New ozeki Takakeisho can draw strength from stable

by John Gunning

Takakeisho is sumo’s newest ozeki.

The Hyogo native has lifted the Emperor’s Cup, received seven special prizes, defeated yokozuna three times and reached his chosen sport’s second highest rank — all by the age of 22.

In other words, his career has peaked and there is nowhere to go from here but down.

That might seem like a glib comment, but the reality is that for a short (173-cm) pusher-thruster with few belt skills, reaching ozeki and winning a championship is basically maxing out his potential.

Takakeisho, in just 14 tournaments and 2½ years in sumo, has already achieved more or less the same as seven of the last eight ozeki in their entire careers to date.

Takayasu of course, has yet to win a tournament, so it’s arguable Takakeisho has already overtaken his fellow ozeki.

Tochinoshin, Terunofuji, Goeido, Kotoshogiku, Baruto, Kotomitsuki and Kotooshu all made it to ozeki, won one title and managed a few special prizes.

Most of those rikishi were considered potential yokozuna and/or multiple-title winners at some point in their career.

Injuries, loss of form, and competing in the overlapping eras of Asashoryu and Hakuho however, put paid to those dreams.

In Takakeisho’s favor is the fact that we are in sumo’s version of the Sengoku Period, with various parties vying for control as the long-dominant power wanes.

Given his age and the fact that wrestlers with a pushing-thrusting style can be almost unstoppable when they are clicking, it’s conceivable that the former Takanohana protégé could win another title or two over the course of his career.

One advantage Takakeisho has, as he works towards that, is his current stable.

Chiganoura Beya has neither a long history nor a glamorous name, but it has traditionally provided stability and a solid base for its wrestlers.

It may be stretching things to attribute Takakeisho’s three straight sanyaku-ranked (the three ranks below yokozuna) tournaments with double-digit wins immediately following his move to Chiganoura, to that stable alone, but no longer having to deal with the daily media frenzy around Takanohana Beya certainly had to have helped his focus.

The current Chiganoura stablemaster took over the heya (stable) in 2016 when the previous incumbent reached retirement age. The oyakata (sumo elder) finds himself in the slightly unusual position of having to coach a young rikishi that has already far outstripped his own career.

The former Takamisugi only managed to reach komusubi as an active wrestler, and the two tournaments he spent at that rank were disastrous.

As with any sport, however, ability as an athlete has no bearing on aptitude for coaching. There are plenty of superstars that failed to transfer their skills on the field of play into success in management, and hundreds of great coaches that did nothing as a player.

Likewise, the former Chiganoura oyakata never went past sanyaku, but was able to set up and run a successful heya.

The stable is located just 15 minutes walk north of Sensoji Temple — one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist attractions — but is tucked away in a side street and very easy to miss unless you know where you are going.

While it’s only been around since 2004, Chiganoura Beya is unique for several reasons.

Its original stablemaster was 53 when he branched off from Kasugano Beya to set up Chiganoura. With sumo having a retirement age of 65, that left him only 12 years to try and get established, raise a sekitori (a wrestler in the top two divisions) and create a succession plan.

None of the original four wrestlers seemed likely to meet the qualifications needed to be eligible to take over, although there were hopes that Masuto, who officially joined in January 2005, would have a better career than he eventually did.

He was part of the famous podium in the 2004 Junior World Championships along with Tochinoshin, Goeido and Kaisei. With two of the others being title-winning ozeki and the third a makuuchi mainstay, it’s fair to say that Masuto’s failure to get past makushita has been disappointing.

Although he hasn’t reached sekitori status, Masuto (real name Atilla Toth) does have the distinction of being the first — and so far only — rikishi from Hungary.

Chiganoura Beya uses the building that once housed Takasago Stable (where Konishiki trained) and is quite close to Komatsuryu Dojo — my sumo club while I was active.

I used to train with the rikishi at Chiganoura regularly in the first few years of its existence, as the stablemaster would often send his wrestlers to our club for extra practice.

Masuto is now fully fluent in Japanese, but when he arrived he knew only a couple of words, so the stablemaster asked me to teach him the language — a task for which I was wholly unprepared. Thankfully he soon found a better teacher and suffered few ill effects from listening to my mangled syntax.

The stable had other unique wrestlers.

Masumeidai, who joined in 2006, was one of sumo’s rare public university graduates.

The “mei-dai” (名大) part of his shikona (ring name) used the same characters that refer to Nagoya University — his alma mater.

After leaving the sumo world he became a sports reporter for the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper.

Masunoyama, who became the first wrestler born in the Heisei era to reach sekitori, also entered the stable in 2006.

Born in the Philippines, his brother is also a hairdresser in the stable and his mother worked there part time helping the previous stablemaster.

After inheriting four sekitori from Takanohana stable, the current Chiganoura stable is much more of a powerhouse than the previous incarnation.

That doesn’t mean it’s not without quirks, however.

After all, the current stablemaster was more famous for resembling Doraemon than for his skills in the ring, and he still wears t-shirts with cartoon robot cat’s face and “I’m Doraemon” on them.

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