Second Nature





In one of my earliest posts, I took an interest in Indian wrestlers' training schools. Akhada is the word for such an institution, which combines martial arts and religious monasticism. The techniques go back at least 7000 years and focus on strength-building and bodily control. I haven't pursued the subject much further than to visit a few internet sites, but the history of wrestling is fascinating, probably beginning in the Middle East (in modern-day Turkey and Iraq) then fanning out eastward to India and China and westward to Greece, where it was one of the first sports introduced to the ancient Olympic Festival. The Hindi epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata include the earliest descriptions of wrestling in India*. Hanuman, a key character in the Rama saga, is the mythic figure most closely associated with wrestling.

Besides the stunning beauty of the young wrestler (and his loincloth) in the GIFs below, I'm drawn to the role rhythm plays in the physical education of a wrestler. Music accompanied many ancient wrestling matches because it galvanized the wrestlers and paced their moves.

In pehlwani  training, the rhythmic repetition of certain moves develops muscle memory that the wrestler then draws upon, automatically as if by instinct, in future contests. In addition to (and, in some instances, instead of) stone and metal weights, wrestlers build their bodies by lifting and carrying each other. Trainees spend a good deal of time pantomiming key moves and repeating them in succession as a means of making them second nature.

The GIFs below are taken from the video "Wrestling in India:Morning Practice at Jagdev Pahalwan's Akhada," posted on YouTube last year on the kushtiwrestling channel.












* A key event in the world's oldest surviving story, Gilgamesh, is a wrestling contest between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Jacob's wrestling with an angel in the Torah is the beginning of Israel, the name Jacob is given after that encounter. The Greeks honored Herakles (Hercules) and Theseus as great wrestlers. Wrestling was associated with the goddess Palaestra, who, according to some myths, invented wrestling as a distraction for men in times of peace. Greek-style wrestling caught on in Egypt and Rome. Artistic representations of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III of Egypt portray both kings as wrestlers. The Romans honored wrestling as a combat sport along with boxing and pankration. The Norse god Thor wrestled Elli, the personification of old age, and lost. Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, studied wrestling while living in princely isolation at the foot of the Himalayas. Wrestling was a preparation for (and a deterrence to) war in many unrelated cultures of Asia, Europe, Africa, and the pre-Columbian Americas.  The Prophet Muhammad wrestled the champion Rukaanah and defeated him. At a 1520 summit to increase the bond between the English and French monarchs, King Henry VIII (then age 29) wrestled King Francis 1 (then 25). Henry's loss to the French king is thought to have soured relations between the two countries. In US history, 11 Presidents have wrestling backgrounds, among them George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. These are a few of the reasons I regard the sport with a certain reverence, even while enjoying a good bit of the clowning that passes for professional wrestling today.

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  1. Wow, great informative unique post. These guys are really hot

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