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HenryK

The day when there will be no Japanese Ozeki

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Kaio is on his way out, although he seems to be the only one not to know it. Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki are still going strong, but also they are elder statesmen of Ozumo and have maybe another couple of years to go. There seems to be no obvious Japanese candidate for an Ozeki run in the near future -- Goeido, Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, Toyonoshima may have a chance if they continue to develop, but overall they appear long shots compared to little Ama or big Baruto.

Is the day near when there will be no Japanese Ozeki (and no Yokozuna)? If this happens, will the Japanese public lose interest? Or will foreign rikishi be able to carry on the sport?

Edited by HenryK

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It looks like you really want to pull a trigger with those questions and assertions. I do not believe this situation would be profitable to Ozumo, I mean, no Japanese Ozeki or Yokozuna will at best maintain sumo audience and enthusiasm at the current level. From the ones you mentioned, maybe Ichihara included, there can be at least one ready to take over as a top level rikishi and turn a powerful Ozeki or even better.

The internationalization of sumo via its athletes seemed to be an unavoidable process, a trail with no way back. Alterations - 1 rikishi per heya - for example, discontinued this tendency and now sumo doors are partly shut for foreigners and more Japanese talents have room to appear and blossom. At any rate, more Japanese rikishi will rise gradually to the top, whereas non-japanese should fade out and renew slowly keeping a relative balance if future oyakata know how to select properly their newcomers. Record of foreigners may yet be beaten, but no true "worries" about that, unless rules change dramatically.

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im sure there will be japanese ozeki. Look at kotomitsuki, not many thought he would make it. There are surprises waiting to happen. Those guys you mentioned could do it. Perhaps it will be a shocker like an aminishiki or something.

Then lets not forget the other up and comers like ichihara, sakaizawa, etc. Who knows how good/bad they will be in a couple of years.

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The internationalization of sumo via its athletes seemed to be an unavoidable process, a trail with no way back. Alterations - 1 rikishi per heya - for example, discontinued this tendency and now sumo doors are partly shut for foreigners and more Japanese talents have room to appear and blossom.

I'm really wondering which period of time you're thinking of when all that looked like an "unavoidable process", because the one-rikishi-per-heya restriction from 2002 sure wasn't the event that ended it. The first (?) official limit of 2 foreigners per heya and 40 total dates back all the way to 1992 when there were around 35 or so active foreign rikishi, with a fresh jump in the number due to Oshima's six Mongolians. You only need to go back to 1985 to find basho where the number of foreign rikishi was still in single digits, so if anything that supposed golden age of internationalization lasted barely more than half a decade.

After 1992 the number of active foreigners steadily declined - I figure that was both due to a semi-official change of attitude in the Kyokai as well as the fact that Japanese recruiting was actually booming during that period, so there wasn't much of a need to go scout for foreign rikishi. Things didn't pick up again until some scattered recruiting from a bunch of different countries in 1999, and then the big Mongolian recruitment wave starting in 2000....prior to that the number of active foreigners had gone down to only about 15. Anyway, I wouldn't exactly say that the one-per-heya change aborted that period of growing foreign participation either, given that it expanded the number of slots from 40 to 50+, or rather 60+ due to the grandfathering of already-active rikishi. (Intriguing SML post from 2002 here...I didn't realize that more than half the stables didn't even have any foreigners when the quota of 40 slots was filled up. Puts the change to the current rule into perspective, I'd say.)

Edit: Or, to put it into much fewer words - the problem isn't that the door is shut, it's that the room is full. At least the Kyokai believes that to be the case. At this point I doubt we're going to see another rule change anytime soon; they'll probably stand pat until the 2000-02 wave of foreign recruits (which really played havoc with the numbers in a very short amount of time) is mostly retired, and then reassess things. If so, we're still 5+ years away from that.

Edited by Asashosakari

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The internationalization of sumo via its athletes seemed to be an unavoidable process, a trail with no way back. Alterations - 1 rikishi per heya - for example, discontinued this tendency and now sumo doors are partly shut for foreigners and more Japanese talents have room to appear and blossom.

I'm really wondering which period of time you're thinking of when all that looked like an "unavoidable process", because the one-rikishi-per-heya restriction from 2002 sure wasn't the event that ended it. The first (?) official limit of 2 foreigners per heya and 40 total dates back all the way to 1992 when there were around 35 or so active foreign rikishi, with a fresh jump in the number due to Oshima's six Mongolians. You only need to go back to 1985 to find basho where the number of foreign rikishi was still in single digits, so if anything that supposed golden age of internationalization lasted barely more than half a decade.

After 1992 the number of active foreigners steadily declined - I figure that was both due to a semi-official change of attitude in the Kyokai as well as the fact that Japanese recruiting was actually booming during that period, so there wasn't much of a need to go scout for foreign rikishi. Things didn't pick up again until some scattered recruiting from a bunch of different countries in 1999, and then the big Mongolian recruitment wave starting in 2000....prior to that the number of active foreigners had gone down to only about 15. Anyway, I wouldn't exactly say that the one-per-heya change aborted that period of growing foreign participation either, given that it expanded the number of slots from 40 to 50+, or rather 60+ due to the grandfathering of already-active rikishi. (Intriguing SML post from 2002 here...I didn't realize that more than half the stables didn't even have any foreigners when the quota of 40 slots was filled up. Puts the change to the current rule into perspective, I'd say.)

Edit: Or, to put it into much fewer words - the problem isn't that the door is shut, it's that the room is full. At least the Kyokai believes that to be the case. At this point I doubt we're going to see another rule change anytime soon; they'll probably stand pat until the 2000-02 wave of foreign recruits (which really played havoc with the numbers in a very short amount of time) is mostly retired, and then reassess things. If so, we're still 5+ years away from that.

I should have used the expression unavoidable process between quotation marks as it is rather something I've been hearing from times to times - implicit in the above question itself - than a personal thought on the matter. The 1 rikishi per heya limit, no matter when it was proposed, whether were one or 40 foreigners in sumo, set the ceiling for further newcomers, thus avoiding long-term "worries" as the number of foreign rikishi can grow but up to a fixed limit.

To cut a long story short, I don't pay too much attention if the door is (partly) closed or the room is full, however the heya limit puts a limit whereby people need to take leave in order to let others move in, if status quo is kept with regard to rules and behaviour (NSK, Oyakata) as well.

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even if that day comes....there will be a beloved Ozeki Ama, a great Youngster Kyokushuho....

But personally I do not see that scenario to happen.

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a great Youngster Kyokushuho....

You mean a great Yokozuna Kyokushuho? B-)

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One has to remember that the rule is 1 Foreign Rikishi per beya. However

when a foreign born rikishi becomes a Japanese citizen through naturalization

he ceases to be a foreign rikishi and opens up a slot for a new foreigner to

be recruited into that heya.

The rule certainly slows the growth of foreign recruits but only if they are

unwilling to naturalize. Of course one presumes that once their careers

are over if they felt the need to return home they could always renounce

their Japanese citizenship and leave.

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First, while I believe the internationalization of ozumo has brought an attractive element to the sport, Japan is obviously sumo's motherland. For the sake of the sport, it would be good if there would be always at least one Japanese Yokozuna and one Japanese Ozeki.

But with a merit-based ranking system, this cannot be guaranteed; and given how the sport seems to evolve, the prospects for this become continuously dimmer. I do not believe that this is primarily an issue of the number of foreigners in the sport, btw. The key issue seems rather that young talented Japanese don't consider an ozumo career as attractive an option as they did maybe 20 or 30 years ago. The quality (and quanitity) of Japanese recruits is therefore falling, while hungry and motivated foreigners prepared to suffer push their way into the sport. It's significant that these days, foreign rikishi do not come from countries whose wealth levels would be comparable to Japan -- the US, Western Europe, Australia -- but from countries where an ozumo career promises a much higher standard of living than would otherwise be possible -- Mongolia, Russia, Georgia, Estonia, Bulgaria.

Restricting the number of rikishis from these countries won't prevent that they will dominated the sport, unless you restrict them to very small numbers. The question though is whether this won't undermine ozumo's very economic basis, if it triggers a further loss of interest by the Japanese public.

Edited by HenryK

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Getting back to the original supposition, it's more a question of cherry-picking than anything else. Anytime an oyakata has an opportunity to add a foreigner to his heya, he surveys the whole world and takes the best man who is ready and willing. When it comes to Japanese prospects, as Henry points out, it's reverse cherry-picking: the best men have already chosen another career and sumo is left with the rest. So the Japanese newbies - many of whom had to have their arm twisted to join ozumo - are competing against the best prospects from the rest of the world, all of whom are highly motivated for the reasons Henry mentioned. The only thing that makes it a fair fight is that the foreigners have to agree to be Nipponized, and many times have to unlearn some bad habits.

So could it happen (no Japanese ozeki or yokozuna)? It's definitely possible, but the Japanese probably have enough 'numbers' to prevent it.

Edited by Shomishuu

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Getting back to the original supposition, it's more a question of cherry-picking than anything else. Anytime an oyakata has an opportunity to add a foreigner to his heya, he surveys the whole world and takes the best man who is ready and willing. When it comes to Japanese prospects, as Henry points out, it's reverse cherry-picking: the best men have already chosen another career and sumo is left with the rest.

But the relevant comparison isn't just the intratemporal one...sure, baseball and soccer are drawing away athletic kids who could theoretically excel in sumo, but the real question is, did sumo actually draw those kids back when baseball and soccer didn't offer a chance at a professional career? Or did they simply go into a "real" job and do club sports in their free time? Maybe I'm underestimating the impact of sumo on society in years past, but I just can't see the majority of athletic 15-year olds thinking "well, I don't have all that many options to earn money through sport...guess I might as well be doing sumo instead of nothing at all", even back 30 or 40 years ago.

So the Japanese newbies - many of whom had to have their arm twisted to join ozumo

Was it better when countryside families sent their biggest/strongest sons to Tokyo so they wouldn't eat their families into the poorhouse? Let's not glamourize the past too much here in comparison to how things work now. A certain level of coercion has always existed in sumo recruitment, and I highly doubt that the present is anywhere close to worst in that regard.

Anyway, I guess I just don't see what the big fuss is...if there's one thing that Japanese rikishi have demonstrated over the last 20 years, it's that they're still quite capable of reaching ozeki in decent numbers, even with the promotion requirements tightened up compared to before 1985 or so. It's just the yokozuna thing that hasn't worked out so well of late. I guess it's possible that there won't be any Japanese ozeki and yokozuna at some point, but I'd suggest it's less likely that the banzuke will look like this:

Asashoryu  Y   Hakuho
Ama		O1  Kotooshu
Baruto	 O2  Wakanoho

than like this:

Asashoryu  Y
	   Y-O Hakuho
Kotooshu   O

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It's significant that these days, foreign rikishi do not come from countries whose wealth levels would be comparable to Japan -- the US, Western Europe, Australia -- but from countries where an ozumo career promises a much higher standard of living than would otherwise be possible -- Mongolia, Russia, Georgia, Estonia, Bulgaria.

That's a major point. It might sound cynical to say "Ozumo can only prosper on poverty", but there's too much truth in it to be denied.

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Just don't forget the talent issue here. The ones like Goiedo, Ichihara and the others mentioned are not there only to make a leaving, but they are true athletes knowing, thinking, or feeling how far they can go at the sport, career chosen by them.

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So the Japanese newbies - many of whom had to have their arm twisted to join ozumo....

Was it better when countryside families sent their biggest/strongest sons to Tokyo so they wouldn't eat their families into the poorhouse? Let's not glamourize the past too much here in comparison to how things work now. A certain level of coercion has always existed in sumo recruitment, and I highly doubt that the present is anywhere close to worst in that regard.

This is very true, and the reference to arm-twisting lent nothing to the assertion I made. The arm-twisting in former times wasn't necessarily more prevalent, but I do feel that it was more successful because a young man's options were fewer and life was harder. It was a lot easier then to acquiesce to a harsh sumo life when life was already harsh to begin with, at least for many of the guys who chose sumo. For today's more pampered youth, the idea of doing sumo for a living never gets on the table at all, and that's the primary difference, at least in my opinion.

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I think paying the lower ranks would entice young men to the sport. Even if its minimal, hey, its a paying job, and at the age of 15/16, that's not too bad.

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I think paying the lower ranks would entice young men to the sport. Even if its minimal, hey, its a paying job, and at the age of 15/16, that's not too bad.

They are paid, it's just not very much...70/80/100/150k yen per basho in the lower four divisions. Plus cash for each win, which at a glance probably adds another 10% or so to their base allowance on average.

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Favourite sports in japan

Favorite professional sports 2005 2007

Baseball (Nippon Professional Baseball) 51.7% 51.1%

Football (J. League) 22.8% 22.8%

Sumo 17.1% 18.3%

Golf (Japan Golf Tour) 16.9% 14.4%

Boxing 7.8% 9.3%

Motor racing 6.2% 8.1%

Professional wrestling 4.2% 6.0%

others 8.0% 4.5%

none 24.4% 22.2%

Sorry about the lack of formatting but it looks like the popularity of sumo at least as a spectator sport has increased in the last two years

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Favourite sports in japan

Favorite professional sports 2005 2007

Baseball (Nippon Professional Baseball) 51.7% 51.1%

Football (J. League) 22.8% 22.8%

Sumo 17.1% 18.3%

Golf (Japan Golf Tour) 16.9% 14.4%

Boxing 7.8% 9.3%

Motor racing 6.2% 8.1%

Professional wrestling 4.2% 6.0%

others 8.0% 4.5%

none 24.4% 22.2%

Sorry about the lack of formatting but it looks like the popularity of sumo at least as a spectator sport has increased in the last two years

It also appears they won support from the golf-spectators, so I'm not sure what to make of it :-P

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It's significant that these days, foreign rikishi do not come from countries whose wealth levels would be comparable to Japan -- the US, Western Europe, Australia -- but from countries where an ozumo career promises a much higher standard of living than would otherwise be possible -- Mongolia, Russia, Georgia, Estonia, Bulgaria.

That's a major point. It might sound cynical to say "Ozumo can only prosper on poverty", but there's too much truth in it to be denied.

Yes,I agree .....African Americans, Hispanics and Russians (and former Soviets) are good in boxing because they are poor and uneducated...and they are not so many choises for them except boxing or some other fighting sports.(Poor Irish and few Italians were also good in boxing before they become prosperious.)

Generally,the educated, civilized and white Americans and Europeans don't do this kind of brutal things...they have other sports where tons of easy money around ...tennis, golf, swimming etc. (It's almost the same thought procedure which feeds racism.)

My point is you are forgetting the traditional aspect of sport.

It's not an accident why Mongolians, former Soviets, Bulgaria and Korea are present at today's sumo.Those countries were always good in olympic wrestling in the past or their traditional wrestling sports are popular and have huge followers.(Turkey and Iran, where wrestling is also huge national sport is been so far absent from the scene (maybe in the future)).

Just ask the gaijin sumotoris why they joined Sumo.I'm very certain that money wasn't their primary lure.It was more curiosity, self- actualisation and fame. And,nobody was expecting and heard of Japanese feudalistic relations and harsh training environments before.

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The day when there will be no Japanese Ozeki? I don't wanna see that day come.

In worst case, in order to avoid such day, Sumo Authority should even ban non-Japanaese wrestlers completely in certain period of time.

I guess such action is within power of Sumo Authority, isn't it?

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It's significant that these days, foreign rikishi do not come from countries whose wealth levels would be comparable to Japan -- the US, Western Europe, Australia -- but from countries where an ozumo career promises a much higher standard of living than would otherwise be possible -- Mongolia, Russia, Georgia, Estonia, Bulgaria.

That's a major point. It might sound cynical to say "Ozumo can only prosper on poverty", but there's too much truth in it to be denied.

Yes,I agree .....African Americans, Hispanics and Russians (and former Soviets) are good in boxing because they are poor and uneducated...and they are not so many choises for them except boxing or some other fighting sports.(Poor Irish and few Italians were also good in boxing before they become prosperious.)

Generally,the educated, civilized and white Americans and Europeans don't do this kind of brutal things...they have other sports where tons of easy money around ...tennis, golf, swimming etc. (It's almost the same thought procedure which feeds racism.)

My point is you are forgetting the traditional aspect of sport.

It's not an accident why Mongolians, former Soviets, Bulgaria and Korea are present at today's sumo.Those countries were always good in olympic wrestling in the past or their traditional wrestling sports are popular and have huge followers.(Turkey and Iran, where wrestling is also huge national sport is been so far absent from the scene (maybe in the future)).

Just ask the gaijin sumotoris why they joined Sumo.I'm very certain that money wasn't their primary lure.It was more curiosity, self- actualisation and fame. And,nobody was expecting and heard of Japanese feudalistic relations and harsh training environments before.

Easy to see why you take it in this direction, but consider a few things before you throw the original authors off the cliff.

1. If the author is not racist, it takes a lot of guts to take the conversation this direction in a world where 'PC' speak makes everyone afraid of offending someone. Let's assume everyone here is not racist, unless they start wearing it on their sleeve, in which case they will no doubt cease to be welcome.

2. The original commenta were rooted in a discussion of Japanese poverty and its effect on recruiting for Sumo, historically. And how that has changed. Hard to argue these points. The rest is just inference, being impossible to judge the present without error, so it's unfair to blast it as racist speech. Might be unfair, but it may also be true.

3. At the very least, countries with lower average "quality of life" as measured by standards of Western luxury, will have a larger pool of candidates for entry into a feudalist livelihood with slim margins of financial success. Just as they will have larger pools of boys and men interested in physical; combat sports that offer an escape from lives of physical labor, into a life of physical reverence.

4. There are always other factors, which you are good to point out. Mongolia happens to match all criteria very well: financial 'instability' for larger recruiting pool, stronger level of interest in National Wrestling, competitive fighting spirit, etc. Hakuho and Asashoryu neither were poor, but came from wealthy and established Boke (?) families. Ambition drove them across the sea I believe. Financially they would have been very stable at home or abroad. But doesn't the historic struggle of the Mongolian Nation fuel this Ambition and Pride, and isn't that partly rooted in a relative historic poverty and oppression of the Mongolian people. In essence, part of what made them tough?

Edited by kaiguma

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..... But doesn't the historic struggle of the Mongolian Nation fuel this Ambition and Pride, and isn't that partly rooted in a relative historic poverty and oppression of the Mongolian people. In essence, part of what made them tough?

No, Kaiguma. Nothing to do with historic struggle and poverty.Mongolian poverty, homeless children and horrible conditions are very recent (after 1990-ies) phenomenon.

Historically, Mongolians never saw the level of poverty and famine some countriers had in their past.

Hmmm,...level of toughness....

Now prosperious Japanese are much tougher than Mongolians.

Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese are way way tougher than Mongolians.....I think.

Why some Mongolians seems "tough" to you and good in sumo?...We are just so crazy about wrestling and we have our own type of sumo for centuries....And, way too fanatic just like Brazilians in soccer.

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..... But doesn't the historic struggle of the Mongolian Nation fuel this Ambition and Pride, and isn't that partly rooted in a relative historic poverty and oppression of the Mongolian people. In essence, part of what made them tough?

No, Kaiguma. Nothing to do with historic struggle and poverty.Mongolian poverty, homeless children and horrible conditions are very recent (after 1990-ies) phenomenon.

Historically, Mongolians never saw the level of poverty and famine some countriers had in their past.

Hmmm,...level of toughness....

Now prosperious Japanese are much tougher than Mongolians.

Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese are way way tougher than Mongolians.....I think.

Why some Mongolians seems "tough" to you and good in sumo?...We are just so crazy about wrestling and we have our own type of sumo for centuries....And, way too fanatic just like Brazilians in soccer.

I should have emphasized relative historic poverty in a different way. By relative poverty I am referring to the similar idea from my own #3: "countries with lower average 'quality of life' as measured by standards of Western luxury"

So correct me if I am wrong, even pre-1990's Mongolians in general were less likely to use huge quantities of electricity for luxury and appliances, had not yet had a rural exodus to crowd themselves into cities, were less likely than Japanese counterparts to have access to running water, more likely to live agricultural lives. Working with animals and open space and the soil, working with their own hands, walking to get water and pumping it or cranking a handle, adapting to the seasons by directly altering the structure of your home, etc. etc. will result on more physical development, robust health, tolerance of pain and fatigue, athleticism, hands-on ingenuity and the like.

Such a life is not a poverty in terms of suffering, but perceived as poverty from a stiff Western lens. I don't see it myself as poverty, but this could be the semantic gap in the conversation - many others will use the term "poor" to describe an "undeveloped" country. And and as long as they are free and not being killed or starving, they would probably also be more joyful and not at all restrained. Therefore ambition, vocal intensity, and external expression of pride are all natural elements of a hard-working people with a so-called "tough life."

Hope you understand now where I am coming from and how I see it relating to recruitment and also to our 2 Mongolian yokozuna.

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..... But doesn't the historic struggle of the Mongolian Nation fuel this Ambition and Pride, and isn't that partly rooted in a relative historic poverty and oppression of the Mongolian people. In essence, part of what made them tough?

No, Kaiguma. Nothing to do with historic struggle and poverty.Mongolian poverty, homeless children and horrible conditions are very recent (after 1990-ies) phenomenon.

Historically, Mongolians never saw the level of poverty and famine some countriers had in their past.

Hmmm,...level of toughness....

Now prosperious Japanese are much tougher than Mongolians.

Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese are way way tougher than Mongolians.....I think.

Why some Mongolians seems "tough" to you and good in sumo?...We are just so crazy about wrestling and we have our own type of sumo for centuries....And, way too fanatic just like Brazilians in soccer.

I should have emphasized relative historic poverty in a different way. By relative poverty I am referring to the similar idea from my own #3: "countries with lower average 'quality of life' as measured by standards of Western luxury"

So correct me if I am wrong, even pre-1990's Mongolians in general were less likely to use huge quantities of electricity for luxury and appliances, had not yet had a rural exodus to crowd themselves into cities, were less likely than Japanese counterparts to have access to running water, more likely to live agricultural lives. Working with animals and open space and the soil, working with their own hands, walking to get water and pumping it or cranking a handle, adapting to the seasons by directly altering the structure of your home, etc. etc. will result on more physical development, robust health, tolerance of pain and fatigue, athleticism, hands-on ingenuity and the like.

Such a life is not a poverty in terms of suffering, but perceived as poverty from a stiff Western lens. I don't see it myself as poverty, but this could be the semantic gap in the conversation - many others will use the term "poor" to describe an "undeveloped" country. And and as long as they are free and not being killed or starving, they would probably also be more joyful and not at all restrained. Therefore ambition, vocal intensity, and external expression of pride are all natural elements of a hard-working people with a so-called "tough life."

Hope you understand now where I am coming from and how I see it relating to recruitment and also to our 2 Mongolian yokozuna.

Glad at least we agreed that not everything is money.....

Edited by Coo-cook

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