Signature Moves: Goeido’s Kubinage (“Neck Throw.”)

On the sumo forums and youtube videos that I frequent, Goeido doesn’t come off as one of the more popular sumotori. While, he isn’t exactly my current favorite rikishi either, I do acknowledge that he’s pretty unique for having a particular move strongly associated with him. For him, it’s the thrilling kubinage. Some sumo fans are all about the uwatenage (“overarm throw”), but to me, the kubinage is perhaps the most aesthetically beautiful throw out there. Goeido currently has 23 wins by kubinage. I’ve searched through a lot of records and besides him, the most I could find was around 5-6, and even that was pretty rare. I would venture to say (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) that Goeido could very well be the best practitioner of it in sumo’s modern era.

Kubinage against Aminishiki:

The kubinage is a very risky move, and is most often used as a last-ditch effort, right as a rikishi is being driven out at the edge. It’s risky because if you don’t pull it off, you’re side or even back is now exposed to your opponent, which is the worst position a sumotori can be in.

Beautiful-looking kubinage against Kisenosato:

Part of the reason that the move is so associated with Goeido is not just because of his unusual frequency in successfully utilizing it, it’s because he’s also pulled it off during some of the indelible, dramatic moments of his career.

Here’s an example where Goeido saves his ozeki rank with it against Tochiouzan:

This incredible use of it here against Harumafuji, pretty much sealed his sole championship, as no other huge threats were ahead of him after that. Check out that prefight stare-down too!

Again, the move is already inherently dramatic-looking, and is made even more dramatic because it’s usually done as a last-ditch effort. Add onto that, Goeido’s penchant for pulling it off during some of the key moments in his career, and despite whatever shortcomings he has as an ozeki one way or another, he’s at least earned the title of sumo’s, “Kubinage King.”

Bonus:

Against Hakuho:

The most nonchalant kubinage ever pulled:

As Kintamayama humorously comments, Goeido does the impossible: He somehow neck throws Takarafuji… the man with no neck.

A Collection of Matches that Secured Yokozuna Promotion.

Here’s some matches that solidified a rikishi’s promotion to yokozuna, that I think some might find interesting. Many of these bouts are great and thrilling matches, even regardless of the added significance of them.

Harumafuji defeats Hakuho (2012):

An incredible match. I personally show this particular bout when I want to introduce someone to sumo for the first time.

Akebono defeats Takanohana (1993):

An important historical match in sumo history, as Akebono clinches the yusho on the final day and becomes the first foreign-born rikishi to achieve the rank of yokozuna.

Takanohana defeats Akebono (1994):

Another great match! Takanohana secures his yokozuna promotion with two back to back zensho yusho’s.

Wakanohana defeats Musashimaru (1998):

A somewhat reckless overcharge by Musashimaru, and Wakanohana clinches the basho and subsequent yokozuna promotion.

Musashimaru defeats Akebono (1999):

Pure power battle. Musashimaru defeats his fellow Hawaiian-born sumotori on the final day and clinches his promotion. 

Kakuryu defeats Kotoshogiku (2014):

Pretty easy win for Kakuryu who secures the Yusho and back to back 14-1 records.

Chiyonofuji defeats Kitanoumi (1981:

Chiyonofuji vigorously drives out another dominant dai-yokozuna in Kitanoumi to win his second overall tournament and promotion.

Asahifuji defeats Chiyonofuji (1990):

Asahifuji was a bit of an unorthodox wrestler at times, and uses a fantastic last-effort move to defeat the great Chiyonofuji.

Asashoryu defeats Musoyama (2003):

Asashoryu actually secured the yusho two days before against Wakanosato, but I can’t find that match anywhere. He puts a punctuation mark for his promotion though, with this win.

Kisenosato defeats Ichinojo (2017:

Not as interesting as some of the others, since Kisenosato’s yusho win wasn’t really secured until Hakuho lost to Takanoiwa later on that day.

Hakuho defeats Chiyotaikai (2007):

Spirited effort, as always, from Chiyotaikai, but as usual Hakuho was too determined and too skilled to defeat that day.

Bonus: Hakuho defeats Asashoryu (2007):

Kinda funny to look back on it, but Hakuho (the arguable sumo GOAT) began his yokozuna run by henka’ing Asashoryu on the final day to win the first of  two consecutive tournaments.

 

Rikishi Profile: Kirishima Kazuhiro – Perhaps the Greatest of the Sumo Power Lifters.

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With Tochinoshin recently bringing in a lot of new international sumo fans, I thought I’d give a brief spotlight to a somewhat forgotten rikishi who fought in a similar power-sumo style. Like Tochinoshin, Kirishima became Ozeki relatively late in his career at the age of 31. In fact, he has the all-time record for being the slowest to ever reach the rank. Also like Tochinoshin, he was especially famous for his incredible strength, and tsuri-dashi (lift-out) wins in particular. He retired with an amazing 56 wins by tsuri-dashi, at nearly 10% of his total wins. By comparison, Tochinoshin currently has 22 tsuri-dashi wins for about 4% of his total wins, although he has about 7 years to match or surpass Kirishima, who retired at 37. Another winning technique that requires a tremendous amount of strength is the utchari, where a wrestler lifts and swings his opponent around at the edge. He had 19 wins by utchari including this notable example against the gigantic yokozuna Onokuni:

Kirishima vs yokozuna Onokuni:

He was a fitness freak, who would run before sumo training began, and then lift weights afterwards. He was also very undersized at around 280 lbs. Imagine someone who was around Harumafuji’s size (10 lbs. less in fact!), who instead wrestled with a strength-based, power style like Terunofuji. Rikishi were already big by that time too during the 80’s – early 90’s era in which he wrestled (around 15-20 lbs. smaller overall than today). He certainly wasn’t as strong overall as Baruto, Tochinoshin, Terunofuji or Akebono, and he didn’t get the sheer “air time” on his lift-outs that Tochinoshin does, but I personally consider him the greatest pure lifter in recent history at least, because of how small he was, and the fact that nearly all of the opponents he lifted out (besides Chiyonofuji) often outweighed him by 30-80lbs or more.

More video clips:

Against the great Chiyonofuji:

Winning his only championship against yokozuna Hokutoumi, while his family, wife, and supporters cheer him on:

Funny match against Mitoizumi, that had 3 torinaoshi’s! (redo’s):

Footage of him training, drinking a specially made protein drink his girlfriend would make for him, and eating with fellow stablemates Terao and Sakahoko (both now Oyakata). It’s from a Japanese documentary with no English subtitles unfortunately:

Signature Moves: Kakuryu’s Morozashi Mastery and the Fascinating History Behind It.

Note: I know a morozashi isn’t technically a move per se, as it’s a belt grip position, but we’ll let that slide in the name of “bro-science.”  😉

This past September tournament, there was a thrilling and shocking moment when Tochinoshin lifted Kakuryu out of the dohyo for an upset win (Kakuryu was undefeated and looking really sharp at that point).

We have lift-off!

A lot of sumo fans were extra shocked about this, because Kakuryu had already secured his deadly morozashi grip, which is widely known as the best in the entire division. Kakuryu has mastered it to the extent that it’s well understood that once he gets it, the match is practically over by that point. He’s also a cunning and unorthodox wrestler in certain aspects, especially his penchant for being more willing than most to sacrifice ring position in order to get a better belt hold—ideally his morozashi death grip. I maintain, that this can give a false sense of confidence to some of his opponents, as they seem to be easily driving him forward to the edge, when suddenly he locks in his morozashi and storms his way back.

While not a morozashi here, the way Kakuryu stormed his way back from a bad position against Mitakeumi this past tournament, is something rather common that he tends to do:

An earlier morozashi against Tochinoshin, with a different result:

Against the incredibly powerful Baruto:

While doing research for a profile on Terao, I uncovered an interesting connection for Kakuryu’s mastery of this belt position. Terao and his older brother Sakahoko were both sons of another rikishi named Tsurugamine. Tsurugamine, who wrestled from 1947-1967 was especially famous for his morozashi grip during his time, as he even had the nickname of: “Morozashi Meijin” (roughly Morozashi Master). Terao diverged from his father’s grappling style and utilized his own unique windmill-tsuppari style, now somewhat emulated by his pupil Abi. His elder brother Sakahoko on the other hand, took after their father and favored a yotsu-grappling style, and also became well known for his exceptional morozashi skill. Sakahoko of course, later became the oyakata of Kakuryu. Here’s a look at some of Sakahoko’s vids. In every one of these, including his losses, he gets his favored morozashi grip:

Sakahoko vs ozeki Asashio:

Sakahoko vs yokozuna Onokuni:

Sakahoko vs yokozuna Takanosato:

Sakahoko vs yokozuna Chiyonofuji.

To me, Sakahoko even slightly resembles a younger Kakuryu in these vids in build and movement (as Kakuryu was initially light at around 290lbs early in his career, which was about Sakahoko’s weight). This is a neat example of the depth and history intertwined into the sport itself, in something that isn’t so readily apparent without deeper inspection. The wrestlers often represent a much larger history and tradition beyond themselves in many different ways. I’m sure, this is one of the added reasons why many of us are fans of the sport. When we watch Kakuryu and his exceptional skill with the morozashi grip, there’s actually a long, storied lineage behind it. While Kakuryu hasn’t made it abundantly clear what he’s going to do when he retires, he’d undoubtedly be the favorite to take over the stable (as he’s the only current sekitori there) if he chooses to stay. If he does, I think it’s safe to say that he’ll continue to further pass-down that particular strain of tradition and knowledge going back generations.

More vids:

Kakuryu vs Hakuho: the morozashi legacy continues…

Kak and Hak pt. Deux:

Sakahoko vs Konishiki – Like oyakata like rikishi:

Rikishi Profile: Akebono – The First Foreign-Born Yokozuna.

*Note: I gathered a lot of this info from the book, “Gaijin Yokozuna” by Mark Panek, the book, “Takamiyama: The World of Sumo” by John Wheeler, various Wikipedia articles, and a slew of documentaries and TV specials, whose names I’ve since forgotten.*

The Historical Pretext:

Akebono is perhaps best known for his gigantic size and for being the first foreign born sumotori to reach the rank of yokozuna. However, Akebono’s ground-breaking promotion to sumo’s highest position was only made possible by several other Hawaiian sumotori that came before him, who piece-by-piece, slowly managed to chip away at the insular nature of the sumo world and give it the more diverse, international representation that it has today. Takamiyama, the oyakata that invited Akebono to Japan, was the first foreign born rikishi to win an upper-division championship. Although an affable and very popular figure in Japan during the 1970’s, he was very careful to keep his head down and not cause any waves. I.e., he was good and managed to have an incredibly long career, but he wasn’t good enough to ever threaten making the highest ranks. He was, in a sense, the perfect foreign representative, as he proved that foreign born rikishi could indeed adapt to both the sumo world and the Japanese lifestyle as well.

Japanese Commercial featuring a Cuddly Takamiyama:

Konishiki, the next Hawaiian sumotori to follow him on the other hand, was not only vastly different in terms of temperament, he was also indeed good enough to actually threaten making the top ranks. Unlike Takamiyama, Konishiki had a brash and outspoken personality. His rapid rise, inelegant brute-force style, and gargantuan size (about 630lbs at his peak), left a bad impression in the eyes of some sumo purists. In 1992, after winning two out of the previous 3 tournaments and getting a 12-3 record in the other, some felt that he should’ve been promoted to yokozuna. He himself was quoted as saying that if he was Japanese he would’ve already been promoted—something he later denied saying and subsequently apologized for. The current thought that some in the sumo world had at the time, was that foreign born rikishi would never possess the appropriate grace and honorable qualities required by the lofty rank, with some Japanese sumo elders and newspaper articles openly stating that. Nevertheless, he was denied the promotion, and honestly in hindsight that looked like it was the correct call because his career soon went on a huge downswing after that. Still, the blunt and forceful way he burst onto the scene and made his large presence known, required the sumo world to take a harder look at the issue and helped further pave the way for Akebono’s later ascension.

Konishiki moving shockingly well for a 550+ lb man:

Sumo Career:

At 6’8”, Akebono’s long, gangly limbs were initially seen as a huge handicap, as he was thought to be too top-heavy and prone to getting swept and thrown. In fact, his younger brother Ola, who had a more balanced and ideal sumo body type similar to Musashimaru, was actually the more prized recruit. Takamiyama practically agreed to accept Akebono as a throw-in, on the condition that he would later get his brother Ola to join, who was only 16 at the time and would have to wait a couple more years to be eligible. Upon arriving in sumo, Akebono quickly learned that he would have to keep as low as possible, and utilized an incredibly fierce thrusting and driving attack. People are often quick to mention his devastating oshi (thrusting) attacks, but I always saw him more similar to an NFL Offensive Lineman, in the way he used his long, powerful arms and legs to drive his opponents off the dohyo and subsequently keep them off his belt at the same time. See this clip for an example:

NFL Lineman Driving:

His long limbs, that were initially seen as a disadvantage, were now turned into an advantage as once he had a hold of you and got momentum going, he was like a runaway bulldozer and nigh impossible to stop. The savagery and aggressiveness of his attack often made it seem like he wasn’t just trying to beat his opponent, but literally obliterate their living presence from the dohyo as well.

Akebono giving Wakanohana a free front row seat in the crowd:

Fittingly, he arrived into sumo at the exact same time as two brothers and future yokozuna rivals: Takanohana Koji and Wakanohana Masaru (as well as the great ozeki Kaio). They were both the sons of an extremely popular rikishi from the 1970’s (Takanohana I), and were the nephews of another very popular yokozuna from the 1950’s, Wakanohana Kanji I. Akebono would consistently state that those two were responsible for his success, because from the time he arrived in Japan, he heard nothing but talk from the media and sumo world of how the two of them were going to dominate sumo for years to come. This helped give him the added motivation and determination to succeed and beat them. Before his very first match with Takanohana in the Jonokuchi division, his oyakata and stable mates simply told him to do as well as he could, as if his losing to him was a foregone conclusion already.

Early Jonokuchi clip of Akebono & Takanohana’s very first match:

Even by that point, you can already see the aggressive, ferocity in Akebono’s attack. This next clip against Takanohana years later, was the match that clinched Akebono’s second consecutive championship at Ozeki, thereby securing his inevitable yokozuna promotion:

Akebono wins his 2nd consecutive championship:

He was then after promoted to yokozuna, and forever put to rest the issue on whether foreign-born rikishi could even do so, but as I wrote earlier, he was the last part of a link going back decades that led up to that breakthrough moment. Like Takamiyama, he kept his head down, and pretty much managed to stay out of trouble during his tenure in sumo. Although he was initially dominant and racked up 4 championships in his first seven bashos at yokozuna, he was later slowed down by a broken foot, back injuries, and increasing weight, and would soon be overtaken by Takanohana. In the next 5 years, he would only manage two more yusho championships, while Takanohana would win 16 during that same time period. (Wakanohana would also win 4, and Musashimaru would win 3 during that same time span). Takanohana did enjoy a huge advantage in having an extremely powerful stable (possibly the strongest ever in sumo history) with multiple rikishi he didn’t have to fight except in play-offs; including his brother: a fellow yokozuna, an ozeki Takanonami, and two former sekiwake’s: Takatoriki and Akinoshima, while Akebono had to go through all of them. Give credit where credit is due however. Whenever it came down to the final day to determine the championship during that period (which it often did), Takanohana nearly always defeated Akebono or Musashimaru to clutch out the championship. Takanohana did have that extreme will to win and added clutch factor, and he was the reigning dai-yokozuna of that era for a reason.

Excellent match. Takanohana wins his second consecutive zensho-yusho and secures his long-awaited yokozuna promotion:

Akebono’s rivalry with Takanohana and Wakanohana in the mid-late 90’s helped lead sumo to one of its “golden eras,” and among its highest levels in popularity and attendance. His breakthrough in reaching its highest rank helped paved the way to further internationalization (and subsequent dominance) of the sport by later foreign-born rikishi—like the future Mongolian greats—that were soon to come.

More video clips:

A compilation of matches against Takanohana. I personally agree with the video, that it was probably the greatest rivalry in sumo history. Asashoryu and Hakuho could have potentially surpassed it had Asashoryu lasted longer and not been prematurely kicked out:

Akebono vs Takanohana match compilation pt. 2:

Song about Akebono, Musashimaru, and Konishiki by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: