Wrestling training

Participants from wrestling seminar in Joensuu

As a launcher for an ongoing project of interpreting medieval and renaissance era wrestling techniques we held a workshop last weekend in Joensuu with the local historical swordsmanship group run by Risto Rautiainen.

Given that Risto is a dedicated fan of all things related to wrestling – and a rather good wrestler himself as well – there couldn’t have been a better place for such a workshop.

The workshop was rather successful in my opinion, and while there is a lot of work to do before we have a working historical wrestling curriculum, I think this was a good start.

The basic themes for us were firstly to add practice of actual throws to the training, differing from the more casual take-down training in that both feet are taken off ground calling for a more challenging fall. The wrestling mats were necessary for such practice.

This is an interesting subject, and something that provides for a lot of material to practice. Most take-downs can be done also as throws, depending on the way the opponent moves in, the distance between the fighters and the size/strength difference as well. Throwing a resisting opponent takes determination and most of all speed in execution, but practicing them safely requires a lot of practice and trust from the training partners. A bad landing can cause severe injury, and executing the throw requires balance from the thrower. Balance both physically and mentally – if there is no ‘place’ for the throw it will fail or be dangerous, and physically if you lose your balance while throwing you place both yourself and your partner in great risk. Hence we practices carefully and avoided any training injuries (despite yours truly demonstrating how not to land a few times – a testimony that neck bridging actually works).

We also looked into different modes of wrestling: friendly, competitive and limited in all sorts of ways. I always find it necessary to explain people how most of the actual training falls between drill and actual fighting or competitive wrestling (or other form of combat for that matter). With the right mindset and understanding of context progress is made easy. If one is always fighting they are also fighting against their own progress, if one is thinking too much they become tense and at the same time, if one is too loose or distracted they do not focus and do not learn and place themselves in risk of being injured.

I also stressed the need to keep oneself safe while practicing or fighting – this is one form of very realistic training, a surprising shift of balance during drill might require for quick reactions – not in countering your partners actions, but in making sure you yourself land safe regardless of what happens.

We also did some dagger training on Sunday following a revision to the throws practices during Saturday. Below is a video from Saturday showing some of the exercises and demonstrations from Sunday. It is a shame we didn’t get Saturday on film, but at least we got this much.

The wrestling material was primarily drawn from Fiore (see a somewhat dated interpretation here), Codex Wallerstein (thanks to Cory Winslow getting me going with CW) and, of course, Master Ott (thanks to Jessica Finley for the class on WMAW and to Christian Tobler for translating Ott’s teachings in the von Danzig manuscript).

The big question for us is whether or not we should approach this wrestling as something where all of this material can be combined, or whether there is reason to separate out various teachings. At this point, as long as we stay honest and aware of what sources are used, we can mix and match keeping in mind that there may at some point be reason to isolate certain sets of techniques from each other. Figuring out the context is difficult, as there clearly existed wrestling techniques for playful/competitive context and serious fighting as well. The basic skills are universal, but which techniques rely on groin shots or eye gouges in order to work, or more importantly, which rely on their lack of, is an important consideration.

In any case, Risto’s students did a good job surviving through the total of eight hours of relatively strenuous training, and Risto didn’t mind being thrown by me at least 200 times during the weekend. Without the sacrifice, the seminar wouldn’t have been possible! Also thanks to Matias from filming and driving the car, even though he was unable to participate much due to turning ill just before the trip.

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