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Fat Guy in a Little Coat

10 June 2011 7 Comments

After three weeks and 1500 miles of circuitous Chinese travel I’ve accomplished my goal to participate in traditional Chinese wrestling, aka shuijiao. I’m in Xinzhou (Shin-Joe), a city in the northern section of the Shanxi province, which is famous for having an abundance of three things: coking coal, hand cut noodles and wrestling. Subtract the noodles and you have Pittsburgh.

Rather than subject you to the ins and outs of how I finally reached this particular school for athletics, or the time spent scouring the Internet and being patient with translators, I’ll just do the damn thing and let you see the highlights from yesterday’s traditional matches with only a few qualifying statements.

1. The jackets are called “Da Lian” and are used in the style of shuaijiao referred to by the region of Hebei, whereas the shirtless wrestling, usually accompanied by tight Capri length pants, is the traditional style for the Shanxi province and referred to as “fast wrestling.”

2. As I was heading onto the mat to wrestle my first opponent, the assistant coach grabbed me and said “friendship first,” a likely sentiment for a coach to convey to the white gorilla stepping onto the mat with a 150 lbs. 17-year-old Chinaman (“…not the preferred nomenclature, Dude.”)

3. These are 17 and 18-year-olds who train shuaijiao year-round. The rules are much different, though they are simple. First to touch anything but his feet to the mat is the loser. Apparently you can try wild ankle kicks but you can’t step on toes – my most effective setup.

4. I was trying to win every takedown, but learning to keep everything except my feet off the mat was much more difficult than I anticipated. Also, they were wearing wrestling shoes …

5. I’ve put on some tonnage since leaving the United States, though it’s taught me that when your doctor says “diet and exercise” he doesn’t mean you should eat Chinese food everyday and avoid the outdoors (though my avoidance is from a fear of carcinogens). The Chinese government has built thousands of brand new apartment complexes that sit eerily empty, but there are at best 12 gyms for the entirety of 1.6 billion people.

Enjoy the video. I’ll be posting updates on travel and some other video cuts on the site shortly. Also, remember to check out the Kickstarter page, which expires in 21 days. I’m still $8k short of the goal I need to reach in order to receive the funding. I hope to create a video tomorrow for the site’s homepage. Backing the project means you getting books, high-resolution photos, tee shirts, camps and much more.

There are only four days until I board the train to Mongolia for what will be a seven week tour through one of the most celebrated wrestling traditions in the world.


  • Gavin said:

    You are an awesome ambassador for your country & I’m sure what you achieved in the short time you spent on the mat in China has left a very strong & positive impression. BTW you handled yourself very well for a first timer

  • Cara said:

    Tim, your hopping skills are second to none (jk) – great job on all fronts!

  • Cara said:

    And love the photo of the back of the jacket – very cool.

  • Conor said:

    Tim, regarding the photo, is it customary to wear a corset underneath your da lian?

  • Tim said:

    Hello Tim,

    My name is also Tim. I was searching on youtube for Shuiao jiao vids when I came across the one of you in Xin Zhuo. I am English and my wife is from Xin Zhuo, I have lived there for a while and trained Shuiao jiao for a while under Coach Ma. In the same gym you trained in. It was so cool to see my old class mates again in the vid. I hope your trip is going well. Next year I am planning a giant Chinese wrestling trip around China, I would be very interested in heard what you thought about all the places you train and the ones you would recommend.

    Good luck on your adventure and its so cool to see someone else in the Xin zhuo gym, I thought I was the only white person there!!

  • Antonio Graceffo said:

    Hi Tim, I am Antonio Graceffo, a PhD student at Shanghai University of Sport, writing my dissertation about wrestling. Do you have any texts about Chinese wrestling, either in English or Chinese? Also, do you have contacts for me to go train with and interview in Xanxi?
    Thanks so much for your help.

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