After the first coronavirus death in sumo on Wednesday, friends and colleagues of the young wrestler gave their condolences, and several looked back on his life and career. Shobushi was known for his part in “shokkiri,” slapstick performances demonstrating illegal moves and essentially everything that should not go down during a sumo match.
Waki Katsuyoshi, former Makushita wrestler Takamisato, was Shobushi’s first partner during comic sumo performances. The two worked together from 2014 until Takamisato’s retirement in 2018. In an interview conducted by Sasaki Ichiro of Nikkan Sports, 30 year old Waki spoke about his friend’s untimely passing.
Sasaki: Shobushi was from Takadagawa-beya and you were from Azumazeki-beya. Usually shokkiri pairs are from the same stable. Why were you two paired together?
Waki: While serving as Oyama-oyakata’s assistant during provincial tours, I was asked if I would like to try comic sumo. There was no one of the right size at my stable, but Inosuke, the gyoji from Takadagawa-beya told me, “We have Shobushi you know.”
Shokkiri is usually performed with one larger build and one smaller build paired together, so Shobushi made the perfect fit didn’t he? You performed together for the first time in April 2014 at a regional tour stop in Fujisawa, Kanagawa. How much time did you have to prepare?
About half a year.
Had you two met before then?
We had fought against each other, and we had chatted before. Practice was usually in the evening. He would come to our stable for it. It was difficult being from different stables. At first we just watched other performers and tried to memorize their movements, but eventually Oyama-oyakata taught us. Over the next year or so, we came up with new ideas.
Are there any special moves you and Shobushi did particularly?
At the end, when I get “sword cut” and then hit with a fan. We added that as well as pop culture references, and words from local dialects depending which region we were in. For example, name-dropping a large local hospital when we were in Matsumoto, Nagano. We were always thinking (of new elements to add) each time.
What was your impression of Shobushi?
He was diligent but easy going, so he was able to have fun with comic sumo. We worked out on provincial tours and after that we would do more training. Because I’m two years his senior, I think we matched up well.
Who came up with the ideas for shokkiri?
Both of us. We bounced ideas off of each other.
There were a lot of comments on social media saying your comic sumo had left a definite impression on people. Why do you think that is?
The audience enjoyed it, didn’t they… We also enjoyed performing it. It was awkward at first, but as we got used to it we started to have a good time with it.
Shobushi said he was nervous during important competitions. How did he manage nerves during shokkiri?
That wasn’t really the case. He had a little nervousness, but so did I. Performing at a large venue, I’d talk about how nervous I was.
You two also fought each other. You won your first fight against Shobushi (at Kyushu Basho 2009) by sukuinage. At your next meeting (Nagoya 2011) you lost to him by tsukihiza. You’re tied at 1 and 1.
I was taken by surprise in our second match. When I went to hit with my chest, he buried his head into my chin. Before I knew what had happened I fell down.
Did you two ever talk about that match?
We did. He said he was surprised too.
Is there something you would want to tell Shobushi now?
I’d say, I think you fought (the virus) well for a month. That’s a long time. Please rest well.
Waki Katsuyoshi retired from professional sumo after Natsu Basho 2018. He now works on the construction of venues for regional sumo tours. He considers this task his obligation to the sumo world.
Maegashira 16 Kotoeko of Sadogatake-beya also gave his thoughts on the death of his colleague Shobushi. “I’m honestly astonished. Really shocked,” said Kotoeko. The two had entered pro sumo at the same time, March 2007. As someone who approaches training with intensity himself, Kotoeko looked back, “When we were young we practiced a lot, but he always took it really seriously.”
“I think he liked to entertain and make people happy. He was a very nice colleague,” said Kotoeko. And as a request to the small-framed man with a big heart, “From now on when we enter the ring, please watch over us.”