There are at present about 800 rikishi in professional sumo from the lowly trainee to the yokozuna at the top.
After each Grand Tournament the bankuze are revised with rikishi being promoted or demoted depending on their performance during the fifteen days. A new official ranking list called the banzuke is issued by the Nihon Sumo Kuyokai printed in an ancient, stylized calligraphy.
The upper division of the rikishi is called the maku-uchi. The maku-uchi group includes the five top ranks: Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake, Komusubi, and Maegashira. The number of the maku-uchi are within 42.
Rikishi below makushita do not get to wrestle on each day of a tournament. The matches start in the morning with those of the lowest ranking rikishi followed by those of progressively higher and higher rank, building up to a climax towards the end of the day with bouts featuring the yokozuna.
Important (Highest Ranked) Sumo Wrestlers Today:
- Hakuho- Mongolian, for a long time the only Yokozuna competing after his rival Asashoryu recently retired. Head and shoulders above everyone else competing today.
- Harumafuji- Mongolian, recently promoted to Yokozuna. Formerly competed under the name Ama (rikishi get ring-names called "shikona" and they will sometimes change their name when they get promoted, and as confusing as "Harumafuji" may seem, it's much easier than his actual name; Davaanyamyn Byambadorj). Harumafuji is one of the lighter rikishi competing, but he has put on some weight recently. He has some amazing throws.
- Kotoosho- Bulgarian Ozeki. Originally a Greco-Roman wrestler with hopes of competing in the 2000 Olympics, he transitioned into sumo when he put on too much weight. Became the first European to win a sumo championship.
- Kisenosato- Japanese Ozeki. Seen as having a lot of potential that he has started to live up to.
- Kotoshogiku- Japanese Ozeki. Uses powerful gabburi-yori, belly-pumping attack.
- Kakuryu- Mongolian Ozeki. Very good technical skill but struggled to beat the top guys.
The position of the yokozuna is unique. In the past three hundred years since the title was created only sixty-nine rikishi have been honored with the title. Only the yokozuna can never be demoted (even if he makes a poor showing at a tournament). If he should continue with a bad record, he is expected to retire.
Before a rikishi can be considered for promotion to yokozuna, he must have won two consecutive tournaments while holding the rank of ozeki. He must have proven himself capable of turning in consistent performances and in the eyes of the Sumo Kyokai be a man of character worthy to hold such an exalted position.
The rank of the rikishi determines the style in which his long hair is dressed. The style worn by juryo and maku-uchi is more elaborate and is called the o-icho-mage after the ginkgo leaf which the top-knot is supposed to resemble. The lower ranks wear the chon-mage, a plainer style tied with paper strings. The hair styles are adopted from those fashionable during Edo Period and have preserved not merely because of tradition but also because they serve as head protection in the event of falls!
Next Part III: Sumo Ceremonies