The three pillars of sumo are shin-gi-tai, which translate as heart-technique-physique.
Heart is the most important as a strong fighting spirit can make up for deficiencies in the other areas.
Sheer size or wide-ranging technical abilities on their own can get you pretty far in sumo, but likely not to the mountaintop.
One of the best technicians of recent times, and someone who embodied that fact, was ozeki Kotomitsuki.
The Nihon University graduate was a superstar in college. Among his record number of titles in amateur sumo were back-to-back All-Japan championships and three individual gold medals in the world championships.
Kotomitsuki’s professional career started out in much the same way, and after competing in a single tournament in the makuuchi division he was promoted to sekiwake, the sport’s third-highest rank.
That November 2000 performance was a 13-2 runner up effort that included a win over yokozuna Musashimaru, and saw Kotomitsuki take home all three special prizes — a rare achievement.
Winning the technique prize became a common occurrence for the Aichi Prefecture native and he was awarded the gino-sho in five of the first eight top-division tournaments he competed in.
Kotomitsuki was rock solid in fundamental sumo technique and comfortable in almost any offensive or defensive position. He frequently used hard-to-execute moves like uchi-muso (inner-thigh tap) to set up straightforward force-out wins.
When Kotomitsuki lifted the Emperor’s Cup in September 2001 he seemed destined for a glittering career.
The fact that only he ever won one championship is mostly due to the presence of one man — Asashoryu.
Kotomitsuki, for all his technical brilliance, never found the answer to the Mongolian yokozuna’s sheer will to win and wildly unpredictable sumo.
Between 2002-2008, Asashoryu defeated Kotomitsuki in 28 straight bouts and the latter man seemed almost resigned to defeat.
If Kotomitsuki embodied technique, Asashoryu was the personification of heart and in that battle there can only ever be one outcome.
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