Hatsu basho: Kisenosato finally breaks through

February 7, 2017

It feels appropriate to bring the relief of closure to a topic that I’ve referenced in recent pieces: the fate of Japanese sumo rikishi Kisenosato.

In Goeido’s perfect sumo tournament: when talent and consistency converge and Sumo in Kyushu: the lesson of killer instinct, I drew some broader lessons about the qualities of diligent work ethic and killer instinct.

In entrepreneurship as in sumo, I argued, the traits of diligent work ethic vs. killer instinct are uncorrelated virtues. The very qualities required for an entrepreneur to plod along meticulously do not directly translate into a take-no-prisoners mentality. Diligent perseverance is necessary to be positioned at the right place at the right time. However, when circumstances line up to disrupt a market, killer instinct will determine the winner.

Kisenosato exuded the first virtue: he won the most sumo matches in 2016 and consistently notched one of the best annual records in prior years. However, what Kisenosato possessed in consistency, he lacked in killer instinct. He always found a way to choke in late matches and thus never win a tournament championship. Kisenosato represented sumo’s perennial bridesmaid.

Until now.

Kisenosato dominated January hatsu basho in Tokyo, clinching his first Emperor’s Cup on the penultimate day, and beating the traditionally invincible yokozuna Hakuho on the final match.

Kisenosato finally conquered his demons. The Japan Sumo Association promoted Kisenosato to the highest grand champion yokozuna status by the end of the month, the first Japanese rikishi to reach yokozuna in 19 years.

It’s inspiring to see what people are capable of when they push themselves outside their comfort zones.

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posted in sumo by mark bivens

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