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Three times an ozeki
When asked who I would like to see becoming the next Yokozuna (the highest rank a sumo wrestler can rise to), the name Tochiazuma is on the foremost tip of my tongue. Tochiazuma (180cm and 146 kg) is a technically accomplished wrestler who has achieved what no sumotori (sumo-wrestler) has ever achieved before him: he has regained his ozeki1 rank (the second highest rank in sumo) twice after losing it as a result of being injured.

Tochiazuma is the shikona or ring name of Shiga Daisuke2. He was born in Tokyo on November 9, 1976. His father, Tomoyori Tamanoi, is the founder of Tamanoi beya (the school or "stable" where his son trains, together with a number of other wrestlers). He was an accomplished sekitori3 in his own time. Known by the shikona Tochiazuma he won The Emperor's Cup in Hatsu Basho (the January tournament) in 1972 as a sekiwake, the third highest rank in sumo.

Shiga Daisuke entered sumo in 1994. At that time he was using the shikona Shiga. When he was promoted to the juryo division in 1996 he took the shikona his father had used before him, Tochiazuma. He entered sanyaku4 the next year, and by 2002 he had fought his way to the ozeki rank. Quite unlike any ozeki before him, he went on to win his first basho as ozeki! Incidentally, this was exactly 30 years after his father had won his first (and only) basho.

Tochiazuma was hampered by injuries all through 2002 and 2003. He was forced to withdraw from four basho, and was close to demotion on several occasions. Somehow he always just managed to get in a good result to avoid it. Finally, in the July 2004 banzuke (the ranking list) he had been demoted to sekiwake - only to make a convincing come-back in the July tournament with a 10-5 result. According to the rules, he was automatically promoted to ozeki again. An injured knee played tricks on him during the next tournament, and he had to withdraw after only three bouts. In November, though, his knee was better, and he was ready to rumble when disaster struck: in his bout with maegashira Kokkai he was thrown down onto his left shoulder. This resulted in a fractured scapula.

Tochiazuma's shattered shoulder did not bode well for his future as a sumo wrestler. His father and trainer immediately announced to the press that Tochiazuma would not be competing in the next basho, and the doctors spent some time arguing for and against surgery. It was clear that Tochiazuma would not be back in sumo for a very long time.

But, with due respect to the doctors and to his father, Tochiazuma made his own plans. He persuaded his father to let him resume his training after only a short period of rest. He knew he had to find some new fighting techniques. His favourite move thus far had been a left-handed ottsuke: a technique, where the wrestler pins his opponent's arm under his own, and forces him up and off balance, and finally out of the dohyo (fighting area). Since this technique was very hard on the shoulder - and his left shoulder was out of order - Tochiazuma had to un-learn his most successful move, and learn some others.

So, despite his father's announcements, and despite the serious injury only two months earlier, Tochiazuma came back in January 2005. Again. He went on to bag an 11-4 record. Not just the 10-5 he needed. The result secured his re-promotion to ozeki. Again. An awesome achievement.

These are the prizes Tochiazuma has won as sekitori:
  • 3 Emperor's Cup (for winning a tournament)
  • 3 Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 2 Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
  • 7 Gino-sho (Technique Prize)
  • 4 Kin Boshi (a "Gold Star" for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)

Tochiazuma may never make it to the coveted rank of yokozuna, but his fighting spirit and his technical prowess make him - to my eyes - a worthy contender. Truly a remarkable wrestler.

Update: On May 7, 2007, Tochiazuma announced his retirement from active sumo due to health problems. He wishes to continue in the world of sumo as head of the Tamanoi beya.

1: The rules about automatic re-promotion were changed in 1969: Any ozeki who is demoted to sekiwake4 will regain his ozeki rank, provided he has a score of at least 10 wins in his first basho as sekiwake. Failing this will mean the wrestler will have to earn his ozeki rank all over again.
2: One source gives his name as Hayao Shiga.
3: A sekitori is a wrestler in the two top divisions of sumo: the juryo and makuuchi divisions.
4: The sanyaku is the top four ranks in makuuchi: komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and, at the top, yokozuna.

My sources are all over the web, but I tend to come back to www.scgroup.com/sumo and www.sumo.or.jp/eng
www.lemondedusumo.com is a great site too.

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