How do sumoists live? - Georgian wrestler's exclusive interview- Part 1
08 November, 2018
How do sumoists live? - Georgian wrestler's exclusive interview- Part 1
Levan Tsaguria or Kokkai Futoshi is a former professional sumo wrestler from Georgia. He is the first Caucasian rikishi (professional sumo wrestler) to reach sumo's highest division, makuuchi. His highest rank was komusubi. In April 2018 he was appointed as the president of the Georgian Sumo Federation for four years.

Levan Tsaguria shares his experience with the people interested in the sport and talks about the challenges the federation faces nowadays. Now have a look at the exclusive interview with Levan

1. You were the first professional sumo wrestler who paved the way for the next generation of the athletes to Japan. Do you consider anyone as promising as to send them to Japan?

I believe our young sumo wrestlers are very talented athletes but they have yet to learn a lot of things. For instance, the lifestyle of a sumo wrestler is far from the one of an ordinary person. Young Georgian sumo wrestlers should be physically and emotionally ready to challenge the professional sumo wrestling. Meanwhile, Japanese legions are allowed to have only 5 foreign wrestlers. Currently, they can't accept new athletes. New sumo clubs are scheduled to be opened in Japan and we will make an effort to join them.
Georgian sumo wrestlers: Teimuraz Jugheli (Gagamaru), Levan Tsaguria (Kokkai) and Levan Gorgadze (Tochinoshin)

2. Are you considering to invite professional foreign sumo wrestlers and to organize exhibition matches in Georgia?

We are involved in a consultation process with the Federation of Professional Sumo Wrestling and hope to bring the prominent sumo wrestlers to Georgia. It will be a huge project and the government is likely going to support it. The project will be preceded by the tournament named after Kokkai. The idea of the championship has already been approved by the Continental Federation.

3. There are many athletes who aspire to become professional wrestlers. They should be interested in your career path. Let’s start with your nickname “Kokkai”.

It was not us wrestlers but the head of a sumo club who could give a nickname to athletes. When I arrived in Japan, the head of the club named me Kakkoi which stands for Black Sea. As I come from Sukhumi, Abkhazia (the seaside region of Georgia which is now occupied by Russia), he thought the name would suit me. It did suit me as my supporters became more interested in me and in my country.

4. Tell us about the first steps into the professional sumo wrestling.

As a child, I wanted to follow my father’s path and started to train in free wrestling. Then after the Abkhazian war, my family became internally displaced and we had to go to Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) where I continued with free wrestling. In the 90s, the International Wrestling Federation altered weight categories. The upper limit of the heavyweight was cut down on 120 kg so I had to lose weight. That’s why I wanted to quit free wrestling. At that time, the Georgian sumo wrestler Levan Ebanoidze became the champion of the world’s Amateur Sumo Wrestling. The representatives of the land of the rising sun asked him to bring a promising athlete to the country in order to train him in the professional sumo wrestling. Levan recommended me to give up on free wrestling in favor of the sumo wrestling. That’s how my career started on the 28th of January 2001 far away from Georgia in Japan.
The third president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili granting Levan Tsaguria the Presidential Order of Excellence

5. Did you find a language barrier as a serious challenge?

Our communication looked like a pantomime interacting through gestures and smiles. As I had to be in a Japanese environment, I learned the language sooner. But it was a hard-working process to do it without a guide. The president of the club and his wife supported me a lot as if I was their son. In a professional sumo wrestling, the adaptation is a hard process not only for foreigners but for the locals as well. As a new-comer, you face various challenges. You had to wake up earlier, put the training room in order for the wrestlers of higher rank. All the athletes wake up at6 and do practices until 11 a.m. We are not allowed to carry mobile phones. Neither can we marry until we move to an elite group. We have to be in a club and fight for the elite group. Our clothes differ according to ranks. The federation did not allow me to arrive in Georgia for 3-4 years. Due to my Caucasian temperament, I worried so much about that. However, as I had decided to pursue my career in the sport to which the Japanese have devoted their lives, I managed to overcome the challenges. Finally, when I got used to the lifestyle and it became a usual thing for me, I found it silly to have worried about it so much.

Related stories:
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