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An Interview with Kotonowaka

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This is from the May issue of Sumo magazine. The interview has taken place after the Haru (March ) Basho in Osaka and before the May Basho in Tokyo.

Almost all of the points are still very relevant. I hope you find it interesting and will give you some insight into the oldest Makuuchi rikishi at this moment.


Sumo Magazine:

Last year Kotonowaka suffered serious injuries - muscle separation in his right arm and ligaments damage in his left knee. Considering his age of 35, there was a concern that he would not be able to make a comeback but at the Haru Basho he won 11 bouts and earned his fourth Kanto-sho ward (he won another in the Aki to make it his fifth). He will be inheriting Sadogatake Beya in November 2005 but his

passion for competitions is still getting stronger.

Sumo: Congratulations on your impressive performance at the Haru Basho overcoming your injuries and winning the Kantosho.

Kotonowaka: Thank you very much.

Sumo: I believe you had some anxiety prior to the basho.

Waka: Yes I was anxious. On the Day 1 I felt a bit of fear when I stepped on the dohyo.

Sumo: On the Day 1, you lost to Asasekiryu, but did you feel you still were able to perform reasonably well?

Waka: I lost the bout but I felt I still could continue. But on the Day 2 bout against

Asanowaka, I won, but I couldn't move with him and I was all over the place. I

thought perhaps I was trying to cover my leg. Even thoughI was trying not to do so.

Sumo: You were saying winning a bout was the best medicine there was but you still felt uncomfortable about your sumo bout.

Waka: On the Day 3 against Buyuzan, I had the mawashi at the dohyo ring but I

gave it up there. Suddenly I had an incredible fear and I just stopped. So there I was with 1 win and 2 losses. And I did not have too much to fall back on in the banzuke

(at Maegashira East 13) so I felt this could be it, I may be finished here. That's what I was thinking back then. On the Day 4 I barely beat Ushiomaru by slapping him down. That night, I was invited by a supporter to go for a drink, and then I ended up drinking like no tomorrow.

Sumo: Do you think that was a turning point?

Waka: There I was told, "Don't kill yourself anymore. Whatever happens, will happen anyway. You've been working so hard up to now so as long as you don't get injured

again, it will be all right". Once I started thinking I wouldn't need to worry about the consequence anymore, I started feeling better. I figured so what if I'd lost. Then on the next day I lost the fear and started moving well. Then I felt maybe I could go on for some more.

Sumo: Perhpas you started getting used to competing again but the mental part is so important, isn't it?

Waka: I think your attitude is crucial in competition. It's kind of funny but if you start thinking, you really want to win badly, you can't win. I realized it was rather important to reflect and get back to the basic occasionally.

Sumo: You've suffered almost all of last year with one injury or another so you must have felt strongly that you wanted to get another Kachikoshi.

Waka: That's true. I had a feeling like whatever it would take. During the Haru Basho both my wife and Masakatsu (his son) came over (to Osaka) too. Then one night the shisho came up to me and patted me on my back, saying "You just need 6 wins. I've talked about getting the kachikoshi before the basho, but if you get six wins, you stay in Makuuchi. Once your injury heals then you can train harder again". I was really moved as I could feel what the oyakata was thinking.

Sumo: When you injured your knee severely at the last Kyushu Basho, didn't you really feel like quitting then?

Waka: To be honest, I thought so too. But I felt strongly that I really didn't want to finish like this. So that feeling sustained me through the difficult rehabilitation time.

Sumo: The rehabilitation process must have been pretty hard then?

Waka: Initially I could not sit still for long time while getting the treatment so I was lying down most of the time. It was really painful. I just went through it thinking I didn't want to be defeated again anymore.

Sumo: Throughout that difficult period, what have sustained you or supported you?

Waka: I guess you could say it was my family. My wife was always there for me when I really got down on myself. When I returned from Kyushu and my knee was not recovering quickly, I said to my wife, "Maybe it's over now". Then she said, "if you can't do it, then go ahead and quit. But don't you have any regrets at all if you quit now?". Then I thought she was right. If I quit now while I am losing like that, I will regret it. And then my son made an origami paper for me and wrote, "Ganbatte". I read it before I went to the dohyo every day. I guess that's when you start thinking your family is so integral part of you.

Sumo: I guess now he's at the age he knows what's going on and remembers things.

Waka: True. That's why I had a strong desire to come back again once more and show what I could do.

Sumo: He is going to elementary school now.

Waka: Yes. Just the other day he participated in a sumo tournament. It was the Day 1 of Haru Basho, on March 14, and he won the Yusho. But when he entered in his first sumo event, he lost in the semi-final and placed the third. I couldn't make it on that day as I was in a Jyungyo tour but my wife took the video. The Yusho winner was a grandson of Tsugaruumi san. As the kid is taking full sumo lessons, he shows a good form. Mine, he thinks it's cool to win by a throw but if he went in with an oshi, he could have won. He tried to be finicky and tried to get the mawashi so he lost. He shouldn't follow his old man's example, you know.

Sumo: When he lost, did he cry?

Waka: Not that time, I believe. After the last September basho we went to Sadoshima Island for a family trip and there was a sumo championship there. He went up against Grade 4 student and he got one win but lost four. There he just kept crying. The opponent was in Grade 4 so it's understandable but we couldn't stop him from crying.

Sumo: It's OK that he feels he hates losing around his age.

Waka: Exactly. I told Masakatsu then, "you've got a good experience now. When you lose, you feel you can't stand it. So that's why your father trains hard because he feels the same way when he loses". When we came back home, he started putting his mawashi on and started doing shiko. Also once we went to Osaka, he also came down to the training dohyo and he was doing shiko and suri-ashi. He got (Koto)shogiku to teach him the basics. He gets to be taken care of by the young rikishis at the heya so he should be happy.

Sumo: I am sure you are looking forward to your son's development but now in your heya, you have more promising rikishis coming up through Makushita. So there is a lot to look forward to now.

Waka: (Koto)oshu will be a new Juryo. I guess we see the guys are getting more motivated around him. We have good lively training sessions too. (Koto)Kasuga is now at the Makushita Lead so he could get Kachikoshi, he would go up too.

Sumo: It looks like you are going to get a new Juryo rikishi the next several bashos in a row.

Waka: We have five in the top 15 Makushita ranks now. If (Koto)shogiku and (Kotono)mine win five, they are within a range to go up. If (Kotono)Kuni and (Koto)kanyu-san can win all their bouts and go into the kettei-sen bouts, then they

could all go up at the same time.

Sumo: When you had the most, you had seven or eight sekitoris, right?

Waka: We had eight. I'd sure like to see "moushiai" training sessions with eight white mawashis (sekitoris) again.

Sumo: You must be leading a great example by training hard overcoming your injuries.

Waka: Well, I don't know really. Young kids today get beaten down easily by a few injuries. I get down on myself too but I believe I was able to show them that if you try hard enough and do your best, you can do it. I am not sure if you can say any ordeal like this, is good but as far as what I was able to do, it was good. Perhaps it was a trial given to me by God. I now really can empathize with young recruits when they suffer a serious injury.

Sumo: When you become an oyakata in the future, an experience like this should helpful to you too.

Waka: Yes. I believe once I start guiding them through, it will be a real life experience.

Sumo: What will be your goal or objective from now on?

Waka: The first is to return to a Sanyaku rank. I will be up high in the bazuke at the Natsu Basho but I don't know how much success I may have. I wonder if I face the

yokozuna...well I shouldn't worry too much about that. Anyway I just want to get the full 15 days in without suffering any injury. Not getting an injury will be the best thing. Once you get an injury, you will lose everything again. I just don't want to suffer another major injury again.

Sumo: In reality, you should be aware that your active days are numbered now.

Waka: I guess if we are talking in bashos, it will be around 10 bashos. It's less than two years. I never imagined I could last this long myself. I'd just want to take care of one basho after antoher.

Sumo: One thing we are really impressed with you is that your motivation will not go down. Even in your kyujo during the Hatsu Basho, you put on your mawashi and went down to the training dohyo.

Waka: Well, the shisho keeps telling me, "you have to do your training. Until you retire, you have to be the example to others". And I have to instruct them as well.

I just don't want others outside to think that I have it so easy when I can inherit a heya, nothing to worry about the future and can take it easy.

Sumo: I think the fans want you to remain a strong rikishi until right before your retirement.

Waka: I feel the same way too. Until the last possible moment I want to stay strong. Like I want to be asked why I am retiring if I try, I could still continue stuff. If it's all possible, I want to retire with Kachikoshi at a Sanyaku rank in my last basho. I think it's really a cool way of retiring, isn't it? But the top ranks are pretty strong so it will be pretty tough. The top ranked rikishis did leave pretty good results in Osaka in the last little while this time around. And they say the Osaka usually has a lot of upsets.

Sumo: Currently Asashoryu has a streak of two Yushos without any loss, 30 straight wins and the question being who will stop him.

Waka: The Yokozuna is really strong. Even if he is pushed to the dohyo ring, he no longer goes for a throw. He became more patient and he will take it back to the center of dohyo. He used to lose trying to go for a throw at the last minute. Now he shows no weakness.

Sumo: He is studying very closely every opponent he faces. He watches every rikishi's bouts countless times on video.

Waka: Right. He trains hard and he studies hard. His sumo technique is brilliant. I've seen him train younger rikishis often. If they started not giving it all, he'd yell, "If you don't give your all and go half-hearted, you will get injured. If you are not giving it all, there is no point in all of us doing what we are doing." I believe he was giving it to Kakizoe and Shimotori during training sessions prior to the Haru Basho. He is absolutely right, of course.

Sumo: You think he is moving with his own instict but every move is really calculated to a minute detail. Your record against him is 4 wins and 7 losses. You've done well.

Waka: So I won that many eh? I know I won the last time. I now got injured having muscle separation in my right arm. The major premise about this is to not having an injury. But if I can get the uwate and I can get my chest on his, then it will all right but he is so quick, he won't let me get into the position. All I can do is do my best. I suppose it's the same with any other opponent.

Sumo: There were some fans who were worried that the Haru Basho would be your last so I suppose now they could rest easier.

Waka: Yes. I've been going on kyujo so often these days. Our Yamagata's supporters club chairman and his wife were really pleased that I was able to stay in. for the whole basho. Up to the point the basho started, I could not have done any training at all so personally I was really worried as well. But in the end you just have to believe in yourself. Every time I got on the dohyo, I told myself, I've done enough training in the past so that should pay the dividends now. But now I run out of the dividends in the last basho, so I have to start training now.

Sumo: You will need to do your best for the fans who still keep cheering for you and also for your family.

Waka: Yeah, for Masakatsu, I need to stay as a strong papa, too.

Sumo: We will be looking forward to your success in the upcoming bashos. Thank you very much.

Edited by Jonosuke
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(Applauding...) B-) :-) Jonosuke-zeki, I just can't tell you how happy I am to have you on this forum!

Interviews like these are priceless, IMHO (and of course, even more so if it is an interview with my favourite rikishi.... Kotonowaka still :-) !)

Edited by Onnagumo
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Well, this is very interesting!!! :-) B-) Thank you very much, Jonosuke!!

I just had a little vocabulary problem: What is a "shisho"? I understood it was a person who helps Kotonowaka???

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I just had a little vocabulary problem: What is a "shisho"?

Taken from the Sumo Glossary:

shisho, leading oyakata and the owner of heya; his name is the same as heya's, for example Futagoyama Oyakata and Futagoyama-beya; there can be even more than half dozen oyakata in one heya, everyone of them has his own myoseki and kabu but there can only be one shisho in a heya, see heya-mochi no oyakata, heya-tsuki no oyakata

So, in this case the shisho is current Sadogatake Oyakata.

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more so if it is an interview with my favourite rikishi.... Kotonowaka still (Clapping wildly...)  !)

Actually I really wanted everyone to know about Kotonowaka after looking at your cool avatar and the thread about Ten Years After.

You now know off the dohyo, he is a regular dad, adoring his son and respecting his wife, a good family man.

I am sure it's pretty tough for Kotonowaka when everyone assumes you got it easy because you marry your shisho's daughter and just inherit his heya.

Well obviously it isn't that easy. I don't want to compare him to anyone else but after reading the interview you come to realize he definitely isn't Asahiyutaka (the current Tatsunami oyakata) who could fill a KONISHIKI size closet with rather sordid tales.

Edited by Jonosuke
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Actually I really wanted everyone to know about Kotonowaka after looking at your cool avatar and the thread about Ten Years After. 

:-P Yes.... It really is a cool avatar, isn't it? (Clapping wildly...)

Thanks again, Jonosuke-zeki, and pleeeeease keep those stories coming! (Sign of approval)

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Thanks again, Jonosuke-zeki, and pleeeeease keep those stories coming!  (Sign of approval)

I agree. Please post lots more! It's great stuff.

(Clapping wildly...)

Edited by Naganoyama

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Well, Joe, I don't know if Tatsunami Oyakata qualifies for that had-it-easy slot.

True, he inherited the heya easy by marrying the Oyakata's daughter, but then after things started falling apart, that suit, all the mess that he and the heya got into.

Well I will continue this thought on Moti's Tatsunami thread but the man who was Asahiyutaka once and the man who is the current Tatsunami oyakata is not the same man anymore as he went through so much - all the claims and counter claims, tabloids, courts and the divorce and final separation from the previous oyakata's family relations. He is no longer a carefree young sekitori he once was but a wiser and far more experienced man in human and legal affairs.

He quit active career to a presumably easy road ahead to a heya owning oyakata by marrying his daughter and into the family but it did not turn out that way. He simply wasn't ready to take over a heya at that time with all the responsibilty of heya operations and management as well as marrying into the Annen family.

However now everything seems to have settled, we may probably starting seeing more promising rikishis coming from Tatsunami Beya.

OTOH, Kotonowaka is ready to take over the heya even now. He has been nurtured and groomed into the position by his shisho but more than anything else he is taking the responsibility and shouldering the works normally being done by his shisho (for instance it was Kotonowaka who was present at Kotokasuga's Juryo promotion press conference the other day, representing the heya). I believe the greatest asset he has going for him is his family and in the end having a good support and underestanding from your family is the most important factor in whatever you do as well as having faith in yourself.

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(for instance it was Kotonowaka who was present at Kotokasuga's Juryo promotion press conference the other day, representing the heya).

a picture of that press conference:

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