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October 2013 - Sumo Legend Retires

I’m not sure if you can call him a legend, per say, but he was definitely one of the most unique, entertaining and likeable wrestlers in sumo history. His pre-match antics, post match reactions to his bouts and straight forward match style is what puts Takamisakari in a league of his own. His career officially came to an end this weekend during his “intai” or haircutting / retirement ceremony.

Takamisakari (real name Seiken Kato) was born in 1976 in Aomori, Japan to an apple farming family. He took up sumo in the 4th grade and pursued it all throughout school becoming a national junior high school champion and later a national amateur champion and University level yokozuna.

He began his professional sumo career in March of 1999 when he joined the Azumazeki training stable under Takamiyama, the first foreigner to ever win a tournament. Upon joining, his stablemate Akebono had already become yokozuna and would have a hand in his training. Takamisakari debuted in the makushita division (the third highest division of sumo) due to his amateur achievements and soon reached the sport’s top division by his ninth tournament.

Although all seemed well in his career, an injury would soon change all of that. He sat out for several months in late 2000 and early 2001. When he finally returned he had lost his confidence and feared reaggravating the injury. To offset this fear he found a way to pump himself up before the match involving beating on his chest like Tarzan, throwing his fists downward as if trying to punch the ground and sneezing on the salt before throwing a generous handful into the ring.

This bizarre ritual continued in every match from then on, much to the delight of sumo fans and is what really made him so much of an icon. He is also known for his extremely emotional reactions to his matches. When he won he would hold his head high as he marched triumphantly back to the dressing room and when he lost he would look emotionally crushed. In the ring his style was very respectable. I’ve probably seen hundreds of Takamisakari matches and I don’t ever recall seeing him henka (step to the side so as to avoid contact) at the beginning of a match. He always tried his hardest in each and every bout.

Takamisakari’s star shone brightest in the beginning of his career when he reached his highest rank of komusubi (the fourth highest rank in sumo) in September of 2002, a feat he would second in November of 2003. He earned four special prizes within those two years and also picked up two gold stars in the 2003 Nagoya basho for defeating two yokozuna, Asashoryu and Musashimaru.

After these successful years, he would never return to the sanyaku rankings again, but would remain a stalwart of the makuuchi division for the next eight years. In 2011, now in his mid thirties, Takamisakari’s career began to decline. He was demoted to the juryo division in September of that year and he would remain there until January of 2013 when he finally announced his retirement.

His intai took place on October 6th in Sumo Hall in Tokyo in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. As is tradition several sumo wrestlers, both active and retired took turns cutting strands of his top knot as well as his family and even several Japanese celebrities.

Takamisakari will remain in sumo as a coach for his stable under the name of Furiwake Oyakata. He has also been active as a commentator for sumo on television.

Daniel Austin


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