A little personal information on me. I’ve been married 7 times, and have three kids with two of those wives. My oldest son, Abdul Khaliq (we call him Kali), lives with me full time.
Recently, he and my daughter (she isn’t competing because she broke her ankle) have been on a wrestling kick and my son is his team’s most prolific winner. I would like to tell you a little about my observations about middle school wrestling, and what lessons the martial artist can learn from it.
If you don’t know anything about the sport of wrestling–real wrestling, not the pro-kind (my grandfather use to refer to WWF as “American Hand to Hand Combat”) that is–you should know that the training is extremely arduous, perhaps more than anything most martial artists would ever experience. It is a sport where the fat kid can reign supreme, if he learns to use his natural strength to his advantage. It is rarely given the credit it deserves by parents who know little about it; often, nonathletic children are often pushed towards this activity because parents don’t realize how much physicality is required to “play” it. Put your kid in one season of wrestling, you’re almost guaranteed to end the school year with a kid who cannot be bullied. It takes discipline, pain tolerance, and great courage to participate in. And one of the things I absolutely love about school wrestling: No kid rides the bench. That’s right, every kid participates, regardless of how talented he is and how popular he is. The more he wins, the more fights he has. And the kid who doesn’t win that often starts off the day with the same number of fights as the kids who win. Kids get in top shape when they wrestle. They develop their little-man physiques in a short amount of time. Finally, the thing I love most: They know, regardless of your size or fitness level, if you don’t know how to do it–they will cream you on the mat.
I remember a time when the martial arts used to be like that.
As a young man, I wrestled with a group of wrestlers who went to the local colleges. I developed my appreciation for this sport without being fortunate enough to be on a college team. But I did train with them, and learned the drills (cringe), exercises and techniques. Every session included actual scrimmages, and I always went home with a hands-on level of understanding of what I learned that day. I appreciated it, because I wasn’t “cross-training”… I was simply learning to wrestle. Years later when I studied Judo and BJJ, I did the same by training informally and sparring as part of that training. This is the same approach I took to learning to box–not just by picking up pieces and skills, but my just starting from the ground up and learning how to actually do it. In my opinion, this is the only way to learn an art. All else is just skimming the surface.
The first time I walked into the gym with my son (he won Silver, by the way), I immediately took in the atmosphere. I wasn’t in a packed gym full of soccer parents and squealing 12 year olds: I was in stadium full of child warriors. Despite their lack of chin/chest hairs, these kids oozed testosterone and toughness. Little skinny nerds and tall overweight donut eaters alike, in their onesies, all vying for the medal in their respective weight classes. To us, they were skinny kids and fat kids. To themselves, these boys walked as if they had 20 lbs of new muscle packed onto their frames because of how they felt. Yes, every boy in this sport feels strong and muscular. It is a byproduct of the training, and due to the two hours of daily, grueling practice–they show up every Saturday at 5 a.m. to travel to a strange school feeling like this is the day I go home with the gold. They come with sore muscles, sprains, pulls, bruises and bent fingers–but they do it every weekend, swearing to beat that kid who pinned them last week. To some parents who chat on cell phones and sip Starbuck’s while their children get psyched up for today’s matches, this is just an intramural sport. To me, they are raising a future warrior who may one day be a mugger’s nightmare, if they stick with it. Sure, they’re middle schoolers. You still see iPads, tablets and kids playing tag. But when it’s show time the warriors show up, and win or lose–they go home with one or more notches on their belt, a few fights wiser, a little bit tougher than they were earlier that morning. I have seen kids who looked like bookworms tear into muscular kids who look like they could be bullies. I’ve seen overweight children let out a 300-style roar after pinning football players. One of my son’s team mates–a girl–told me about a Samoan boy she eventually beat that day, “I hate wrestling him because he’s so strong, but he’s in my weight class.” I asked why that was, and she told me “People think he’s going to win because he’s buff, but I’m a better wrestler.” This girl is about 5’8″ and is obese. In most schools, she might be bullied and teased about it. But in this sport, she is the Queen of Mean, and even the muscular kids get taken down.
The environment of the wrestling tournament is what I think the Martial Arts tournament should be. Former wrestling Dads giving advice to their 8th graders imparting wisdom from old master to pupil. Charged up Moms screaming at 7th graders to “GET HIM!!!” Analytic 14 year olds discussing why that last kid lost, and what he would do if in their shoes. All around you, kids whose bodies have been molded by their coaches are not just daydreaming about one day becoming a great MMA fighter–but are actually gaining experience on the path to becoming one. There are no pretenders in a singlet, unlike the many pretenders wearing a Gi and sporting tabs on a belt. In the wrestling tournament, there are no flashy kids. No fancy uniforms disguising mediocre skill. No one is intimidated by bulging biceps. No one is underestimating the kid with the scrawny chest or the pot belly. Hell in the wrestling tournament, there are boys who fight for their lives against GIRLS. Skill is the great equalizer, because here, skill truly is rank. Take note, 8th degree grandmasters-of-your-own-styles…
The martial arts Guro/Sensei/Sifu/Sabumnim could learn a lot from these lessons as well. In the wrestling “practice”, there are no celebrity coaches. Coaches do not give themselves or each other rank and titles like we do. They are simply “Coach _____”. Their worth as a coach is solely gauged by one thing–the success of their pupils, and they gear each practice towards making sure their boys and girls outdo the next guy’s wrestlers next week. And there is a sense of urgency; a “test” is given every week, and whatever caused the fail last week must be identified, drilled and corrected by the following week.
That last paragraph, by the way, was pure martial arts teaching GOLD. Cut and paste, share to your Facebook walls. Frame it, because if you don’t get anything out of today’s article–that last paragraph should redefine your approach to teaching the martial arts.
Matter of fact, it was so good, I’m going to end this article here. Read it, re-read it, and re-read it again. Thanks for visiting my blog.