My family went to Tokyo, Japan in the holidays. Everyone was excited to go see Tokyo Disneyland and Takeshita Street shopping, and the Shibuya Crossing. My only request was that we go and see live Sumo wrestling. I didn’t know anything about Sumo apart from it being two massive guys wrestling each other. But after that one visit I’m hooked … and inspired!
The rules are really simple: the winner of the match is the one who either forces his opponent out of the ring, or forces his opponent to touch the ring with any part of his body except his feet. But what made Sumo really enjoyable for me is learning about the wrestlers and following their personal journey … especially one man named Tokushoryu.
There are 6 Grand Tournaments a year. Each tournament runs for 15 successive days and each wrestler has one match a day, 15 in all. The wrestler with the best record at the end of the 15 days is the champion. We visited on Day 4 of the first tournament of the year. The tournament just finished on Sunday and the champion is Makoto Aoki, whose ring name is Tokushoryu. This man has an amazing and inspiring story!
Check out his journey over the past year:
In the March 2019 tournament he was in the second division, called Juryo, and his record was 9 wins, 6 losses. That was good enough to get him promoted to the top division, Makuuchi, in May. But he was hammered in that tournament with a record of 4-11 and demoted back to Juryo in July. His record in that tournament was 7-8. Maybe he just wasn’t good enough to make it as a Sumo wrestler.
He improved slightly in the September tournament, finishing 8-7. He finished 8-7 again in November. Somehow that small bit of consistency was enough to get him promoted back to the top division for the January 2020 tournament. Of the 42 wrestlers in the top division he was ranked last.
Going into his last match of the tournament his record was an incredible 13-1. He had to win to avoid a playoff but faced a major challenge against Takakeisho, one of the highest ranked Sumo. “I got the right-handed belt grip and I charged forward, then I got swung around by him and I thought that it was over,” Tokushoryu said. “But I just kept going.”
“Deep down I’m feeling like, ‘Is it okay for me to win the championship?'” Tokushoryu said after his victory. “Can someone like me win the tournament? I was the lowest-ranking fighter, I had nothing to fear. I just had to give it everything I had.”
Man that’s amazing! I wish I could go to dinner with Tokushoryu – there’s so much I want to ask him. How did you keep faith in yourself when you were demoted to the second division and had a losing record? What did you do differently from November to January to go from 8-7 in B Grade to 14-1 in A Grade, beating opponents who ranked far higher than you?
He faced another challenge too. On the seventh day of the tournament he received news that his junior mentor and coach had died at the age of 55. “I should do it for him,” Tokushoryu said to himself. In every match, he had to struggle against his opponent. But he would always find the determination to win.
I don’t think I’ll ever get to go to dinner with Tokushoryu but that’s okay. I’m pretty sure he’d say things like: “I just kept going,” and “I had nothing to fear,” and “I just had to give it everything I had.”
So that’s the message I take from Tokushoryu – no matter what things look like, what the odds are, what the rankings say, what others believe – just keep going.
Check out coverage of Tokushoryu’s final match and his emotional reaction here: