In Part 2 of his piece on kushti wrestlingI con­tribut­ing editor An­to­nio drac­ef­foI mhKaKI dis­cusses the hec­tic life he lived while in fn­dia to sam­ple this an­cient grap­pling artK

Af­ter spend­ing a few days in In­dia, where I’d come to learn tra­di­tional kushti wrestling, I be­gan to sus­pect that the peo­ple of this coun­try tend to lack my sense of ur­gency.

Ev­ery­thing seemed to take more time than it did else­where, which taught me that the trick to cop­ing was to make as few plans as pos­si­ble and just ac­cept that things will hap­pen when they hap­pen.

Ex­am­ple: Traf­fic in Delhi was like noth­ing I’d ever seen, and that greatly re­duced the num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties I could ex­pect to com­plete in a sin­gle day. The roads were clogged with cars, bikes, pedes­tri­ans and cows. Holy and revered, cows are al­lowed to roam ev­ery­where, and it would be un­think­able to in­ter­fere with them.

While driv­ing, I found that it’s normal to have re­peated fender ben­ders dur­ing the course of a sin­gle day. Driv­ing to the park for morn­ing train­ing, only a few kilo­me­ters from the place I was stay­ing, took nearly an hour. The kushti les­son lasted two hours. By the time I got back to my base, it was af­ter 11 o’clock and I hadn’t eaten break­fast yet. Food in In­dia is al­ways pre­pared fresh, and it tends to take an in­or­di­nate amount of time to cook. To even make a cup of tea, you have to start by boil­ing milk, which takes 20 min­utes. So at an hour when I would have been eat­ing my se­cond meal of the day any­where else, here in In­dia I had my morn­ing train­ing done and was sip­ping hot milk tea while wait­ing hun­grily for lunch.

WHEN I ASKED Deepak An­suia Prasad Bhard­waj Hi about food in In­dia, he ex­plained that while veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is part of the tra­di­tional cul­ture of Hin­dus and Sikhs, some modern wrestlers eat meat be­cause they need the pro­tein. But even the ones who do con­sume meat eat it much less fre­quently than their West­ern coun­ter­parts, the prime rea­son be­ing that it’s rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive here. Ev­ery two days, I gave Deepak $8 to buy chicken or $16 to buy mut­ton. The meat was slow-cooked with curry and shared among Deepak, his son Anuj and myself. The rest of the fam­ily was veg­e­tar­ian; only the wrestlers ate meat.

The food was in­cred­i­ble and well worth the wait, but from a train­ing per­spec­tive, it was less than ideal. I’m used to train­ing and eat­ing on a tight sched­ule: break­fast, a morn­ing workout, a shower, lunch, a nap,

an­other meal, af­ter­noon train­ing, an­other shower, more food and fi­nally sleep. But in In­dia, by the time we’d fin­ished lunch, there was gen­er­ally only an hour of down­time be­fore af­ter­noon train­ing. Mean­while, lunch was the only meal I’d eaten that day. The wrestlers I worked out with would gen­er­ally drink milk and eat nuts af­ter wak­ing up so they weren’t train­ing on an empty stom­ach. Anuj dis­cov­ered my pas­sion for In­dian peanut brit­tle, and he started bring­ing me tea and peanut brit­tle in the morn­ing and af­ter­noon, which helped mit­i­gate my hunger pangs.

ENOUGH FOOD TALK! Af­ter­noon train­ing nor­mally fin­ished by 4:30 or 5 o’clock, which, in win­ter, meant that the sun was al­ready go­ing down and that I had to clear out of the

akhara ( kushti school) as quickly as pos­si­ble to avoid mos­qui­tos. I quickly learned the im­por­tance of look­ing af­ter one’s health in In­dia and es­pe­cially avoid­ing blood­thirsty mos­qui­toes that can carry malaria or dengue fever.

The drive home from the akhara, be­cause it was in the mid­dle of rush hour, of­ten took me two hours. Then I had to boil water for a shower while food was slow-cooked for din­ner. By 9 p.m., I would be just fin­ish­ing din­ner and think­ing about the next day, when it would start all over again.

As I men­tioned, I found such a hec­tic sched­ule un­set­tling. The In­dian wrestlers with whom I trained, as good as they were, would surely ben­e­fit from a more struc­tured diet and ex­er­cise reg­i­men, I fig­ured. But I didn’t see how that could hap­pen, given the cul­tural and fi­nan­cial con­straints un­der which they lived.

PART OF THE BUILDUP to my jour­ney to In­dia was read­ing about the seem­ingly su­per­hu­man strength train­ing that its wrestlers did. I was par­tic­u­larly in­spired by tales of The Great Gama, also called the Lion of the Pun­jab. He was an In­dian wrestler who was ac­tive from the late 19th cen­tury to the early 20th cen­tury and who re­mained un­de­feated af­ter some 5,000 matches. Even Bruce Lee wrote about Gama and adopted some of his strength-train­ing meth­ods such as Hindu squats, Hindu push-ups, and the swing­ing of clubs and mace balls.

Gama is re­ported to have downed sev­eral pounds of nuts per day, as well as a quart of ghee and co­pi­ous amounts of milk. I found that his diet of ex­tremes and his workout rou­tines are still em­ployed in In­dia. I ob­served plenty of club and mace­ball swing­ing, as well as Hin­duin­spired cal­is­then­ics. In­ter­est­ingly, rope climb­ing has been added to the reg­i­mens of many wrestlers.

IN MY AKHARA, spar­ring com­prises about 70 per­cent of the train­ing time. Kushti com­pe­ti­tion matches are ex­tremely long — from 15 to 45 min­utes with no breaks. Con­se­quently, stamina is a vi­tal at­tribute of a good wrestler. The first grap­pler I tan­gled with was a man named Jeetu. He’s known as one of the best wrestlers in the coun­try. Be­fore begin­ning, we fol­lowed the cus­tom and hon­ored the venue by touch­ing the mud. It was the In­dian equiv­a­lent of bow­ing be­fore step­ping into the ring. Next, we smeared mud on our­selves and each other to en­sure a firm grip. Then we picked up some ex­tra mud to hold in our hands dur­ing the hand­shake.

When the sig­nal was given, we did as ex­pected and locked up in a clas­sic col­lar-and-el­bow stance, partly to test each other’s strength. Then things quickly got rough, much rougher than mat wrestling — which is one facet of kushti that I love. It of­ten en­tails grab­bing the back of the op­po­nent’s head and slam­ming him down for no other rea­son than to see his re­ac­tion. A wrestler might even slap the other per­son’s head with a cupped hand to an­noy him and hope­fully take him out of his game.

Now, Jeetu was a moun­tain of a man who looked like the statue of David and pos­i­tively tow­ered over me. The moment we locked up, I could feel his strength. I knew there was no way I could man­han­dle him. So we pushed back and forth for a few sec­onds, af­ter which he se­cured his grip and slammed me to the ground face­down. Luck­ily, mud is softer than a wrestling mat, so the only thing in­jured was my pride.

Jeetu im­me­di­ately dropped, peg­ging me to the earth with his knee. Then the be­he­moth be­gan rolling me onto my back for a pin. And he suc­ceeded. The con­test lasted less than 30 sec­onds. The se­cond and third matches went equally well for him and equally badly for me. (To be con­tin­ued.) An­to­nio Graceffo’s book War­rior Odyssey is avail­able at cen­tu­ry­mar­lec­tions/black-belt­magazine.

Kushti work­outs

Kushti com­pe­ti­tion

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