Sumo

Sumo 101: Tsukebito

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo is a life built around the carrot and stick approach.

The higher a rikishi rises up the rankings, the easier his life becomes.

Changes are incremental and consist of things like better quality yukata, less chores, being allowed to own a cellphone, etc.

The biggest jump comes when a man is promoted to the sport’s second-highest division.

So great is the difference between that juryo ranking and the makushita division one level below it, that it’s often described as “heaven and hell.”

After promotion, wrestlers are addressed by the honorific (zeki), receive a salary for the first time, and are allowed to get married and move out into their own house or apartment.

They are also assigned one of two of the lower-ranked wrestlers as their personal aides.

Tsukebito, as those assistants are known, are responsible for taking care of all the senior wrestler’s day-to-day needs, allowing him to focus his attention on getting better in the ring.

Doing the laundry, managing the schedule, banking, getting drinks and food. Virtually any task that you can imagine falls within the tsukebito’s remit.

Most sekitori treat their tsukebito well, having been in that position themselves when younger. Many are known to spend some or all of their prize money on their aides.

Tsukebito are the ones carrying the cushions into and out of the arena during tournaments. They are also usually seen scurrying around for their seniors.

The higher a rikishi rises, the more tsukebito he has. Yokozuna can have eight or 10 assistants following them around helping them out.

Stablemasters often have their own tsukebito as well.

If a stable doesn’t have enough lower-rankers, they can borrow wrestlers from other stables to act as assistants.

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