Roots of a grapple • NIck Nunn
Recently, while watching the MCHS wrestling team at a competition, I fell into a conversation with Jesse Walker, photographer for the Morgan County Citizen.
After a short break in the dialogue, during which our eyes remained on the action taking place on the mat just a few feet in front of us, Jesse said, “Wrestling is weird.”
The comment struck me as odd at first, and, on impulse, I responded, “Well... it’s the oldest sport we cover.”
And that got me thinking: why should a sport that has been around at least since ancient Greece, when civilization was truly blooming in the fields of mathematics, philosophy, art and literature for the first time in the history of mankind – why should something from this era of development seem so foreign to us?
To that question, I couldn’t find an answer. But as I kept watching, with an eye on the taut, sinewy muscles exposing themselves on the limbs of the wrestlers as they struggled to gain control over their opponents, I began to understand what could have drawn the ancient Greeks to the sport.
At first glance, wrestling might seem to be a purely physical enterprise, but that appearance couldn’t be further from the reality of the matter.
The connection between the material and the spiritual, which manifests itself in the sport of wrestling, wasn’t an uncommon point of speculation to the Greeks.
Plato and Aristotle, two Grecian philosophers, promoted differing philosophies based on theories of idealism and materialism, respectively, which have been the two towering viewpoints, upon which most philosophies since then have been based.
Wrestling is the sport of having two people of roughly equal size and weight stand within the confines of a circle with the sole purpose of gaining control of their opponent by physical and intellectual means.
Strategy and technique are what differentiate two wrestlers with similar physiques, and they are what, more often than not, decide matches.
Similarly, the pain involved in losing isn’t restricted to the physical world. Humiliation plays a role in each loss, since, despite the insistence of many involved in the sport, wrestling is also uniquely individual. Each win or loss falls solely on one of the two in the ring – they cannot be blamed or attributed to anyone else.
A certain type of panic sets up in the eyes of the wrestler when they realize that they are outmatched. Breathing shortens, and the soon-to-be loser takes on a solely defensive position, hoping that they can stay off the mat just long enough to avoid a pin.
In that, one can see further than the dignified study of the physical as it stood with the Greeks and into an earlier state of nature, when men were beasts, struggling to stay alive in a world that they couldn’t wrap their heads or hands around.
And I wonder how far we’ve come.
Printed in the January 3, 2013 edition