I’m Comin’ Home
After 10+ weeks on the road I’m packing up the speedos and Jedi outfit to come home and start writing in-depth about my time on the steppe. The process will be painful at times as details aren’t easy to acquire in Mongolia. However, I’m confident that my network of friends in-country will help me separate truth from opinion. The goal has always been to get this thing in bookstores in time for the Olympic Games which means I don’t have much time to dawdle in coffee shops toying with Facebook while moonlighting in bars as an affected writer – this I’ll leave to those who live in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not Virginia).
The blog has been a wonderful way to keep track of some of the highlights of the trip, but there is so much more to this story that a blog can’t deliver readers (this is a hint – I absolutely “buried the lede” in this post). The story of Mongolian wrestling is much broader than my ability/inability to snag a takedown or ride a motorcycle in order to find people to wrestle. The Mongolians have been wrestling their style – mind you, mostly uninterrupted – for more than 800 years; wrestling isn’t just another sports banner in their high school, it’s a necessary physical and cultural tradition.
The book may or may not spend some time following guys like Turtogtokh (The Citadel), Ganbayar (American), Minga (St. Johns), and Mendbagana (George Mason). Their participation in American folkstyle wrestling is not a random event, it’s a combination of opportunity and awareness by many Mongolians that their wrestling is special and that their country could benefit from men educated in America. For my purposes, the project would not have been possible without the help of Turtogtokh and Minga who spent hours, if not days, translating and guiding me around their country. They both have great careers in front of them, Minga in business and Turtogtokh in wrestling and eventually the military (No TTT, you’ll never take me down).
The trip had plenty of hysterical moments, none as un-funny as I went Superman-ing over my motorcycle handlebars at 45km/hour. The only wrestling-related moment to come from the accident was the affirmation by our guide Jargal, who saw the whole thing happen, that I did a somersault out of the accident, “you look like wrestler.” It was a sugary topping to a rather bitter main dish of mud and bicep bruising. I also ripped my Gore-Tex jacket.
I will post more anecdotes over the next few weeks, including updated and organized photo and video galleries. There were some other matches caught on film that are still in the hands of Colin Sternagel of SunTimeFilms.com. One of the videos shows a nice set of takedowns between me and Nasanbatar, the 21-year-old speedster we met on the road to Khovsgol. Those and other anecdotes will continue to appear on the site for several more weeks.
Of course this wouldn’t be a truly Mongolian story unless there was one more unannounced suprise slipped in as an “oh, by the way…” aside.
Last year the Chinese government sponsored a wrestling tournament in Inner Mongolia, which is a province of China on land formerly held by Mongolia and occupied by ethnic Mongols. The tournament was the largest wrestling tournament ever held, featuring 2048 wrestlers competing in traditional Mongolian wrestling. The Guinness Book of World Records certified the event as a record-breaking tournament. As you might have guessed officials in Mongolia were not amused by the Chinese government’s attempt to hijack their wrestling tradition – ad to that the recent incident in which the Chinese government all but rubber-stamped the killing of an ethnic Mongol by a crazed Han truck driver. The Mongolians will withstand some border abuse by their Chinese neighbors, suffer through some unfair and unnecessary tariffs, and even sell off mining contracts for cheap. But mess with their wrestling and you get a swift response.
To answer this Chinese aggression the Mongolians have decided to host their own tournament which will feature a staggering 4096 competitors vying for one title. The Guinness people will be flying into Ulan Bator to make sure the tournament takes place on time and to their standards. Should it go as planned the Mongolians will hold the record for world’s largest-ever wrestling tournament – a record I think they deserve to hold. No word on if the Chinese are planning an 8192-man tournament for 2012.
As this is too big to miss, I’m currently planning to fly back to Ulan Bator to document the event for both the book and a to-be-named publication (see what I mean about slipping in the big news all the way at the end? Totally Mongolian.) The tournament is being held Sept. 17th-20th.
Enjoy the photos and videos and also lookout for several more posts from writers around the globe, as I’m finally able to communicate better with the site’s contributors and experts. There is already some pretty incredible information waiting to be published.
Thanks for reading!
It’s only Tuesday, but I think you’ve earned some Robert Earl Keen.