Western Mustangs' Wrestling
101: an inside look
By David Lee & Alison Stolz
BOUT TO KNOCK THE OTHER GUY OUT. Western grapplers Jamie
Gillman and Tosh Jeffery square off during practice. The
scrimmage was so fierce that Jeffery’s shirt spontaneously
Forget what you've seen on TV -professional wrestling is not real
Inspired partially by the exploits of famed sportswriter George
Plimpton -whose efforts at participatory journalism led to him taking
a few snaps at the quarterback for the Detroit Lions- and partially
by our own athletic aspirations, The Gazette decided to partake
in a Western Mustang wrestling practice.
Of course, such an endeavour was not without its bumps and bruises
-we both left the practice visibly limping and sore. However, we
were lucky enough to have a brief glimpse of what it's like to hit
the mats and take care of business.
The wrestling team is coached by Ray Takahashi, a Western alumnus
who made the Canadian Olympic roster in 1976, 1980 and 1984. Having
been a standout athlete during his heyday, Takahashi realizes that
varsity athletes are a rare breed. "I think [all varsity athletes]
are pretty motivated and they work really hard," he says.
Like all other sports, wrestlers need to be in good shape to compete
at a high level. "There are a lot of different physical components
to wrestling," Takahashi states. "While some sports focus
on conditioning, wrestlers need to be well-balanced -they need strength,
flexibility, conditioning and agility." Despite the stereotype
of muscle-bound ogres, wrestlers can succeed no matter what shape
or size they are; there's not one body type that's better or worse
for the sport. "There are different weight classes, of course.
Ideally, you're strong for your weight," Takahashi says.
With that inspiration in mind, we believed that we too could compete.
Boy, how wrong we were.
Practice began with Takahashi and his assistant coaches outlining
the goals of the two-hour session, followed by a warm-up. What started
as a simple jog eventually included somersaults, push-ups, sit-ups
and one-on-one drills. However, the components were far from routine.
Push-ups involved a partner resting his or her weight on one's back
to add more challenge to the exercise. The whole warm-up seemed
to simulate what it would be like to wrestle in a tournament -we
were continually moving and exerting ourselves, yet at a moment's
notice we had to grapple with our opponents.
Following warm-up, the practice turned into a series of one-on-one
scrimmages. Wrestlers were given the chance to show their coaches
and teammates what they're made of and to practice new moves.
Midway through practice, assistant coach Chris Capangyarihan spoke
to the entire team about the importance of strategy and demonstrated
a move called an arm drag, which in turn can lead to other strategic
techniques. "Technique is so important in wrestling,"
Capangyarihan says. "It's the strategy before the takedown
that counts the most." Coaches emphasize the importance of
wrestlers using new skills properly in practice and not trying to
show off. "We'd rather see someone lose [in his or her scrimmage
matches] than win without trying to learn something new," explains
coach Josip Mrkoci.
While in the ring, wrestlers get into an aggressive mind-set. Unlike
goal-oriented sports like soccer or hockey, wrestlers are matched
physically against a complete stranger. "You have to get into
a mind-set -it's a six minute attitude on the mats that disappears
once the match is over," says wrestler Jess Fitzgerald.
Teammate Tosh Jeffrey has a more competitive opinion about the
sport. "When the whistle blows, you're physically against another
person," he says. "It's not a fun sport -it's a fight."
Once a match begins, focus is key. A common saying in wrestling
is if you get the first point, you'll win the match. "One little
mistake can cost you the entire match," comments women's captain
Terri McNutt. "It's not like you're missing one basket that
you can make up for the next time you're down the court." The
need to be a well-rounded athlete also translates into well-rounded
team members. Seth Ross, in his second year of an honours business
administration degree, often has to juggle his wrestling schedule
and the demands of attending Ivey. "There were times [last
year] when I had a 48-hour report on the same weekend of a tournament,
but Western is pretty good with make-ups," Ross states. "Of
course, there were times where I couldn't wrestle as much as I wanted
to, as well." Similarly, assistant coach Rob MacDonald is well-informed
about a range of issues from corporate sponsorship of universities
to admissions criteria for post-graduate programs. He also stresses
the demands made by the sport on a wrestler's time: "It's hard
to practice 20-30 hours per week, work a job to make money [for
school], plus get good grades," MacDonald adds.
The intense practices and matches take their toll on the wrestlers,
allowing trainer Derek Butterwick to see his share of action as
well. "Mostly it's bloody noses, sprained elbows and thumbs,
even a shoulder dislocation," he says. "But the worst
thing I've ever had to do is pop a guy's kneecap back in."
While the injuries are simply part of the sport, perhaps the best-known
controversy surrounding wrestling is the process of weight-cutting
before a tournament. In order to be entered into a lower weight
class, it's not uncommon for a wrestler to drop 10 pounds in two
days prior to a weigh-in.
After the team has been weighed, the wrestlers try their best to
put the weight back on in time for their matches. When asked about
the tradition, most team members are frank. "It's not easy,"
Ross laughs. "It's a trade-off between not wrestling at 100
per cent or wrestling bigger guys." Most of the people we talked
to on the Western team hated any comparison we tried to make to
pro wrestling, and with good cause. While pro wrestling is highly
scripted and full of drama, varsity wrestling is more about reacting
to an opponent and out-strategizing them. All this takes place while
wrestlers try to physically control their opponents.
While we're by no means experts, we at least have a newfound respect
for an often unheralded sport. Wrestlers of Western, we salute you.