The most decorated athlete of sumo’s 36-year history is retiring after a short five-year reign. Hakuho, the retired Japanese sumo champion, won three division titles – representing a total of sixteen different tournaments and annual events – during his illustrious career. The rugged wrestler took a moment from his retirement ceremony to discuss the lifelong influences that led him to the sport, the process of gold-medal winning, and the challenges of taking his physical dominance to the next level of his career.
For years the wrestling world has been eagerly anticipating Hakuho’s future in sumo. During his time in Japan’s most venerated sport, the 29-year-old grappler enjoyed an impressive three-year hiatus in the U.S. where he’d lived and trained at the Friendship Reunification Ceremony. In 2012, Hakuho returned to Japan to try his hand at sumo and was immediately made a part of the exclusive Kakushin imperial family and immediately hailed as their most successful champion. The momentous honour was followed with an ambitious, and ultimately fruitless, tour of the Chinese zodiac nations where Hakuho defeated all 36 of the region’s most revered warriors. During his ring time he received some of the highest-scoring wins in the history of sumo with some of his best moves having as much importance as the sumo green belt he earned with his fifth division title win.
After his retirement, Hakuho discussed several key elements of his career and particularly his difficult moments, which he deemed “tough learning experiences” that allowed him to grow and learn more about the sport. These include the pivotal defeat in sumo’s Kiwa playoff contest that allowed the champion to retain his championship. He then spoke of his success in the Olympic category of the preliminary rounds of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. He was subsequently selected to represent Japan in the preliminaries of the Olympic match against Mongolian wrestler Georgyovtsev and finished first in both the freestyle category and the elimination contest. He even met with Tokyo 2020 organizers regarding his Olympic chances and spoke of how he hoped to capture one of Japan’s six berths in the upcoming sports showpiece.
After Hakuho’s retirement ceremony, he also offered further insight into the key components to achieving his ring success. The nine limbs of the sumo yokozuna, or grand champion, can be divided into two distinct components, he explained: his physical strength and his sumo mental prowess. “I have to be in the best physical shape that I can be,” Hakuho said. “My sumo mental strength is what allows me to overcome any competition.”
Hakuho is more than happy to leave the field that’s brought him so much success, but according to his reputation as one of the most competitive athletes in the sport, the competitive spirit has little to do with getting him to the ring. It was a passion for knowledge and respect that led him to create a second career. “I’ve never looked forward to the day that I’m retired and I want to live life in earnest. I want to study a subject that’s interesting and give back to society through my efforts. If there’s a way for me to do this without becoming myself and having a sham, or self-made person, I will want to pursue that.”