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: