Kenji Heilman

Kenji's Profile


Day 13 Comments
Yokozuna Asashoryu got back on track after two days to forget with a dominant display against Ozeki Musoyama. The Yokozuna managed a quick harite (face slap) at the tachi-ai and secured a deadly right hand inside belt grip. After a couple of twirls in the centre of the dohyo, Asashoryu forced the probably dizzy Ozeki to the tawara and waited patiently until Musoyama realised there was nothing he could do but step out. Asashoryu is now 11-2, while Musoyama is out of it with an 8-5 record. It was nice to see Asashoryu doing this kind of dignified Yokozuna sumo for a change (at the edge, I mean, not the spinning around bit). Too often he unnecessarily chucks his opponent into the fifth row and then glares after him with righteous satisfaction. He looked more like the great Yokozuna Takanohana today. Although many of Asashoryu's fans cite this aggressive approach as essential to his sumo, I feel he can overdo it a bit when he's already won bouts. I sincerely hope, however, that he keeps his aggression just as it is during the bouts.

The heavyweight bout of the day involved two Ozeki - Chiyotaikai and Kaio. Chiyotaikai has had an awful run against Kaio in the last few basho and it was the same old story today as he came barging in at the tachi-ai, forcing Kaio back. Kaio then grabbed Chiyotaikai's right arm and looked to be going for his trademark kotenage. Using Chiyotaikai's momentum, Kaio sidestepped his opponent at the tawara and let Chiyotaikai (9-4) dive into the front row of spectators. Kaio (10-3) now looks in a strong position to make a challenge for the yusho (please...anyone except Miyabiyama...please!!!) but a quick look at the expression on Kaio's face as he gave Chiyotaikai an Olympic diving lesson said it all; he HATES his own sumo this basho. He wants to be a Yokozuna and he knows a man of his size, experience and talent should be winning most days easily by yorikiri, with the occasional nage thrown in to please the glory hunter fans who are there for theatrics. I've seen that look on his face almost every day, and in a way, I think it's a good thing because at least it shows that he still cares, even after years of being stuck at Sekiwake and then Ozeki. I would love to see him win the yusho, but I can already picture his speech on senshuraku if he does: "I'm not happy with my sumo and I've been lucky." Good luck to him anyway...I've always liked him.

Sekiwake Wakanosato was matched up against in-form M4 Shimotori. Wakanosato reminds me a lot of Kaio...stuck at Sekiwake for ages as Kaio was despite clearly having the talent to make it to Ozeki. They even have similar builds and styles. He had a day to forget today, though, as Shimotori broke the Sekiwake's right hand inside grip after a solid tachi-ai from both men with his own outside left hand grip and forced his opponent to the edge for an easy yorikiri win. Shimotori now stands at an impressive 9-4, while Wakanosato is still waiting for his kachi-koshi at 7-6.

The stakes were high in the bout between Sekiwake Tochiazuma and Komusubi Kotomitsuki. Tochiazuma just needed to win today to confirm his return to the Ozeki rank, while Kotomitsuki was desperate to avoid his make-koshi on home soil. Roared on by the Nagoya crowd, the Komusubi did well to absorb a powerful charge from Tochiazuma. There followed a brief lull where the two rikishi appeared to play jan-ken (scissors-paper-stone) and tickle each other for fifteen seconds or so in the centre of the dohyo, and then Tochiazuma messed up big time by trying one of those ill-advised pull downs he often seems to favour. Kotomitsuki (6-7) saw his chance and used his lower crouch (and therefore lower centre of gravity) to drive the Ozeki hopeful out. What was Tochiazuma doing? How many times has he done that before and got hammered for it? I hope he's finally learned his lesson here. At 9-4, he needs just one win out of the two remaining bouts.

In other bouts today, the highlight was a marvelous display of technical sumo from the superb M8 Hakuho against M2 Kokkai. Hakuho (10-3) came in with a great tachi-ai, secured a powerful left hand outside belt grip and threw the bigger man down with the inevitable uwatenage. His use of legwork and body positioning to give his attacks greater power has been a joy to watch. This man is here to stay, folks! Kokkai now stands at 7-6.

M10 Asasekiryu continued his impressive run by using his noggin against the woefully predictable M4 Dejima. Asasekiryu (10-3) allowed the former Ozeki to do the only thing he can do - charge straight forward -and got a left hand outside to help him use Dejima's momentum against him by guiding him around the dohyo and towards the exit. I was shaking my head in disbelief as David Shapiro (the editor of Sumo World and guest commentator today on the NHK English broadcast) sang Dejima's praises before the bout, and said that he had done well in the previous day's loss to M14 Toyazakura, where in fact he had been made to look totally useless. I'm sorry...Dejima is a one-trick pony. I know he's had injuries, but even when he was charging up to Ozeki, he was easily handled by the better rikishi of the time. But let's not dig all that up again! Dejima is still looking for a kachi-koshi at 7-6.

Talking about poor former Ozeki, M7 Miyabiyama went for the kill today against M15 Futenoh (9-4), who never really looked in it against Miyabiyama's devastating thrusts to the neck. Yeah...he comes out to play with the rikishi lower down the ranks, but he was a total chicken yesterday against Chiyotaikai. Maybe someone told him so last night. There was no doubt he deserved to win today, though, and he's still, very worryingly, in the yusho hunt with two days to go. Let's see if he can make it a henka hat-trick for the basho tomorrow against Tochiazuma! He's the unlikely co-leader at 11-2.

M14 Toyozakura, who I have to say looks far more impressive than his blustering, salt throwing brother in Juryo (Kitazakura), absolutely massacred circus entertainer M7 Takamisakari (6-7) with an explosive tachi-ai and unstoppable thrusts to the neck. Takamisakari could do nothing about this and Toyozakura (10-3) looks to be waltzing to the kanto-sho. Maybe even the yusho!!!

And finally, M17 Tokitenku (4-9) finally showed some of the promise he so obviously has with a display of excellent leg technique. He pulled off a nice uchigake (inside leg trip) against M12 Kinkaiyama (4-9). Maybe the pressure has come off him a bit now he has a make-koshi.

It's looking good for tomorrow with Ozeki Chiyotaikai up against Yokozuna Asashoryu and Ozeki Kaio against Ozeki Musoyama. Miyabiyama will have his work cut out against a hungry Tochiazuma. Kaio looks to me to be the only one with a realistic chance of taking the yusho from Asashoryu...but you never know in sumo. Hakuho and Asasekiryu are still in there at 10-3, and are fighting each other tomorrow. Wouldn't it be good if...?

That's it for me...thanks for reading. Any comments (especially from Miyabiyama fans!) can be sent to me at

Simon Siddall reporting



Day 11 Comments
It all came crashing down for Asashoryu today as he lost in spectacular fashion - he even did a cartwheel. The win for Tochiazuma was a deserved one - the Sekiwake came in low at the tachi-ai and forced the shellshocked Yokozuna to the edge, then changed the direction of his devastating thrust attack, giving Asashoryu no chance to respond. Tochiazuma's astounding run of form continues...isn't he supposed to be injured? Not only does he now look a certainty to achieve the ten wins he requires to return to the Ozeki rank, he also looks a genuine contender for the yusho, particularly when you consider that he has already fought all the ozeki apart from Kaio, while Asashoryu has to beat all of them over the last four days. The Yokozuna also needs to get past the ever dangerous Sekiwake Wakanosato tomorrow. You'd still put your life savings on him for the yusho, though. Possibly.

Shin Sekiwake Hokutoriki continued living his nightmare as he appeared to slip at the tachi-ai and allowed Ozeki Chiyotaikai to record an easy oshitaoshi win. If there was ever any need for proof that sumo is a confidence game, then Hokutoriki provides it. All right, he was a bit unlucky today, but he's looked woeful this basho, and I wager that's because his head dropped sometime in the first week and his mind's already on the Aki Basho.

Ozeki Musoyama extended his winning streak as he impressively overcame Mongolian M1 Kyokutenho's superior right hand belt grip to execute a lovely shitatenage at the edge. Let's not forget that the Ozeki is kadoban (yet again) this basho and has had to come out fighting to keep his rank. If only he could show such technique and poise when his rank is not in danger.

Kaio was in control from start to finish against Sekiwake Wakanosato, who paid dearly for coming in slightly too high at the tachi-ai. The Ozeki looked a bit sharper than usual, and it was nice to see it because he's been shocking in some of his earlier bouts, notably against M4 Shimotori on the ninth day, when he suffered an unforgivable lapse in concentration to turn certain victory into defeat. Today Kaio got a right hand belt grip, lost it momentarily, but regained it and never looked in real danger throughout. Wakanosato's stubborn refusal to give in merely delayed the inevitable. Kaio eventually won by uwatenage.

In other bouts today, local boy Komusubi Kotomitsuki kept himself in the kachi-koshi hunt with a sloppy win over M5 Takekaze, who's been distinctly average throughout, if the truth be told. Mind you, apart from his win over Kaio on the opening day, so has Kotomitsuki. M2 Kokkai returned to winning ways with a nice yorikiri, and he only briefly looked in danger against M1 Iwakiyama.

Kyokushuzan was made to look a total muppet by Kotoryu in the battle of the third Maegashiras. Kotoryu beat him by tsuridashi, a technique no one wants to lose by. And that includes me, by the way. If my memory serves me correctly, Kotoryu beat the hapless Mongolian by the same technique the last time they met, basically meaning that Kotoryu clearly doesn't like Kyokushuzan very much. Going from the quality of the Kyokushuzan's sumo this basho, I'd be inclined to agree with Kotoryu. Kyokushuzan has spent the entire basho going backwards or sideways, and he does a reasonable impersonation of a zombie at the tachi-ai, complete with forward-extended arms. Anyway, I think it's safe to say that revenge might be on someone's mind if or when these two meet again.

M7 Miyabiyama, fresh from his crushing defeat to Yokozuna Asashoryu yesterday, 'bounced' back to record...another crushing defeat to the impressive M8 Hakuho. Hakuho ignored Miyabiyama's thrusts at the tachi-ai to secure a left hand belt grip, and used the big man's inferior balance against him by pulling him down via the back of the head. It was nice to watch this shitatedashinage, as all basho I've been forced to endure Miyabiyama lumbering, prodding and blubbering (a new transitive verb I've just made up) his way to an improbable 9-0 before finally being matched against someone with ability. He's up against Chiyotaikai tomorrow, and that should be a laugh as well. 9-6 on senshuraku, anyone? Hakuho has looked in fine fettle, and I hope he can build on his impressive performances in this and the previous basho to make it into sanyaku. It looks inevitable to me. Twelve wins would do it, I'm sure. He's up for a sansho as well, possibly the gino-sho.

There was a cracking match-up between bit-between-teeth M14 Toyozakura and the ever dangerous M10 Hayateumi. Pacey and aggressive sumo from both contenders made for an exciting bout, with Hayateumi finally prevailing by oshitaoshi despite a hefty slap at the tachi-ai from Toyozakura.

M10 Asasekiryu pulled off another henka against out-of-sorts M13 Takanowaka. Takanowaka recovered well but balked when it mattered and fell eventually to a textbook kotenage from the Mongolian.

M17 Tokitenku delivered a pansy-like harite (slap to the face) at the tachi-ai against M15 Wakatoba and was ultimately fortunate that his opponent has a bad shoulder. Tokitenku prevailed with an unconvincing yorikiri to go to 4-7. Both he and Takanowaka now look likely to record losing records in the next couple of days...but you never know.

Two rikishi were injured today - M9 Aminishiki was unlucky to twist his knee - it could be worse, I don't know yet - and Komusubi Tamanoshima's leg came off worst in a scrap against 170kg of M2 Kotonowaka. A few of the rikishi, including Asashoryu himself, have apparently complained that the air conditioning is on too high in the arena and is drying the clay on the dohyo, causing it to become treacherous. There were certainly a few slips today, not all, thankfully, resulting in injuries. It will be interesting to see if the Kyokai say or do anything about this issue. I'm not holding my breath.

A quick word on two of my favourites in Juryo. The Bulgarian Kotooshu (real name Mahlyanov Kaloyan Stefanov) showed how not to fight like the Yokozuna I'm betting he'll become one day by jumping to one side and then repeatedly trying to pull down Ushiomaru. He succeeded eventually, and although they called it uwatenage, for me it was the dreaded hatakikomi. Still, he's looked impressive on other days, despite the fact that he's 203cm tall (that's six foot eight inches to all you decadent Western readers), which is generally considered a disadvantage in sumo...high centre of gravity and all that. Mind you, Akebono and Takanonami always did OK. And this boy's only 21. Watch this space!

Hagiwara, a feisty eighteen year old from Ibaraki, lived up to the hype today with a highly impressive yorikiri win. He looked totally in control. He's another definite sanyaku, possible Ozeki or Yokozuna. I'd bet on him before Chiyotaikai or Kaio, put it that way.

Well, to sum up, there was no doubt about today's top story. Tochiazuma (I've supported him for eight years, by the way!) beat the seemingly invincible Yokozuna Asashoryu. And he beat him convincingly. It makes me wonder once again how Asashoryu would have stood up over a basho to the great rikishi of the last generation - Kotonishiki, Takanohana, Akebono, Wakanohana, Akinoshima and so on at their peaks. I know he'd hold his own, but I think it might be bit early to be comparing him with Taiho or Chiyonofuji. Or Takanohana, for that matter. He's certainly the most agile rikishi I've ever seen, but I'd like to see him tested more often, as he was by Tochiazuma. Mind you, before the bout today I thought that to stand a chance of beating Asashoryu, any rikishi would need six arms, four legs, one of those Romulon disruptor ray guns from Star Trek and an electrified mawashi (belt). Just goes to show how wrong I was.

I'll be back again to cover for Kenji on Friday (day 13), if Mike lets me, that is!

Simon Siddall reporting



Day 5 Comments
The jobansen, or first five days, is in the books and quite frankly today was a yawner. It was more of the same- Sho shows he's king fish while the Ozeki rank flounders in mediocrity. 

Asashoryu (5-0) had no problem securing his uncanny morozashi today against Kotoryu (2-3), who gave a good effort but was completely overmatched. It was an easy yorikiri win for Sho, now 48-2 in 2004. 

Chiyotaikai might as well be seated in a recliner doling out his tsuppari this basho because that's about as effective as he's been with it. With the exception of his win yesterday against Kotonowaka, it has been all upper body and no lower body. There's a saying, "ashi de tsupparu", or tsupparu with your legs. The power is generated there. Chiyotaikai today fired off multiple tsuppari at light speed with next-to-nothing impact on Kotomitsuki. Luckily, his pulling game was again enough to slap down Kotomitsuki (2-3) for the win. Taikai is 4-1 with one quality win. 

Musoyama, looking about as enthused as a sloth, had a cake walk with Kyokushuzan (1-4) to pick up his second win against three losses. Shu met Muso with both hands, we really need to go on?

Kaio (3-2) was stood up by bulky Iwakiyama (3-2) but managed to slap him down for the win. It was not a pretty win. Color man Kitanofuji put it beautifully when he said, "Can't anything be done with Kaio?". I love that guy. 

Hokutoriki (0-5) lost again and looks absolutely horrible. It's Asasekiryu all over again, except that Hoku looks worse than Seki did when he followed up his 13-2 with a 3-12. 

Am I sounding negative today? Well, let me end on a positive note because I'm a positive guy. In the most anticipated bout of the day, Kokkai (4-1) overcame the upstart Tochiazuma (4-1) in an impressive display of tenacity. Azuma began the bout with his vintage upward pressure to turn the Georgian sideways. Just when you though the former Ozeki would have his way, Kokkai straightened up (forward) and put himself in an equally low position with Tochiazuma. He then did not allow Tochiazuma to get any leverage, and pushed Azuma out. Yes, this guy is coming around fast and he is strong indeed, but if the Japanese announcers use the word "horsepower" one more time to characterize Kokkai, I'm going to throw an apple at the screen.

Okay, I thought I'd end positive but it's not in the cards today. Maybe it's because I have to leave for Japan in 17 hours but still have a full day of work to contend with along with packing, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, paying the bills, yada, yada, yada. Folks, that flight can't come soon enough. I'm off to the land of the rising sun and a country home with no flush toilets. There will be no computer for the next ten days. I'll check back in at the end of the basho!

Day 3 Comments
No one is exactly grabbing the spotlight in this early going. Meanwhile, Asashoryu hums along a cut above the field as usual. Today he made sure Kyokutenho (0-3) didn't serve him the same tsuridashi fate that resulted in Sho's second loss last basho. Although Tenho did get in on the left to secure advantageous positioning, the yokozuna's speed shone through again as he produced a lightening quick maki-kae to get inside on both sides. Game over. Sho pushes Tenho out to go 3-0. 

Kokkai (2-1) made it two in a row against struggling Muso "Kadoban" Yama (1-2). The rikishi clashed like two bulls at the onset but Kokkai's lower angle and sheer determination prevailed. Musoyama evaded all he could at ring's edge, but all that did was result in Kokkai landing on top of him in the second row. Kokkai's ability to not fall forward 'ala Tosanoumi is a huge asset. Musoyama is 1-2. 

Kaio (2-1) dropped Hokutoriki (0-3) like a bad habit. In a complete turnaround from May, Hokutoriki has thus far generated nothing but ill-advised pulls and no "de-ashi", or lower body forward momentum, whatsoever. Today was more the latter, which resulted in an easy slap down win for Kaio. 

The good news for Chiyotaikai (2-1) is that he did not resort to a pull-down tactic today. The bad news is that he got schooled at his own game by the surging Iwakiyama, who has defeated two Ozeki in three days. Speaking of no de-ashi, Taikai got stopped dead in his tracks at the tachiai and never recovered. Iwakiyama was quicker with his thrusts and more stable in the lower body. This combination resulted in a lopsided oshidashi. 

If I'm raising my eyebrows at all this basho, it is in regards to what Tochiazuma has shown. He passed his first real test today in defeating fellow Sekiwake Wakanosato (1-2). It was a long struggle at the belt, which Azuma stated later that he did not want to do. Nonetheless when he finally shook loose of Waka's right outside grip, Azuma seized the opportunity in textbook fashion by immediately going on the attack while Waka had no leverage. Bum shoulder and all, Tochiazuma is an impressive 3-0 thus far. 

Kotomitsuki went 2-1 by beating the Kyokushuzan (1-2) of old. That is, the one that greets you with two hands and then back pedals. See Mike, you knew that fluke good sumo from last basho wouldn't last. 

Tamanoshima (1-2) posted his first win despite being on the receiving end of a blistering harite (slap to face) at the tachiai by Kotoryu (1-2). Undaunted, Tama drew an ill-advised pull and used it to guide Koto right out. 

Let's see, looking down the ranks it looks like the undefeateds are Miyabiyama (yes, Miyabiyama who usually is 0-3 at this point in bashos), Hakuho (get used to this folks) and Toyozakura way down at M14. I'm guessing the only one with staying power here is the young Mongolian.

Day 1 Comments
It seems like yesterday we just parted ways at the close of the Natsu basho but now the weather and the action is heating up in Nagoya. Mike is in Japan and I will be joining him in a few days as we plan to talk sumo in person for the first time in seven years. It should be just like old times, except that back then we were free of wives and the five kids we now have between us. Nonetheless, it looks to be an interesting enough basho to talk shop so let's get right down to the action. 

Asashoryu held off a formidable challenge from Komusubi Tamanoshima to pick up where he left off in May. He is trying to yusho for the fourth consecutive basho, a feat not accomplished since 1996, and join Taiho, Kitanoumi, Chiyonofuji and Takanohana as the only rikishi to do it since sumo went to 6 basho a year in 1958. Sho's record thus far in 2004 is 44-2; to say he is heavily favored in Nagoya is an understatement. 

Speaking of picking up where one left off, Kaio was dominated at the tachiai and easily pushed out by the other Komusubi, Kotomitsuki. Once again, Kaio looks horrible on day one. Sound familiar? He is apparently healthier than he has been in quite a while, which makes you want to shake him even more. But this is typical ho-hum Kaio; he'll pick it up in the next few days and come up just short in the yusho hunt in two weeks. 

Chiyotaikai came out, in his words, "in a new wine red belt to signify my fire this basho". Then he promptly proceeded to pull down M1 Kyokutenho when he couldn't drive him back. Taikai, now with a career 14-1 record against Tenho, has scored pull down wins in their last 7 consecutive bouts. Were we talking about something sounding familiar? 

As long as everyone else is staying in character, let's turn now to Musoyama who greets the basho in kadoban status for the 5th time. Musoyama's middle name is Kadoban. And he now has to go 8-6 the rest of the way because he was not able to budge the heavy Iwakiyama today. The M1 behemoth stood ground, twisted the barely Ozeki down and looks to duplicate the success of his 10-5 mark in May. 

Tochiazuma stepped onto the dohyo for the first time since January and finds himself demoted from the Ozeki rank he held for 15 basho. He is still not 100% in recovering from a fractured shoulder, but apparently well enough to completely dismantle M3 Kotoryu with no trouble at all. Pushed him right out helped by a strong right thrust to the throat. He showed no first day jitters. It's early but judging by day 1 it looks promising for Azuma to get his 10 and reclaim Ozeki. 

Our second of three Sekiwake this basho, veteran Wakanosato, was blindsided and completely dominated by joi newcomer Kokkai. Wow. Waka, who usually dishes out the punishment, bounced off the Georgian, ate three thrusts and found himself greeting a ring side judge in a matter of seconds. Did I say wow? Kokkai has posted 7 straight kachikoshi since becoming a Sekitori. Conventional wisdom says that streak stops this basho, but hold your horses based on today. And guess what? It's Kokkai-Asashoryu tomorrow, baby. 

Our third Sekiwake, rookie Hokutoriki of 13-2 "just missed it" fame in May, is back down to earth in July. M2 Kotonowaka, a veteran of 82 basho in Makuuchi, wasn't fazed by this frenzy Hoku has created. Mr. Ippun calmly grabbed the now phenom's right paw that was aimed at his throat, grabbed the belt with his other hand and threw Hoku down with an uwatenage. Another day at the office for Kotonowaka. Another flash in the pan in Hokutoriki?

In other bouts of interest, M8 Hakuho turned the tables on M7 Takamisakari with a beautifully executed uchari that the official scorer deemed a tsukiotoshi, much to the dismay of the Sakari antics-hungry crowd who all wanted to see his sideshow again. This Hakuho kid is good, folks.

M10 Asasekiryu, middle name "Night & Day", who posted a 13-2 in March and a 3-12 in May (see flash in pan comment), did what bullfighters do well. Get out of the way of the charging Tosanoumi at the last minute. If M11 Tosa doesn't straighten up soon, he'll charge right out the Makuuchi. 

M17 Tokitenku, the rookie everyone's watching, fell victim to M16 Toki's push-pull antics to lose his Makuuchi debut. No need to be discouraged. This kid will be standing pretty in 14 days. 

All eyes on musubi-no-chiban for day 2. The Mongolian bully versus the Georgian horse. It's going to be a barnburner.