Chuo Online

  • Top
  • Opinion
  • Research
  • Education
  • People
  • RSS

Top>Hakumon CHUO [2010 Spring Issue]>Discussing life in the sumo ring with Stable Master Onaruto (Former ozeki, Dejima) “Sweat is Rewarded”

Hakumon CHUOIndex

Discussing life in the sumo ring with Stable Master Onaruto (Former ozeki, Dejima)

“Sweat is Rewarded”

Last July marked the retirement of the sumo wrestler Dejima, a ranked ozeki (champion) and past member of the Chuo University Sumo Club. After retirement, Dejima assumed the sumo elder name of Onaruto. Stable Master Onaruto rose to the level of ozeki during his sumo career, and his focus on working hard is reflected in his favorite saying of “sweat is rewarded.” On a different note, he also experienced a serious illness which left him on the brink of death. From this experience, Master Onaruto emphasizes how he learned that setbacks can improve a person. Master Onaruto battled through a fiercely competitive world in which there is only winning or losing, and all of his words are filled with thought-provoking insight.
Student Reporter Group

— Do you train from early in the morning at your sumo stable?

Master Onaruto Right now, we begin training from 6 in the morning. When we had about 40 disciples, we used to start training at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning. However, now there are only about a dozen disciples, so we start a little later.

— We saw a wrestler hugging a large, round stone and doing deep knee bends. How much does that round stone weigh?

Master Onaruto About 30 kilograms. It's pretty heavy.

— We also saw a wrestler performing suri-ashi (a sumo technique consisting of a sliding foot-shuffle) while holding a bag of sand. How much does that bag weigh?

Master Onaruto I think the bag of sand weighs about 15 kilograms.

— We could see more and more steam rising off of the wrestler's bodies as they trained.

Master Onaruto It's cold now, so clouds of steam really rise off of the wrestlers when they start to sweat.

— We were particularly impressed at how training is performed in a very solemn, tense atmosphere.

Master Onaruto In modern times, there aren't many places with a really intense atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere that naturally makes a person stand at attention. I believe that a feeling of tension leads to the ability to concentrate. When concentration is lost during training, it always results in injuries.

— Do you mean that true training can only be performed in a tense atmosphere?

Master Onaruto Even in the case of studying for examinations, things like noisy brothers and sisters will make you lose your concentration and reduce the effectiveness of your study. I'm sure you have had such experiences. It's the same kind of principle.

No regrets after 13 and a half years spent in the sumo ring.
Placed 2nd in town sumo tournament in the first grade elementary school student division.

— You graduated from Chuo University in 1996. When was your first match in the sumo ring?

Master Onaruto March of 1996.

— You retired in July of last year. On May 29th, a ceremony to commemorate your retirement as the wrestler Dejima and to announce your assumption of the name Onaruto will be held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena. What are your feelings right now?

Master Onaruto I competed as a sumo wrestler for 13 and a half years. To put it simply, I strongly feel that I gave sumo my best effort. I am proud of how I continued to compete even when my body was battered and worn. Although it would be strange to say that I feel fulfilled, I definitely have no regrets.

— What got you started as a sumo wrestler?

Master Onaruto Sumo is very popular in my birthplace of Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. There were several youth sports associations for sumo. Also, by coincidence, there was a man who taught sumo in the school district where I studied. There was a town sumo tournament when I was a 1st grade student in elementary school. The sumo teacher asked me to participate in the tournament because I was a big kid for my age. That was the start of my sumo career. I finished that tournament in 2nd place in the division for 1st grade elementary school students.

Then, after the tournament, the director of the youth sports association encouraged me to continue practicing sumo. A lot of my neighborhood friends were doing sumo. I didn't have any brothers or sisters, and I wanted to do sumo because I could practice together with my friends. Really, it was a simple reason for starting.

— Were you big even as a child?

Master Onaruto Yes, I was. I weighed more than 30 kilograms when I was a 1st grade elementary school student. I was also the tallest in my class. The director of the youth sports association really enjoyed recreational activities. Even when attending sumo camps, we spent a lot of time doing activities other than sumo. We played baseball and soccer, and played in the rivers and ocean. It was a lot of fun. I think I would have gotten tired of sumo had I practiced it exclusively. I think the variety of activities was a big factor in why I continued to practice sumo.

In junior high school, practice became keiko (training).
Too scared to quit the sumo club.

— What about after you graduated from elementary school?

Master Onaruto I entered junior high school (Naruwa Junior High School) and the coach of the school's sumo club encouraged me to join. I really made the decision without thinking deeply, and replied flippantly to the coach. Then, when I began working out with the club, I realized that I had entered a really tough environment. It was like the practice that I had done in elementary school had turned into keiko (training). There was a big difference between elementary school and junior high school.

Takeharu Dejima
Stable Master Onaruto. Born on March 21st, 1974 in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. Graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. Competed in his first professional sumo match in March, 1996. Highest rank held during his career was ozeki. Competed in 75 tournaments within professional sumo's top division. Compiled a record of 546 wins, 478 losses, and 98 absences due to injury. Won one tournament in the top division, one in the lower division, and one in the third division. Won the Outstanding Performance Award and the Technical Award 3 times each, and won the Fighting Spirit Award 4 times.

— So, the sumo club in junior high school was really strict?

Master Onaruto Not until the year that I joined. Before I joined, the club didn't have much of an official feeling to it. Actually, when I entered the club, the only other member was a student who was one year older than me. Coincidentally, a teacher who had transferred to the school began his first year of instructing the club when I was a 1st year student. That was the starting point, and I received a lot of strict instruction from that teacher. Nowadays, the school is a real powerhouse and has won several national titles for junior high schools.

— What was your record in the national tournaments?

Master Onaruto I took second place in the individual division when I was a 3rd year student.

— Were you thinking about a professional career in sumo at that time?

Master Onaruto No, I wasn't thinking about it at all. Actually, it was quite the opposite—I absolutely didn't want to become a professional sumo wrestler. After I placed 2nd in the individual division at the national tournament, stable masters from 3 or 4 sumo stables came to visit my house. I didn't know about their visits, though.

— Why were you opposed to becoming a professional sumo wrestler?

Master Onaruto I thought it was a very scary profession. Of course, simply being a member of society presents many challenges, but sumo is an even stricter world in which there is only winning or losing. Even today, there are many young men who enter professional sumo immediately after graduating from junior high school, but I wasn't capable of making such a decision. I have respect for such young men.

— So, your reluctance to become a professional had nothing to do with a dislike of sumo?

Master Onaruto Actually, I really disliked sumo. I never once thought that I liked it.

— But you never thought about quitting?

Master Onaruto I did. In junior high school, I filled out a form for quitting the club and placed it in my schoolbag. I thought about handing in that form every day. I really disliked sumo, and I kept the form to quit close at hand.

— That's hard to imagine.

Master Onaruto's smile shows a sumo career free of regrets.

Master Onaruto TThe training was really hard, almost unheard of for a junior high school club. After school, we trained until about 8 or 9 at night, every day. The hardship continued even after training was finished, because we ate dinner at the coach's house. Normally, you enjoy digging into some delicious food after a hard training session, right? Well, we didn't have the chance to relax and enjoy our dinner time! Mealtime was also training, and we were instructed by the coach to “eat, eat, eat!” The food was practically forced down our throats.

“Why do I have to endure this kind of training?” “I want to hurry home and watch television, I want to go to sleep early.”—My mind was filled with these kinds of thoughts. I finally returned home around 11 or 12 at night. For that reason, I never had a rebellious period during my childhood. I returned home exhausted and didn't have the energy to challenge my parents!

— Did you hand in the form for quitting?

Master Onaruto No, I never handed it in. I was unable to because the coach was too scary.

Training is different from fun.
Hard work is always rewarded.

— Could you talk more about the big change from practice to keiko (training)?

Master Onaruto Well, you don't use the word keiko (training) when talking about sports played with a ball. Keiko (training) is associated with pursuits such as judo, kendo, the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and sumo. Japanese people don't talk about practicing flower arrangement. We talk about keiko in flower arrangement. In my personal opinion, practice doesn't make you stronger. If you want to succeed in the world of sumo, you need keiko (training).

— What is the difference between practice and training?

Master Onaruto I think the difference lies in the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that you put into your training. In the case of sumo wrestlers, it is the extent to which you are covered in mud at the end of your training. Of course, when playing sports, you sometimes bleed and you always sweat. It is the amount of this blood and sweat that is important. If you participate in club tennis and work up a nice sweat, it isn't counted as training. Training goes beyond simply enjoying an activity.

— Do you feel that training has its own unique satisfaction?

The serious stare of an instructor dedicated to winning.

Master Onaruto Recently, I have been receiving many opportunities to speak in front of people. I always tell my listeners to grow a tree of dreams. If you want to grow a big tree of dreams, you need the fertilizer known as effort. If you neglect laying down the fertilizer of effort, your tree will remain small forever. By using the fertilizer of effort a little at a time, one day your tree will grow big, beautiful flowers will bloom, and large fruit will be born. This is something I always tell my listeners.

I believe that efforts made little by little will always be rewarded at some point. Conversely, I also believe that things gained while being lazy will fall apart at some point. I hope that people will clench their teeth in determination and make the appropriate effort to realize their dream. That effort will surely bear fruit at some later point in time.

— Do you mean that there is a process that ensures succeeding and coming out on top?

Master Onaruto That's right. Young people today are concerned with appearance and focus solely on the flowers. Flowers by themselves are useless. Supporting the flowers are leaves, stems, branches and roots. Flowers bloom by absorbing nutrients that come from the roots. So, the important question is how solid your roots are. Roots are not visible. In the same way, I believe that success is related to how much effort is made behind the scenes. Being a university student is a form of training. Even after becoming an adult, I believe that training continues until the day that you die. You will fail if you do not make an effort in the appropriate places. The world is not a forgiving place.

Seven titles captured during high school.
A somewhat easy-going life as a university student.

— Getting back to the story of your childhood, how about you time in high school?

Master Onaruto Ultimately, the effort I made in junior high school laid the foundation for my success. In high school (Kanazawa Technical High School), I won individual titles at both interscholastic tournaments and national tournaments. Our school also won the group championship. Even after entering high school, the training was still very strict. However, I had already endured strict training in junior high school, so I didn't find it so hard.

— Did you think about quitting sumo when you were in high school?

Master Onaruto No, I never thought about quitting. My second place finish in the national tournament during junior high school played a big role in my dedication to sumo. After all of the hard and grueling training, a flower had bloomed for me, although it was a small one. I did well at the tournament and my efforts were somewhat rewarded. At that point, my dreams grew bigger and I wanted to finish in first place. The 3 years that I spent training in sumo during high school were fueled by strong aspirations to win tournaments and gather more awards.

— You captured 7 titles in high school. However, after graduating, you chose to enter Chuo University instead of becoming a professional sumo wrestler. What was your reason for making this decision?

Master Onaruto The strength of the Chuo University Sumo Club was the biggest factor in my decision. Ever since my 1st year in high school, I had been urged to join Chuo sumo by the coach and by a wrestler who was 3 years older than me. My decision to follow the recommendations of such people was a big reason I entered Chuo University. The older wrestler who had invited me went on to capture the title of amateur yokozuna (Grand Champion). I thought it was a great honor to receive an invitation from such an outstanding wrestler.

— After posting such an outstanding record in high school, were you focused on achieving even more in university?

Master Onaruto gives frank and friendly responses to interview questions.

Master Onaruto Yes, I had those feelings. However, reflecting back upon my university days, I was lazy. I captured all of the titles that I had sought when I was in high school. But, after advancing to university, I spent 4 years without capturing a title of any significance. I was too easy-going.

— How was the training in university when compared to junior high school and high school?

Master Onaruto It was strict and hard in its own way, but I didn't find it to be that difficult. I really enjoyed my 1st year of university because a lot of the older students were very good wrestlers. However, speaking honestly, I didn't have many good training partners during my 2nd and 3rd year. Even when engaging in moshiai (training in which a wrestler continues to fight opponents of his choosing until losing), I always remained standing in the sumo ring. I won no matter which opponents were placed against me.

No matter how many matches I fought against weaker opponents, I never exerted myself enough to break a sweat. I was certainly never covered in mud at the end of training. In particular, I wasn't able to train properly during my 3rd and 4th years. Reflecting back, my inability to train properly may have been because I lacked strong opponents, or it may have been because I was content with my previous success.

— Were such reasons related to your inability to capture any titles?

Master Onaruto I think so. Another reason is that Chuo University is located a bit far from the city. Other universities are located closer to central Tokyo, and the wrestlers at such universities often participate in training at professional sumo stables. As long as they are strong wrestlers, even university students are used as opponents for professional wrestlers. However, it is impossible to arrive in time for morning training when starting from Hachioji. Even when departing from the Minami-Daira Dormitory on the first train in the morning, it takes around an hour and a half to get to the city. By that time, all of the lower-ranked wrestlers have finished their training. Scheduling becomes even more difficult when you factor in class attendance. Eventually, I was surpassed by other university wrestlers who were the same age as me.

Better results are achieved through 10 practice bouts with strong opponents than through 100 practice bouts with weak opponents. Even in the case of studying, instead of studying with someone not as capable as yourself, you will learn more by studying with a person who possesses greater ability than you do.

— Did your frustrating experience in university contribute to your decision to become a professional sumo wrestler?

Master Onaruto Yes, it was a big factor in my decision. It was my greatest motivation.

— Why did you chose the Musashigawa Sumo Stable?

Master Onaruto One of the senior wrestlers at Chuo University had joined the Musashigawa Stable. He was one of the wrestlers that I admired when I decided to enter Chuo University, and he repeatedly encouraged me to join the stable right away. At the time, I refused his requests and told him that I couldn't become a professional sumo wrestler. Really, ever since I was a child, I had been afraid of the world of sumo and didn't want to become a professional.

— During your time at university, when did you make the decision to become a professional wrestler?

Master Onaruto I made the decision once my final university tournament had ended. It was November during my 4th year at university. Honestly, I had considered returning to my hometown and working, and I took many steps to find employment. However, there was a job shortage at the time and I didn't get any offers. If I had gotten an offer at that time, I might have returned to my hometown.

Victory in the top division and promotion to ozeki.
On the brink of death with a fever exceed 42 degrees.

— What were some of the good experiences you had after turning professional?

Master Onaruto I was happy when I achieved the rank of sekitori. I was also pleased when I won a tournament and was promoted to ozeki. Also, when I was ranked as an ozeki, I had the opportunity to greet the Emperor when he attended a tournament. I also stood in the entrance of the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena wearing nothing but a wrestler's loincloth. I had many experiences unique to the world of sumo. There were many good things about being a professional sumo wrestler, and there were also a lot of difficult things.

— You experienced many injuries and a serious illness, right?

Master Onaruto That's right. I almost died of illness when I was an ozeki. The name of the illness was cellulitis. I had a severe case of the illness and my fever went up to 42.3 degrees. Normally, it is said that brain cells are destroyed when a person's body temperature exceeds 42 degrees. That's why old mercury thermometers have a scale that only goes up to 42 degrees. I had a temperature of over 42 degrees, and it wouldn't have been strange if my brain had died or if I had been afflicted with a permanent handicap such as paralysis. The doctor told me that a normal person probably would have died.

— What was the cause of the illness?

Master Onaruto Bacteria. The doctor told me that skin pores present a great opportunity for bacteria to enter the body. However, a healthy person has an immune system and antibodies that prevent illness by destroying any bacteria that may enter the body. In my case, my body was weak and I was also suffering from emotional stress.

— I suppose that great responsibility is placed on wrestlers who have achieved the rank of ozeki ?

Master Onaruto Yes, I had great responsibilites. The pressure of not being able to lose. I had ascended to a position where my victories were taken for granted, and I faced pressure unlike anything that I had experienced before. I feel like that pressure had an adverse effect on me emotionally.

— How long were you in the hospital?

Master Onaruto I was hospitalized for a little more than a month. It took a long time for my fever to go down. I had a fever over 42 degrees for 3 days and a fever of more than 40 degrees for 2 or 3 weeks. Even after leaving the hospital, my fever remained at around 38 degrees for a long time. Apparently, a fever is the heat produced when the body is battling with bacteria, so it isn't good to take measures to forcibly reduce a fever. I guess that my cells were putting up a really good fight. I was lucky to survive.

Growth through frustration and humiliation.
A chance exists after posting a losing record.

— Although you lost the rank of ozeki due to your illness, you continued to compete in sumo's top division for 8 years.

Master Onaruto The experience of falling ill and losing the rank of ozeki taught me a great deal about the heartlessness, cruelty and duplicity of people. I was approached by many people when I achieved the rank of ozeki. There was one man who claimed to be my relative, although it turned out that we shared no relation at all. The number of members in my fan club increased and everyone was cheering for me to become yokozuna.

However, as soon as I lost the rank of ozeki, the number of people in my fan club fell drastically. I began to hear booing and heckling during tournaments. However, there were still some people who encouraged me and gave me confidence that I could regain my previous form. I learned that such people were my true fans and supporters. I reaffirmed what is important in life.

— Human beings grow by experiencing setbacks.

Wrestlers sweating during a tense training session.

Master Onaruto I believe that it is a process of repeating adversity and success. Just like a spring, I believe that people must contract before they expand. I don't think that there is anyone who spends their whole life expanding. Of course, I am not recommending that people become depressed or intentionally make mistakes. I believe that there is some frustration and humiliation in anyone's life, and I hope that people use such negative experiences as opportunities to grow.

For example, consider people who have always been at the top of their class and have posted outstanding records in junior high school, high school, and university. When entering society and being shot down for the first time, some of these outstanding individuals end up falling out of the system and unemployed. This is precisely the point that I am trying to make. People who have been strengthened by a certain amount of adversity don't lose heart so quickly.

— What message do you want to pass on to the wrestlers under your guidance?

Master Onaruto My disciples are sumo wrestlers. Therefore, I want them to refine their sumo skills. However, first and foremost, they are individual human beings. Therefore, I want them to become outstanding adults. I want them to greet people properly and to express their gratitude and regrets. I think that there are many young people in society who are not able to express such feelings.

However, I also deeply feel the difficulty of teaching. A senior sumo instructor once gave me the following advice: “It's normal,” he said, “for disciples to be unable to wrestle like you and I once did. Our wrestling had a lot to do with natural ability and innate sense. Normal wrestles won't be able to reach that level of proficiency without careful and detailed instruction.” This is the reason that great masters do not always have great wrestlers in their stable. I believe that the best way to assist young wrestlers is to communicate as much as possible to enhance their understanding, to make them believe they will become stronger and to have them train.

— It seems that you are describing how to motivate your wrestlers.

Master Onaruto When teaching sumo wrestlers, I believe that the best chance for instruction exists when a wrestler has posted a losing record or an unsatisfactory record. I'm talking about when a wrestler goes 1 and 6 or loses 7 matches in a row. The best chance to motivate people is when they are frustrated. If a wrestler is posting a good record, he can be left alone because he will train enthusiastically by himself. The point is how much subsequent growth you can get out of a wrestler who has lost heart.

Sumo is easy to do and easy to understand.
Nothing begins without a first step.

— What is the appeal of sumo?

Master Onaruto I think that sumo is appealing because it is easy to do and easy to understand. In junior high school, we used to practice sumo during break time by using a belt in place of a loincloth. Sumo doesn't require a ball or other equipment, and it can be done by just two people. It is also easy to understand who wins and who loses. You lose if you are forced out of the ring or if you touch the ground with any part of your body other than the soles of your feet.

Also, sumo has also been familiar to people within Japanese culture. Although it is becoming rarer in large cities, rural areas still hold sumo matches at shrines as a ritual for the gods. Also, many local festivals feature sumo tournaments between youth groups.

— Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?

Master Onaruto I don't have words that I live by, but I like the saying “sweat is rewarded.” In the case of both sports and study, the brains sweats, the body sweats and the heart sweats. Sweat can represent many aspects in life. Nowadays, there are many people who try to get rich without sweat and hard work. That kind of attitude will backfire in the end. In today's society, honest people and people who give great effort are having the most difficult time. I hope that somebody will change today's society.

— So, you believe that sweat has many different meanings?

“To what extent do your efforts leave you covered in mud?” asks Master Onaruto.

Master Onaruto Yes, it has a lot of different meanings. For example, tears are sweat from the heart. Although it might be too early for me to think about dying, when I am going to my coffin I hope that I can reflect back upon a good life in which I received the graces of many people. Some people say that half of life is good and half of life is bad, but I want to raise the good part to 51%. If I can keep the bad part to 49% and create a difference of 2%, then I will be able to say that it is a good life.

There are many things that cannot be changed by effort. However, there are also many things that can be changed by effort. New students, and of course students currently studying at university, all contain limitless potential. Therefore, I hope that they will take the first step toward embracing new challenges. Nothing will begin without that first step.

— I have heard that you enjoy ceramics. Is that true?

Master Onaruto Yes, I make ceramics. Basically, I use a potter's wheel to make plates, sake cups, sake bottles, and vases. I also distribute my works to members of my fan club. For me, ceramics is a way to refresh and relieve stress. There aren't many chances to touch mud after becoming an adult, but working with mud and clay is really quite enjoyable. If you let your arms stray from your sides, your work is going to fall into a shapeless mess. So, just like sumo, you have to keep your arms in close when using the potter's wheel. Concentration is everything.

It's fine to just have fun enjoying a hobby. I'm certainly not a professional potter. In the world today, there is less room for enjoyable trends and hobbies that are considered a waste of time. I think that society has gotten a bit too stiff and formal. It's good to add some sophistication to your play time and hobbies. This idea might be hard for university students to understand...

— Those kinds of pursuits broaden a person's perspectives.

Master Onaruto There are no stiff and formal people who have become extremely successful. I believe that it is very important for people to relax some of the tension that exists inside of them. Instead of studying all the time, relax and enjoy some coffee or tea every once in a while. People who can achieve balance in their life will be successful. If you have a balanced and successful life, then you are truly a sophisticated person.

— Thank you very much for sharing your interesting and insightful thoughts. We hope to use your teachings to better ourselves in the future.

(This interview was conducted on February 8th at the Musashigawa Sumo Stable.)
Student Reporter Group
Maria Nomura (4th year student in the Faculty of Commerce), Miyuki Nozaki (3rd year student in the Faculty of Law), Shigeki Mochizuki (3rd year student in the Faculty of Letters) & the Editorial Office