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Former sumo grand champions Wakanohana and Takanohana, the sons of sumo elder Futagoyama who died of mouth cancer Monday, said Tuesday they consider their late father more of a teacher as they paid tribute to him and gave him all the credit for their successful careers the day after his death.

“Since I entered the world of sumo at 17, my father was both strict and kind,” said Wakanohana of the former ozeki who died Monday at a Tokyo hospital at the age of 55.

“It broke my heart to see him ill. He taught me to keep fighting even at the edge of the ring and never to give up, and that’s exactly what he did at the end of his life,” he said.

For the younger brother, it was more difficult to deal with such sudden sadness. Takanohana said it would take time for him to come to terms with his father’s death.

“I’m lost for words. He looked very peaceful and I prayed he would go to heaven,” said Takanohana.

“When I began my sumo career at 15 I thanked him for raising me up to that point, and that’s when I saw my father’s tears for the first time. He told me then not to cry until the day he dies, and I’ve kept that promise. Last night I was still not able to accept his death and couldn’t cry.”

Futagoyama’s funeral will be held by his family on Thursday. The Japan Sumo Association is also considering arranging a farewell service of its own.

Futagoyama, whose real name was Mitsuru Hanada, had been receiving treatment at a hospital in Tokyo since the fall of 2003 for a type of cancer that afflicts the region between the tongue and gums at the base of the mouth.

In late February, Takanohana revealed that Futagoyama, who remained an ozeki for 50 tournaments until he retired in January 1981, the longest stint ever in the sport’s second-highest rank, was waging a battle with cancer.

Wakanohana and Takanohana both realized the dream their father could not achieve by becoming yokozuna and elevated the popularity of sumo in the 1990s to a level the sport had never experienced.

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