The first of two exciting developments this week is *SOUNDS KLAXON* that I have a bike, and a beautiful bike she is, too. Obviously, I’ve named her Beyonce, on account of said beauty, all round general shininess and rear heavy gear situation. Every day when I return home to find she still hasn’t been stolen from my Hackney in all but council tax home, I rejoice.
Beyonce and I have taken to the streets of London with limited success (there was quite a lot of walking astride her, if I’m honest, and if you were the Essex Boy on Curtain Road who shouted something along the lines of “Oi OOOIII! Get on your bike, treacle! Lads, lads, lads, lads, LADS!” you probably don’t need me to tell you you’re a prick, but in the unlikely event that no one else ever told you, I can confirm, you are) and the country roads of Essex, an altogether happier endeavour.
We had a whale of a time, Beyonce and I, out on the open road. My favourite thing about our 40 mile ride out to Clacton and back, was being able to shout “COME ON!” at myself when cycling up a hill, or “you’re doing really well” when I started to flag. These kinds of pep talks are frowned upon in the gym, and you certainly don’t get to shout obscenities at fellow gym-members when they get all up in your grill, like the occasional motorist. I’m excited about not being petrified of cycling in London and traveling by Beyonce, rather than bus.
The second of the two exciting developments is that on completion of this week’s sport, wrestling, yeah that’s right – WRESTLING, I now only have 9 sports remaining *SOUNDS FANFARE* we are now in single figures. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m finding the opening sentences of these blog posts harder and harder to formulate, I’m knackered, a different part of my body hurts every week and I’d quite like a holiday but at the same time, I’m not sure what I’ll do with all the spare time when this is over. It seems a shame to just knock it on the head and have nothing to bore the crap out of colleagues, friends and family members with, week after week, so I’m getting quite stressed about the next chapter. I’m not even the brains behind this part of the project (thanks Maya), so any ideas about where to go next are most welcome. Just bear in mind that Winter Olympics are categorically not on the agenda – I’ve got nothing to prove on the bravery front.
But back to this week, and I’ve had to think outside the box a little. And when I say “I”, I mean Twitter has had to think outside the box. Thanks Twitter, you’re basically running this project for me. And when I say “outside the box”, essentially, I mean “cheated”, kind of.
My web-based research for “women wrestling in London” returned some interesting images. Were they wrestling or were they, er, not wrestling – I still don’t know, but let me tell you, on this basis, I was pretty keen to find a British Wrestling accredited club. Only thing is, there don’t seem to be very many wrestling clubs full stop, let alone those that cater for a. adults, b. beginners and c. women. I contacted British Wrestling twice to ask them for help, but clearly thinking I was insane, they did not respond to my emails. So I turned, and not for the first time in this project, to Twitter for help.
Kindly martial arts enthusiats, Ben, responded to my pleas and put me in touch with personal trainer Wendle, who teaches a Mixed Martial Arts takedown class at Urban King’s Gym in King’s Cross. The class welcomes anyone, they tell me, and whilst the bulk of the attendees are there for MMA purposes, to all intents and purposes, it’s wrestling moves albeit not Olympic wrestling per se.
Perhaps it’s the comparative inaccesability of the sport, but Olympic Wrestling has fallen on hard times, and after the initial post-Olympic insult of having had it’s funding withdrawn as part of UK Sport’s “no compromise” rule, it has now been dropped from the Olympics all together. I can’t say I’m an expert on such things, but I struggle to see how synchronised swimming, for example, is any more accessible than wrestling.
My enduring memory of watching what was then known as World Wrestling Federation (presumably they had to change their name to WWE cos everyone kept getting confused with that panda charity) as a child with my brothers is that they always looked a bit like they were trying to boff each other, rather than fight. Aside from these confusing images, the times I returned home to find that various toys had been “decorated” with Ultimate Warrior style facepaint, and the “clothes-line”-ing I endured, there are some happier WWF memories. I was in it for the amazing characters and stories, you see, like when Jake the Snake Roberts went mental and had his, er, snake bite Macho Man Randy Savage, and the boyish charm of, and I genuinely can’t believe I’m admitting this, Bret the Hitman Hart – sort of like the Face of wrestling. In fairness, on the strength of some fairly conclusive googling, I stand by this crush. And by “stand by”, I mean I maintain that he was the best looking of a pretty questionable bunch. And by “best looking”, I mean not 809 years old. Did Hulk Hogan emerge from the womb looking 50 years old or has he just aged remarkably well for a man with such extreme tanning rituals?
Being thrown around by my brother and his pals in an amateur wrestling style was fairly painful and I wasn’t much looking forward to trying wrestling. Aside from this, it had been difficult to arrange (until Ben & Wendle got involved) which always puts me off, and I’m a bit weird about personal space, as you may recall from my Judo adventure.
Given my apprehension and as someone who knows literally nothing about combat sports, I was expecting the kind of gym that runs sort-of-wrestling classes to be perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but it’s surprisingly swanky. There’s even complimentary body lotion in the changing room, which is pretty much the benchmark for poshness in any changing facility, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure what I’m expecting in terms of attendees, but they are all men, appear to be normal, if not buffer than average and, to my horror, relatively attractive. Given these circumstances, I was just too embarrassed to ask anyone to take photos, though I will commit here and now to pictures at a later date, demonstrating my learnings.
After some warming up, which basically nearly kills me, and a quick demonstration, none of the guys exactly rush to partner me. I like to think they are reluctant to harm me in some way, rather than repulsed by the sweaty wreak I have become. So, Wendle pairs me with Jamie, who shows me some basic moves. I am initially horrified as I’m instructed to kind of launch myself at Jamie and capture his leg in a vice-like grip between my thighs, arms around his thigh, whilst pressing the side of my face against his chest. These are pretty close quarters considering we met 5 minutes ago. Once I have Jamie in this grip, I’m supposed to kind of drop my ass and turn on one leg, whilst continuing to exert pressure from my head. In theory, this ought to throw Jamie off balance, but I keep turning on the wrong leg, which achieves absolutely nothing. Once I’ve mastered it, he actually falls over, which is kind of awesome and I become increasingly less bothered by the close contact. After a while, it even becomes fun.
The next move Jamie teaches me is a takedown which is achieved by lunging at him, scooping up his leg, which I then grab with my arm, taking his heel in my other hand and walking back on his outstretched leg, which again, will topple him. It’s not at all easy to stay upright in this position, and he goes down like a sack of spuds. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a violent person, but this is actually very satisfying.
I ask Jamie if there are ever any women at the class. “Sometimes, but not that many,” he tells me, “I guess some people maybe don’t think it’s really a woman’s sport”. I don’t think this was necessarily Jamie’s view, but this is silly, isn’t it? Unless participation actually depends on you having male sex organs, how can a sport not be “a woman’s sport”? And I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve ever believed anyone who told you that participation in a sport depended on your having male sex organs, frankly, you’ve been had.
Finally, Wendle and Jamie demonstrate one of the slightly more suspect-looking moves. With Jamie on all fours, I’m to crouch over him, one arm around his waist, the other reaching under his arm holding onto his other shoulder. When he tries to stand up I will, in theory, knock his elbow from under him and force him back down. This isn’t happening, partly because I’m fairly reluctant to subject Jamie to my full weight, partly because I can’t seem to knock his elbow down. So I try with my arm over the back of his neck rather than reaching across him, and this seems to work a little better. The main problem here is that every time I stop Jamie from moving, I also fall over, but Wendle tells me I will find my balance with practice. I get a little better at it, but the real challenge here is getting over how perilously close my hand is to a perfect stranger’s junk.
Despite this, I genuinely enjoyed the class, and there was something kind of empowering about learning how to floor someone. I’m not sure I’d get much use out of this skill, but I feel it’s worth knowing, regardless. So this week, really, Jamie deserves the gold medal for pretty much wasting his lesson on me and tolerating my extreme awkwardness. However, I’m going to damn well take it for myself, because for having tried this sport, I have decided I am a hero.
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