The final frontier: an Englishman's journey into freestyle wrestling

Hi guys

Something I really enjoy reading here on BE are people's training experiences. They generally spark a lot of worthwhile discussion about the wide and wonderful world of martial arts and this is something I've always loved. Thus I've been inspired to share my own experiences of training in freestyle wrestling with you good people in the hope of contributing to this to some small extent.

First off, I'm British. As you're all probably aware we are not known for our amateur wrestling prowess. We don't do it in school or college and it's generally rather an unusual passtime over here. So if anything I say seems naive or ill informed, please remember that wrestling culture is not something I grew up with and I'm still learning a lot all the time. I've dabbled in the odd class for around two years but it's only in the last six months that I've got really serious about it, so I'm still very much a noob. Your patience is appreciated :)

Continued after the jump...

I train at a club called Fearless in Birmingham. We are one of only two FILA accredited amateur wrestling clubs in the city. My coach is the brilliant Kamby Banger, who both competed on and later coached the GB freestyle wrestling squad. I train Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus I usually do a no-gi BJJ class on Fridays and occasionally meet up with other dudes from the gym for a bit of extra drilling on other days.

Every class starts with a fairly harsh blast of strength and conditioning exercises followed by a good stretch off. Then we'll drill some techniques. Kam takes quite a structured approach to this which I enjoy. For instance, this week we worked on a double leg, then on converting this to a single when the opponent defends with a sprawl, then taking the back when they defend the single with a wizzer. Sometimes we wrestle at the end of class, sometimes we don't.

My only significant martial arts background is judo which I practiced for many years. Because of this, a lot of the following observations are direct comparisons between freestyle wrestling and judo. I apologise if any of you find this clumsy or irksome but it's the only perspective I've got. So here are some of the conclusions I've come to so far regarding freestyle wrestling:

- Wrestling is fun. Really fun. I've enjoyed training more in the last six months than I have since I was a teenager.

- Wrestling feels very applicable. I train mainly for fun but I like to learn stuff that feels genuinely useful for self defence and wrestling really gives me this. Nothing we learn ever seems like it would solely apply to competition, as was sometimes the case with judo and (in my limited experience) BJJ. Perhaps this is because I'm still training at a relatively low level but thus far I can imagine everything I've learned translating well outside the wrestling room.

- Wrestling is incredibly demanding physically. More so than any other combat sport I've ever done.

- I enjoy attacking much more in wrestling. I had a very countering-based style as a judoka but find that I'm much more offensive minded as a wrestler and I like to push the pace. I find creating openings easier in wrestling but otherwise I'm not really sure why this is. Would love to hear some input from you guys on this subject.

- Leg grab attacks are very hard to deal with when you're not used to them. There's a lot of restrictions on when you can use these attacks in judo and being able to grab the collar of the gi makes stuffing them a lot easier. I used to be pretty good at tossing guys with an uchimata counter when they tried a single leg on me, however I have had much less success trying this in wrestling and have pretty much ditched the strategy in favour of the defensive techniques Kam has taught me. All my regular training partners have latched on to what my strengths and weaknesses are and generally avoid tying up with me, preferring to stay on the outside and shoot singles or doubles. I've spent a lot of time working on my penetration step and my sprawl recently and it does seem to be paying off but I still feel much safer from the clinch.

- Wrestling demands precision. In judo circles there's a widespread belief that the gi makes it a more technical game, whereas wrestling is more about physical attributes. I now however disagree with this. There's certainly a lot more techniques possible in judo but the gi also gives you a bit of leeway in terms of where you grip people and makes finding levers more straightforward. In wrestling you have to be much more exact or your techniques will fall flat. I also find pinning people to be more of a science without the gi. This brings me nicely on to my next point:

- Wrestling is not just for big/strong/athletic people. Perhaps this sounds very obvious to a lot of you but in the UK this is a common misconception and one that I bought into myself to a degree before I gave it a go. As someone who is none of these things though, I've found that in reality wrestling is a very strategic sport that contains techniques/tactics to suit all kinds of competitor. Duckunders have become a big favourite of mine to deal with bigger dudes who try to muscle me around on the mat.

So that's my thoughts so far on my exciting new hobby. What do you think BElitists? Do you agree with my conclusions? Where do you think amateur wrestling fits into the wider canon of martial arts? What are your opinions on gi vs no-gi grappling? Any hints or tips (either on wrestling or writing) much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read this.


\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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