When the rankings for the upcoming Summer Grand Sumo Tournament are released next Monday, Endo should find himself among sumo’s top four ranks for the very first time.
The Oitekaze Stable man will become the 17th former member of Nihon University’s sumo club to make it to at least the rank of komusubi. The collegiate powerhouse has produced one yokozuna (Wajima), one ozeki (Kotomitsuki) and an incredible 48 more sekitori (wrestlers from the second tier or higher).
By contrast, Kinki University and Nippon Sports Science University, two very strong amateur teams, have had only 12 and eight graduates, respectively, reach sumo’s top divisions.
So how has Nihon University — a private research university more known for producing CEOs — been able to churn out so much top class talent? The school’s campuses are spread over a wide geographical area, and it has a network of affiliated high schools.
Those two facts, according to Ryoji Kumagai (a coach at the club) mean the sumo team is able to “gather only the strongest people from around the country who work hard and push each other.”
Kumagai, a former Nihon University graduate, reached sumo’s fourth-highest rank (komusubi) and his own entry into the club was through one such connection.
“The manager of my high school sumo team came from Nichidai (Nihon University) so I was longing to join them from way back,” he said.
Even for those with no preexisting links, the pull of Nichidai is strong.
“I thought, if I am going to continue doing sumo in university then I want to do it in the strongest place,” explained Yuka Okutomi, a sophomore at the college.
Okutomi was already an accomplished wrestler before joining the team, having won numerous titles and represented Japan in international competition. She agrees with her coach’s assertion that so much talent in one place drives up the level.
“Everyone here is training with the idea that they want to be the best in Japan, the best in the world,” she said.
That training is legendary in its intensity. It’s often said that when graduates of Nichidai join the professional ranks, they are surprised by how easy things are there.
Whereas many sumo stables have one or two days off a week or lighter training on certain days, the students at Nihon University go full throttle seven days a week. You don’t see the standing around doing nothing that you do in the professional ranks either.
Nichidai has a large training area with two adjacent rings that are in constant use. Even so, Kumagai thinks things are easier than in his day.
“Students these days lack that killer instinct,” he said. “They lack the desire to get stronger by pushing each other. They are too meek.”
That kind of never satisfied, always room for improvement mentality is reflected in Nichidai sumo club’s facilities. The three-storey building located about 10 minutes walk south of Asagaya station is the envy of many pro stables. It has its own fully stocked kitchen, sauna, weight room and dormitory.
The club has also been at the forefront of the drive to make sumo an international sport. Many of the members of the International Sumo Federation (IFS) — the sport’s governing body — are Nichidai people, and the club has an impressive number of former world champions including the aforementioned Kotomitsuki and coach Kumagai.
The university has also regularly hosted fighters from various countries over the years, including mostly notably Tochinoshin while he waited for a sumo stable to take him in.
Despite the “Nihon” name, Nichidai has an international flavor to it that you don’t find at other collegiate sumo clubs. They even had a foreign captain last year. Mongolian Baska Turbold led the team before joining the professional ranks under the name of Mitoryu, and, yes, he too has made sekitori.
It’s not just prospective rikishi either who get to avail of the knowledge and facilities. Nichidai has invited and hosted teams from countries such as Estonia, Italy and the United States to train and learn.
Cornelius Booker was part of one such delegation last year. Despite already having been involved in sumo on and off for seven years, the Floridian was amazed by the intensity of even the warm ups.
“When we did shikos (leg lifts) at the beginning of practice, I wasn’t sure how many we did, but I am going to guess at least 100,” he said. “I think most Americans would start struggling past the 50 mark.”
He was also impressed by the attention given to someone who wasn’t going to go pro.
“When we got to sparring, I spent a lot of time just trying to push properly,” he said. “I am pretty sure I was a huge headache to deal with but they helped me with correcting my positioning, how I should be pushing.”
Coach Kumagai was there on the day and provided a lot of that advice. For him, as a teacher, he doesn’t care about the level of the athlete but what’s in their heart.
It’s all about “the feelings for sumo that you have. What is the reason that you are doing sumo? Who are you fighting and doing your best for? It’s all about how you feel.”
For all the intense training and the world-class facilities, that one point really is the key to Nichidai’s success. The club is a magnet for those with a love of sumo and a drive to get better.
That’s something that is unlikely to change, so expect to see a steady stream of Nichidai talent continue to populate sumo’s upper ranks for the foreseeable future.
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