The Art of Henka

As promised, I am focusing on the bottom of the banzuke this basho and as part of that, I have chosen to root for Kimurayama. I am hoping he will kachikoshi and remain in the top division. This seems to surprise a feathered friend with a history of dental problems. So…. Kimurayama gets a bunch of his wins by henka.

Henka is like mold on cheese. In the right environment and if it is the right kind of mold, it is like Gorgonzola. In the wrong environment and if it is the wrong kind of mold, it means it is time to throw the cheese away.

One of the reasons I want to look at the bottom of the banzuke this basho is because I don’t think we can judge the rikishi down there by the same standards as the rikishi at the top. Henka at the top of the banzuke is almost always the wrong kind of mold – that’s because the rikishi at the top are almost never the underdog. But, I know that I would cheer if Takekaze walked into the ring to face Hakuho and won by henka – that would be pure Gorgonzola.

One of the marks of a truly great rikishi is the ability to defend consistently against henka. In order for any rikishi to meet that criteria, henka must be a part of sumo. So, when judging a rikishi’s use of henka, we need to consider the position of their opponent. If a rikishi is the underdog and wins by henka, I say more power to the henka artist. On the other hand, if a rikishi is better than another rikishi and henkas, that is where the line must be drawn. That is downright shameful.

To paint this in broader terms, as a rikishi becomes better and better, we should expect to see less and less henka. But, down at the bottom of the banzuke, we need to have tolerance for henka. Rikishi down there should face a lot of henka. Those who can consistently survive it will emerge into the higher ranks with more balance in their tachiai. We can’t hold it against a rikishi down at the bottom if they happen to be a henka artist. We can only hold it against them if they never grow out of it.

Want to know if anyone henkaed yesterday? Check out Valentine’s report.

4 responses to “The Art of Henka

  1. Even though I tend to agree with you on some parts, I don’t think henka should ever be looked upon in a good light … as a necessity to keep the higher ranks in check. I think of it as a desperate attempt to fool your opponent into an easy loss.

    What I do agree with is that if a more skilled rikishi loses a lesser skilled by henka, shame on him. People should be able to guard against henka at higher ranks regardless of whether they actually win or lose the bout.

  2. The existence of the henka in sumo is an interesting phenomena, although the henka itself is boring. I think it should be allowed, if only because policing the semi-henkas — steps halfway forward and halfway sideward — would be a nightmare. But there’s no question that not only does a henka reward “negative” sumo but it also cheats the fans of a real bout (at least when it works).

    The best justification for a henka is for it’s use by a very light rikishi against someone who weighs considerably more. I wouldn’t have blamed Takanohana for sidestepping Gagamaru at Aki (although he didn’t). There’s some justification also for it being used to keep rikishi on their toes, so they just can’t run straight into someone like a bull with it’s head down.

    My problem with Kimurayama using henkas is two-fold: firstly, he isn’t lighter than the rikishi he uses it against, and secondly he uses it way too often. At Aki, I have him down for four henkas (tied for the most). In Kyushu, he’s already used a henka one of the first two bouts. That’s not fine cheese, it’s just cheesy.

    My other problem with Kimurayama is that other than the henka his technique seems to have been created by Dr. Doolittle: he’s a “pushme-pullyu”. I guess it’s nice to root for an underdog sometime, but for my money sumo will be a lot more enjoyable when Kimurayama is back in juryo where he belongs.

  3. That’s a very good point you bring up about weight to henka ratio. Mainoumi used it quite a bit, even up at sanyaku, and the crowds still loved him. However, a henka from the likes of Gagamaru or Tochinowaka would just be out of line. Again one of the reasons I like Sagatsukasa. Little guy doesn’t often henka, and can still take down larger cats.

  4. Pingback: Kyushu 2011: Day 5 | Sumo & Stogies

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