Wrestling IS the Path
“Wrestling really teaches you the ability to be where you’re at. If I’m at wrestling practice I need to maximize wrestling practice, when I’m in the classroom I’m going to be thinking about the classroom and not thinking about wrestling practice.” - Pat Smith - 2017 U.S.A. Greco World Team Member, US Open Champion, Pan American Champion
The wrestling community adores sayings like, “wrestling is great practice for life” or “wrestling helps prepare young people for life”. As a strong advocate of wrestling, I appreciate and welcome every viewpoint highlighting the profits wrestling offers since, any positive view toward our sport will likely increase the number of fans, supporters and participants we have. On the other hand, the question must be asked: Is wrestling - as a practice for life, as something that precedes "real life" - really the truest and most beneficial way to experience our sport?
Understandably, these statements might be made by people speaking with little awareness of what message their words could be sending. It is certainly much easier to borrow someone else’s words or a colloquial saying from society than to consider what you feel to be truth on a subject. But, could that language actually be diminishing the most invaluable aspect wrestling offers?
Consider the theory of Linguistic Relativity which, in varying degrees, states that our language either determines or at least influences our thoughts, behaviors, and in-turn, our world views and our realities. The fact that we have empirical evidence to support the theories and beliefs stating that language does influence thought and society, makes me question the way we speak about our sport. In congruence with the Linguistic Relativity Theory, 19th-century philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. What spirit is the language we use to talk about wrestling to our kids and athletes creating in our sport?
I hope I can clarify the nuance here that stands to be uncover. I do not disagree with the belief that wrestling can help prepare you for life. I think a strong distinction needs to be made however; that wrestling is life, and it prepares us for life in the same way that traveling the beginning of an epic journey will allow one to reach the end of the journey. Those who travel the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail don’t dismiss the first thousand miles by labeling them as practice for the next thousand miles. Without question, the first thousand miles offer valuable insights, to those willing to endure, about themselves and the world around them. but it would be an irreverence to consider the first thousand miles as mere preparation for the future when, it is no less than the journey itself.
Wrestling, for me and for many, is representative of the first 1,000 miles of an epic journey. It is not an obstacle on the path, it is not a practice for the future. Wrestling is the path itself and no less part of “real life” than any moment in the past or future.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” - Henry David Thoreau
The world’s most successful and the most fulfilled wrestlers would never consider wrestling’s core purpose to be preparation. To the best and most the fulfilled, wrestling is life. Do Olympic gold medalists Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, Helen Maroulis or Abdulrashid Sadulaev wrestle because they want to prepare themselves for some future date? Of course not. But not every wrestler is going to make a living winning Olympic gold medals right? I know what you are thinking, at some point most wrestlers will need to get “real” jobs and start producing economic value; and if wrestling can prepare them to work harder, be more disciplined and produce more value in the future, than allowing our youth the frivolous opportunity to spend their time wrestling can all be justified since, in the long run, it will return benefits to our society. But is this really what we need to focus on in the 21st century?
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Harold Whitman
In today's world of technology and innovation, for those of us fortunate enough to live in a developed country like the United States, our survival needs are met with greater ease than ever before. We don't need to spend hours in a field growing our own food or worrying about building a life-saving shelter. Instead, we are left with exceeding amounts of free time and ambiguity in life. We have the fortunate but heavy burden of having to discover and choose our present purpose, our path. The needs located higher up Maslow’s Hierarchy Pyramid are what we are left striving for today. The greatest challenge to us now is attaining fulfillment, purpose, self-actualization, a commitment to a passion.
So, when I hear people say things like "wrestling is good practice for life", I listen with skepticism because I know, the biggest obstacle facing most of us is to find the passion and fulfillment needed to fully engage and to experience life now. Let’s allow our wrestlers to live in a world that wrestling is life. Give it the value that it deserves in today's world. Wrestling can provide fulfillment, it can be the purpose in life, maybe not forever, but then again what stage of life last forever? Instead, let us sit completely engulfed in the stage that we are in, whether at the elementary, middle school, high school or college level. Exactly where we are, right now, is the only location where we can find the richest version of ourselves. The only practice needed is the one that allows us to make an even commitment to whatever path we are currently on, the one that strengthens our ability to be completely present.
Experts in psychology and human performance like Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, tell us that both optimal performance and optimal human experiences depend on one’s ability to be precisely present, to be completely consumed by the current mission. This means putting all emphasis on now, rather than the future. It’s no wonder the world's best wrestlers don’t wrestle for their future-self but rather they strive for intense engagement with life's purpose now. This present focus, the ability to toe the sharp line between two eternities, past and future, is what allows the best to be the best.
If we want our wrestlers to reach their potential, to experience wrestling and life in their most gratifying forms, we have to emphasize the present benefits of wrestling; fulfillment, enjoyment, purpose, passion, struggle, relationships, self-awareness and more. The competitive spirit of wrestling naturally teaches, naturally pushes athletes to their limits, expanding their potential by demanding them to be here now, fully present for life. There is no “real life” and no “real world”, if you are here now, you are in the real world. How can we say that something this passion felt, this emotional, this effort worthy, could be anything other than real life?
Let wrestling preserve the unmistakable quality of absolute presence - a quality which we masterfully possess at day one but are slowly distanced from in today's world. By allowing ourselves, our kids and our athletes to walk the path right where we are now, we lead ourselves to the preparedness needed to walk our path in the future. The paradox is that, the best way wrestling can prepare us for the future, is to be fully here, now, to understand that wrestling is the path. More than practice for the future, it is purpose for the Present.
“we cling to such extreme moments… we are impelled, however briefly, into that vital present in which we do not stand apart from life, we are life, our being fills us;” -Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
By: Joe Nord