Hakuho on His Health, Training, and Toyonoshima’s Retirement

With the postponed Natsu Basho a little over a month away, Yokozuna Hakuho, who took home a 44th Emperor’s Cup at the March tournament in Osaka, is doing his best to heal nagging injuries and stay in fighting shape during the extra time off. On the 20th, he answered media questions over the phone about his current state of health and training. He also talked about former Toyonoshima (now Izutsu-oyakata)’s career and legacy.

What have you been doing for training lately?

Since I had an injury last basho, I took a bit of a break, but since April 11th I’ve been moving my body. This morning in the practice room, I focused on basic exercises like stomping, pole striking, and sliding footwork for about 2 hours. I have equipment at home as well, so I worked up a sweat for an hour in the evening.

What’s the state of your injury?

I used this time off to get a thorough physical at the doctor. It was good to finally understand the source of various aches and pains I’ve been dealing with. Both old and new injuries are getting better with regular medical attention now. My body is firming up while also being stretched. That’s the current state. I can’t really do charging practice right now you know? I am really feeling how important that kind of practice is for wrestlers, because I can’t right now. I want to get back to wrestling soon.

What is everyday life like right now?

I’m eating a lot of good food and whatnot. There are a lot of things I feel I want to do, but since I can’t really do all those things right now, I feel a little stressed I guess. So I’m just enjoying my meals at the stable and at home. Recently I received a gift of some Hokkaido lamb, so I made some of my own Mongolian style cooking with it. It turned out pretty good.

Toyonoshima just retired…

We saw each other recently at an inter-stable training session before Haru Basho. We talked about his plans going forward. I told him it would be good for him to practice hard and perform in front of the cheering fans one more time, but he made the decision himself. So I want to say, “thank you for your hard work!” to him. Hearing the news of his retirement, I messaged him, “You worked hard for a long time, and I look forward to working with you in the future as well. You have a long life to live from here, so keep going strong!” And he (Toyonoshima) replied, “Thank you very much. I’m glad to have been fighting at the same time as you. I am proud to have fought you in a title deciding match at the same tournament where you completed a winning streak of 63. And I look forward to working with you going forward.” It was really nice to receive those words.

What are some of your memories with Toyonoshima?

There are a lot, but I also think the title deciding match (Kyushu Basho 2010, Final Day) was the best. It was the same basho my winning streak ended. I heard that’s when Yokozuna in the past had started losing or withdrawing. So I called my father and he encouraged me, and I was able to raise my spirit one more time and win the tournament. It was a good basho just because of that. The tie breaker with Toyonoshima is a significant memory for me. Come to think of it, the first gold star I gave up as a Yokozuna was to Toyonoshima. He’s formidable. He truly is a skilled wrestler you know.

Hakuho vs. Toyonoshima, Kyushu Basho 2010

Even though he’s small he leads with his chest…

Truly, that’s why he’s so hard to fight! Usually smaller guys hit head first because that’s what’s natural for them, but with his height and weight, he hits with his chest, then goes for a belt grip. I don’t understand it! I entered the ring thinking I would definitely not let him get the left grip. I remember thinking that before that title deciding match.

So “crossing arms” at the tachiai was your tactic for defending the inside grip?

That’s right! I had to change up my strategy a lot. He was that good.

He used to entertain the fans by imitating a Yokozuna off the dohyo…

I was also entertained, haha! He wrestled throughout his school years didn’t he? So even though I started in professional sumo [the year] before him, I thought of him as a senior to me. And I always liked him for his cheerful attitude. It was cool to see him host the Toyonoshima Cup in his hometown right after I had started the Hakuho Cup in 2010. We felt it was important to foster the future of the sport. Holding a competition for kids because of that, I think Toyonoshima’s contributions are absolutely necessary for the future of the sport.

Finally, what is your message to children passing the time at home?

“Work harder than your rival. And get more rest than your rival,” are some of my favorite words. Even though kids who play sports may be unable to practice much, you can still do things like study, help your mom and dad, doing whatever you can now, I think you’ll be able to achieve results later in life. Let’s get through this together! Right now I am also doing what I can to work towards competing at Natsu Basho.


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