Wrestling is not just a sport; it is a state of mind. It is a way of life. Wrestling embodies principles and concepts that one can follow on and off the mat.
The samurai of Japan followed the Bushido Code. Bushido means “Way of the Warrior.” Taoists follow certain principles as well. Tao means “way” or “path.” Zen Buddhists also follow certain principles. Zen has to do with being quiet and observant. In Zen, meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition are very important concepts. Someone online made this observation regarding Zen: “One way to think of Zen is this: a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”
What principles do wrestlers follow? Does a wrestling code exist? What is the path to wrestling greatness? I contemplated these questions and others and wrote this article to share some of my thoughts.
The Way of the Wrestler:
Remember Your Elders and the Rich History of Wrestling
Wrestling is considered one of the world’s oldest sports; it has been around for thousands of years. Wrestling was practiced in the ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Grecian, and Roman empires.
Wrestling is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literature. Wrestling is also mentioned in the Bible. Jacob wrestles through the night with a man (possibly God) and ends up with a dislocated hip. In Beowulf, the hero Beowulf “grapples” with the monster Grendel eventually tearing off Grendel’s arm. Beowulf is said to have a strong handgrip. He grapples with Grendel because he doesn’t want to have any advantage by using weapons. Other ancient works of literature mention wrestling as well.
The philosopher Plato was a wrestler. Plato was actually a nickname given to him by his wrestling coach. Plato means “broad” and may have referred to Plato’s broad shoulders or perhaps his sturdy, powerful build. Plato thought highly of wrestling. In his book entitledLaws, Plato states, “…the art of wrestling erect and keeping free the neck and hands and sides, working with energy and constancy, with a composed strength, and for the sake of health-these are always useful, and are not to be neglected…”
Some famous politicians (including presidents), soldiers (including generals), businessmen, actors, writers, comedians and other celebrities were wrestlers at one time. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, General George Patton, General Norman Schwartzkopf, Senator John McCain, John Irving (author), Tom Cruise, Vince Vaughn, Ashton Kutcher, Jay Leno were all wrestled. Some famous football players and boxers wrestled as well. Hall of Fame Football Coach John Madden stated, ” I would have all of my offensive lineman wrestle if I could.”
In the book Wrestling Tough, author Mike Chapman mentions legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant who coached the University of Alabama to six national titles. According to Chapman, “Bryant held wrestling in such high esteem as a developer of athletes, physically and mentally, that he made the Alabama football team work out in the wrestling room in spring practice, shooting takedowns and engaging in live scrimmages.”
Of course, it almost goes without saying that many mixed martial artists that fought or continue to fight in the UFC and Pride were wrestlers. Dan Henderson, Dan Severn, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Sean Sherk, Frankie Edgar, and Brock Lesnar were all wrestlers just to name a few. Other mixed martial artists have successfully added wrestling to their skill set.
I could mention many famous wrestlers. Some wrestlers have made their mark in folkstyle, freestyle, Greco-Roman, catch-as-catch-can, and other forms of wrestling. Some wrestlers have excelled in more than one form of wrestling. Some have been formidable wrestling coaches as well as exceptional wrestlers such as Dan Gable and John Smith.
Some Notable Wrestlers
- Martin “Farmer” Burns
- Frank Gotch
- Karl Gotch
- The Great Gama (He was never defeated during his career.)
- Robin Reed (He was incredible. He never lost a match.)
- Ivar Johansson (A Swedish wrestler who competed in the 1932 Olympics; he won a gold medal in Greco-Roman and in freestyle.)
- Danny Hodge (Have you heard of the Dan Hodge Trophy?)
- Yojiro Uetake
- Bobby Douglas
- Dan Gable (Do I really need to say anything about Dan Gable? He was phenomenal.)
- John Peterson
- Ben Peterson
- Wade Schalles (One of the greatest pinners of all time.)
- Lee Kemp
- Kenny Monday
- Bruce Kinseth (Another incredible wrestler. He finished his collegiate career by pinning his way through the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in 1979.)
- Bruce Baumgartner
- Dave Schultz
- Mark Schultz
- Gene Mills
- John Smith (Do I really need to say anything about John Smith? He was phenomenal.)
- Tom Brands
- Terry Brands
- Cael Sanderson
- Henry Cejudo
Well, I could list hundreds of notable wrestlers. I’m sure you have your idols and role models that inspire you.
You should remember the rich tradition wrestling has and the great men that have wrestled before you. One of those great men may be your coach, father, or brother. You should always be a good representative for the sport of wrestling.
Go With the Flow
One of Taoism’s central concepts is wu wei. Wu wei has to do with not forcing things. Wu wei means “without action.” Wu wei could also be defined as “effortless effort.” The closest American equivalent is probably the expression “going with the flow.” Or, perhaps you’ve heard the expression “rolling with the punches.” Have you ever had a match that seemed effortless? Have you ever had a match where you were totally focused and everything went right? Sometimes we work hard in practice and in our conditioning and yet it doesn’t feel hard.
So, how can we go with the flow? I think that a wrestler needs to drill and practice his moves and techniques repeatedly until they become second nature. If you flow seamlessly from move to another in a match, then you have probably reached that state of “effortless effort.” Sometimes a match doesn’t go as expected and you have to make some adjustments. You can’t lose your composure and give up. You need to go with the flow. You need to say to yourself, “No problem, I can handle this situation.” Going with the flow does not mean giving up and accepting whatever happens. It means being ready to react and deal with whatever comes your way. I think that going with the flow means being flexible so that you can handle challenging situations. Maybe you need to change your strategy during a match. When an opportunity presents itself you need to “strike while the iron is hot.” Often, you don’t really need to think during a match because you simply react and handle whatever your opponent does.
Stay in the Moment
Zen Buddhism has a concept called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness essentially translates to “staying in the moment.” Do you get distracted during a match? Do you get nervous and find yourself thinking about whether you will win or lose? I think that a wrestler needs to focus on the process or the means (i.e. his moves and techniques) as opposed to the outcome of the match. We all want to win. Thinking about winning before your match and visualizing winning is fine. But, when you are actually wrestling you need to be focused on the task at hand and nothing else. If you focus on your moves and wrestle a focused match, then winning will take care of itself.
Do you stay focused during wrestling practice? Do you make the most of it? A wrestler shouldn’t be distracted thinking about other things during practice. He needs to stay in the moment. He needs to focus on his training. He needs to be observant and listen to his coach. He should encourage teammates. He should immerse himself in practice and give it his undivided attention.
Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone.
I watched a funny movie called The Tao of Steve. In this movie, the main character practices his personal form of Taoism. He tries to help a friend by giving him advice on how to get a girlfriend. His friend summed up the advice as, “Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone.” I think this advice can apply to wrestling as well. If you approach a wrestling match as though it is a matter of life or death, you are probably putting way too much pressure on yourself. In addition, too much desire to win can be detrimental. Of course, you need desire. You need passion. However, as I stated previously, you shouldn’t get overly focused on the outcome of the match. Focus on the process. The process involves focusing on executing your moves and “being excellent.” Your moves and technique will be excellent if you drill and practice religiously. Finally, be gone. I never cared too much for wrestlers that did victory dances or back flips after winning a match. I’m not saying I didn’t pump my fist in the air once or twice. Usually, I just shook hands and walked off the mat. Victory was reward enough without celebrating. I was happy and proud on the inside. I’ve noticed that many great wrestlers are actually humble. They wrestle a great match, shake hands, and run off the mat. Maybe they are already thinking of preparing for the next match. Julius Caesar famously stated, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” I like to see aggressive wrestlers who wrestle a focused match, take care of business, shake hands, and then run off the mat. That’s how I remember Tom Brands and many other University of Iowa wrestlers. Tom didn’t smile or pump his fist in the air. He simply took care of business and then ran off the mat. I read a horoscope once that stated, “Don’t chase admiration – be humble, quietly take care of business. I am reminded of the lone cowboy (without a name) who rides into town, defeats the bad guys, and then leaves without any fanfare. He just takes care of business and then vanishes.
Way of the Warrior
The Bushido code of the samurai is associated the following seven virtues:
What sort of code should a wrestler follow? Do what is morally right. Conduct yourself in a responsible and professional manner. Never waver in your quest to be in excellent condition and to excel in competition. Be a good role model for your teammates. Be courageous and believe in yourself even in the face of challenges. Be kind. Help your teammates and support them. Treat all of your teammates well including underclassmen. Respect your coaches, teammates, opponents, family, friends, and community members. Have integrity. Tell the truth. Be a person who keeps his word. Be loyal to your coaches, teammates, school, family, friends, and community. Be a dutiful wrestler by practicing hard and competing with the intention of performing to your utmost ability.
Lao Tzu is considered to be the father of Taoism. The following are some quotes by him and my thoughts.
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” –Lao Tzu
Earlier I mentioned going with the flow. Be ready to react. It’s easier to stop a takedown attempt if you stop it before your opponent already has a tight grip around your leg. Working hard in practice is easier when you build up your work capacity slowly. If you drill and practice hard then competition may seem relatively easy. Don’t wait until the last minute to get into great condition. Don’t wait until the last period to get aggressive in a match.
“An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.”–Lao Tzu
You may face wrestlers who are bigger and stronger than you are. You may face wrestlers who are supposedly more talented than you are. You can win matches by using skills that you have drilled repeatedly, by being aggressive, by being confident, and by being in excellent condition.
“Great acts are made up of small deeds.” –Lao Tzu
You can achieve greatness. There isn’t any real secret to being a great wrestler. Greatness comes from doing many small things repeatedly and consistently. You need to drill and practice. You need to get into excellent condition. You need to educate yourself about proper technique and proper conditioning by observing and listening to your coach. You can also learn from teammates, camps, clinics, books, and videos. You can practice visualization and positive self-talk. You can practice good nutrition. All of theses “small deeds” can lead to wrestling greatness.
Although I don’t care much for wrestlers who do victory dances or back flips on the mat following a win, I didn’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t be happy after winning. You should be happy and proud of your accomplishments. You should be happy with the knowledge that your hard work and dedication paid off. Encourage your teammates and celebrate their victories as well. Sometimes teams get together and celebrate after a competition. This is a great thing to do as well. So, yes, celebrating is a good thing. I simply prefer to celebrate off the mat.
Review of Main Points
- Remember your elders and the rich history of wrestling.
- Go With the Flow. Be ready for whatever your opponent does and for whatever situations arise in a match.
- Stay in the moment. Don’t think too much about the outcome of the match while you are wrestling. Focus on the process (i.e. executing your moves powerfully and flawlessly) and then winning will take care of itself. Always make the most of practice time.
- Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone. Focus on your moves, take care of business, then run off the mat and begin to prepare for the next competition.
- Conduct yourself in a responsible and professional manner. Be a good representative for your school and for the sport of wrestling. Strive to be a good role model. Always practice hard and compete with the intention of winning. Practice virtues such as courage, honor, and loyalty.
- Be prepared physically and mentally for every match. Be confident in your abilities and in your conditioning. Remember that you can always learn new moves and new techniques. Drill and practice moves repeatedly until they become second nature.
I hope that some of these concepts and principles can help you on your path to wrestling greatness.