank is a multi-stage process. After a tournament, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, a body of "lay people" (that is, not former sumo wrestlers) who are appointed by the Japan Sumo Association to provide an independent quality control on Yokozuna promotion, meet and discuss the performance of the top-ranked wrestlers. Usually at the instigation of the Japan Sumo Association they can make a recommendation that a particular ozeki-ranked wrestler has the necessary attributes to be promoted. Their recommendation is then passed to the Judging division and then the Board of Directors of the Sumo Association who make the final decision.

If a wrestler is deemed to have met the criteria then he will be formally visited in his training stable by a member of the Sumo Association Board of Directors who will formally give him the news. In the following days a yokozuna hawser will then be made in his stable and he will practice the ring entrance ceremony with advice from a previous or current yokozuna. Finally he will have his inaugural ceremonial ring entry ceremony held at Meiji Jingu in Tokyo, which is usually completed within a couple of weeks after the tournament ends.

In competition in each tournament for the championship he can never be relegated. A yokozuna is expected to retire if he is no longer able to compete at the peak of the sport. As a result of this, the system for promotion is quite strict.

Yokozuna ceremonies and traditions

Asashoryu's Unryu-style Yokozuna Dohyo-iri
Hakuho's Shiranui-style Yokozuna Dohyo-iri

The formal birth of the rank from Tanikaze's time appears to have in part come from a desire to let the very best have a separate ring entry ceremony (dohyō-iri) from the remaining top division wrestlers. The dohyō-iri is a ceremonial presentation of all the top division wrestlers which is held prior to the competitive bouts of the day. The normal ceremony for top division wrestlers is to be introduced and form a circle around the wrestling ring (dohyō) wearing specially decorated heavy silk "aprons", called kesho mawashi. A brief symbolic "dance" is carried out before filing off to change into their fighting mawashi and prepare for their bouts.

A yokozuna, however, is introduced after the lower ranked wrestlers and is flanked by two other top division wrestler "assistants". The "dewsweeper" or tsuyuharai precedes the Yokozuna, while the "sword bearer" or tachimochi follows him into the arena. The sword is a Japanese katana and symbolises the samurai status of the yokozuna. The tachimochi will always be the more highly ranked of the assisting wrestlers. As indicated above, during the ceremony the yokozuna will wear his tsuna around his waist. The ceremonial aprons of all three form a matching set.

Once in the ring the yokozuna takes centre stage and performs a much more complex ritual dance. The dance can take one of two forms, one of which the yokozuna usually chooses when he is first promoted. In addition to the slightly different routine the choice of the yokozuna's ritual can also be determined by the knot used to tie the rope around his waist. The currently more popular "Unryū" style has only one loop at the back, while the "Shiranui" style has two. The styles are named after two famous yokozuna of the Edo period, although there is no historical proof that they actually carried out the dances that have been attributed to them. Indeed there are some scholars who believe that in fact the two concerned have had their ring entering rituals mixed up.

If a former yokozuna reaches the age of sixty, he usually performs a special ring-entering ceremony known as kanreki dohyō-iri, in celebration of his longevity.

If a yokozuna is defeated by a lower ranked wrestler, it is common and expected for audience members to throw their seat cushions into the ring (and onto the wrestlers).

As of June 2007, there have been a grand total of 69 yokozuna, although formal recordkeeping only started with Tanikaze and Onogawa in 1789. For a list of all the yokozuna recorded through history, see here.

Active yokozuna

The two currently active yokozuna are:

  • Asashoryu (朝青龍), the 68th yokozuna, from Mongolia, promoted January 2003
  • Hakuho (白鵬), the 69th yokozuna, also from Mongolia, promoted May 2007

Ōzeki

The ōzeki (大関), or champion rank, is immediately below yokozuna, in the ranking system. Until the yokozuna rank was introduced, ōzeki was the highest rank attainable.

Promotion to ōzeki

The promotion of a wrestler to ōzeki is a multi-tournament process. A wrestler at the rank of sekiwake will be considered for promotion if he has achieved a total of at least 30 wins over the three most recent tournaments, including 10 or more wins in the tournament just completed. Promotion is discretionary and there are no hard-and-fast rules, though a three-tournament record of 33 wins is considered a near-guarantee. Other factors toward promotion will include tangibles such as winning a tournament or defeating yokozuna, as well as the rikishi's overall consistency, prowess, and quality of sumo - for example, a record of illegal maneuvers or reliance on certain dodging techniques would count against the dignity expected of an ōzeki.

Promotions are recommended by the Judging Division to the Board of Directors of the Japan Sumo Association. If it is a first promotion to the rank a member of the Board of Directors will formally visit the wrestler's stable to inform the new ōzeki of his promotion. The ōzeki will usually make a speech on this occasion promising to do his best to uphold the dignity of the rank.

During the Edo period, wrestlers often made their debuts as ōzeki based on size alone, though their real competitiveness hadn't been tested yet. The system was called Guest ōzeki (看板大関 (kanban ōzeki ?)). Of course, most of them vanished from the banzuke soon after, but a few wrestlers, notably Tanikaze Kajinosuke, remained as real wrestlers.

Relegation from ōzeki

Like the other sanyaku ranks, but unlike a yokozuna, an ozeki may be relegated. For an ozeki, relegation is a two-step procedure. First, the ozeki must lose more bouts than he wins in a tournament; losing a majority of bouts is called makekoshi. At this point, the ozeki is called kadoban. If he wins a majority of bouts in the next tournament (which is called kachikoshi), he is restored to regular ozeki status. If, on the other hand, he loses a majority of bouts while kadoban, he is relegated to sekiwake.

In the tournament immediately following his relegation from ozeki, if a wrestler wins ten or more bouts, he is immediately restored to ozeki status. However, if he fails to win ten or more matches in his first tournament back as sekiwake, he is treated just like any other wrestler in further attempts at being promoted back to ozeki. This system has been in place since the Nagoya Tournament of 1969. Since that time, four wrestlers have managed an immediate return to ozeki: Mienoumi, Takanonami, Musoyama and Tochiazuma (who managed it on two separate occasions).

Benefits of being an ozeki

In addition to a salary increase there is a number of perks associated with reaching ozeki rank:

  • He is guaranteed a higher rank in the Sumo Association when he first retires
  • He will be given a three year temporary membership of the Sumo Association on his retirement if he does not yet own a share.
  • He will receive a special merit payment on his retirement (the amount decided by his strength and longevity as an ozeki)
  • He has a parking space in the Sumo Association headquarters
  • He can vote in the election of the Sumo Association Directors
  • Normally he will receive additional support from his stable in terms of junior wrestlers to act as his manservants.
  • He can wear purple fringed ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi)
  • An ozeki can normally act as a dewsweeper or swordbearer for a yokozuna ring entrance ceremony.
  • He may be called on to represent the wrestlers on formal occasions such as when VIPs visit a Sumo Tournament, or on formal visits to Shinto Shrines.

List of active ōzeki

Sekiwake

Sekiwake (関脇 sekiwake ?) is the third highest rank in professional sumo wrestling, and is one of the sanyaku ranks. It is believed to come from guarding the ozeki (大関 or 関) at his side (脇).

It represents the highest rank a wrestler can achieve by continuously making a kachikoshi (majority of wins) in tournaments. Promotion to sekiwake depends on either a space being available, which is quite common, or having a record in the previous tournament that is very convincing, typically 10-5 or better as a komusubi. There are special promotion criteria for the next highest rank of ozeki. Unlike the higher ranks of ozeki and yokozuna, one will lose the rank immediately after having a makekoshi tournament (more losses than wins).

For many purposes this and the komusubi rank are treated together as the junior sanyaku ranks, as opposed to ozeki and yokozuna. For example records of number of tournaments ranked in junior sanyaku are often referred to in sumo publications.

For wrestlers reaching this rank the benefits are similar to that for a komusubi. The salary is higher than for a maegashira and also the wrestler is usually called to appear to flank the chairman of the Sumo Association during the speeches he makes on opening and closing days of the fifteen day tournaments that are held six times a year. He may also be called on to represent the wrestlers on behalf of the Sumo Association at other events, especially if the number of ozeki and yokozuna is low. If this is the highest rank a wrestler reaches, even if it is only for one tournament, he will always be referred to as "former sekiwake (ring name)" after his retirement, which is an indicator of a successful sumo career, whilst not achieving the exceptional standards of the highest two ranks.

At any time there must be a minimum of two wrestlers ranked at sekiwake. If circumstances require, this can rise typically to three or four. The minimum of two requirement means that a certain amount of luck can lead to wrestlers achieving this rank on occasion, if the performance of other wrestlers leaves no obvious candidates to fill the rank. This luck factor is less common than it is for komusubi promotions.

Komusubi

Komusubi (小結 komusubi ?) literally means "the little knot", the knot referring to the match up between two wrestlers. It is the fourth highest rank in sumo wrestling and is the lowest of the so called titleholder ranks, or sanyaku.

It is also the lowest rank where achieving a kachikoshi (or majority of wins) is no longer sufficient to guarantee promotion to a higher rank. Promotion to the next highest rank, sekiwake, depends on either a space being available, which is quite common, or having a record in the previous tournament that is very convincing, typically 10-5 or better.

For many purposes this and the sekiwake rank are treated together as the junior sanyaku ranks, as opposed to ozeki and yokozuna, where extremely stringent promotion criteria exist. For example records of number of tournaments ranked in junior sanyaku are often referred to in sumo publications.

For wrestlers reaching this rank the benefits are a salary increase and also appearing to flank the chairman of the Sumo Association during the speeches he makes on opening and closing days of the official tournaments, held six times a year. He may also be called on to represent the wrestlers on behalf of the Sumo Association at other events, especially if the number of ozeki and yokozuna are low. If this is the highest rank a wrestler reaches, even if it is only for one tournament, he will always be referred to as "former komusubi (ring name)" after his retirement, which is an indicator of a fairly successful sumo career.

At any time there must be a minimum of two wrestlers ranked as komusubi. If circumstances require this can rise, typically to three or four. The minimum of two requirement means that a certain amount of luck can lead to wrestlers achieving this rank on occasion, if the performance of other wrestlers leaves no obvious candidates to fill the rank.

Komusubi is widely regarded as a difficult rank to maintain, as wrestlers at this rank are likely to face all the ozeki and yokozuna in the first week of a tournament, with a yokozuna normally scheduled for the opening day. Komusubi face mainly maegashira in the second week, but often wrestlers new to the rank are so demoralised by this point that they lose these matches too. Few men making their komusubi debut return a kachi-koshi or winning score.

Before World War II there were several instances of komusubi immediately advancing to ozeki after nearly winning a tournament, but there have been no instances of this since then.

Maegashira

Maegashira (前頭) is the lowest of five ranks in the top makuuchi division.

All the makuuchi wrestlers who are not ranked in sanyaku are ranked as maegashira, from one at the top downwards. In each rank there are two wrestlers, the higher ranked is designated as "east" and the other as "west".

The number of wrestlers in makuuchi is fixed (at 42 since 2004) but the number in sanyaku is not. Thus the number of maegashira ranks can vary, but is typically between 15 and 17. (This gives a makuuchi division split of around 10 sanyaku and 32 maegashira).

Movement within the maegashira ranks can be minor or extreme, depending on a wrestler's score in the previous 15-bout tournament. For example, a maegashira-2 who has an 8-7 record might only be promoted one level to maegashira-1 for the next tournament. Conversely, a maegashira-14 that wins the division championship could be promoted as high as komusubi. Indeed, this happened in March 2000 when Takatoriki of the Futagoyama stable won the championship with a 13-2 record.

Maegashira ranked 5 or below are likely to only fight amongst themselves, while those ranked maegashira 4 or above are likely to have several matches against sanyaku wrestlers, including ozeki and yokozuna. When a maegashira defeats a yokozuna, it is called a kinboshi and he is rewarded monetarily for the victory for the remainder of his career.

References

  1. ^ Gould, Chris (April 2007). "Konishiki" (in English) (PDF). sumofanmag.com. http://www.sumofanmag.com/Dev/Issue_12/Konishiki.pdf. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  
  2. ^ Kuroda, Joe (December 2005). "Rikishi of Old: Chiyonoyama" (in English). sumofanmag.com. http://www.sumofanmag.com/content/Issue_4/Rikishi_of_Old.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  
  3. ^ 双羽黒 光司
  4. ^ Haberman, Clive (88-02-01). "Wrestler fails to keep hold on an honorable past" (in English). New York Times. http://www.juryo.net/newspaper/1980/19880102X.htm. Retrieved 2007-07-04.  

See also

External links


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