Fat Guy in a Little Coat
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.