Wrestling is Innnate

By Ted Witulski | Jan. 06, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
Wrestling is Innate The skies roared with thunder and the earth heaved, Then came darkness and a stillness like death. Lightening smashed the ground and fires blazed out; Death flooded from the skies. When the heat died and the fires went out, The plains had turned to ash. The Epic of Gilgamesh The ominous stanza was a dream. In ancient times mankind wondered about his position, his place. Were the gods aligned against him? Life was not a simple task full of convenience. Food, shelter, and security were never taken for granted. Simply living was a constant struggle. Upon receiving this dream Gilgamesh turned to his comrade and searched for meaning. Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third man, the most feared and respected of man still did not know his place and was overcome with fear. Enkidu, a wild-man from the forest, was once his rival, but now together they were on a great expedition. They were headed into the dark cedar-forest, a place full of fright shrouded in the unknown. The forest was guarded by a demon named Humbaba. No one dared to enter the forest. Nearly four thousand years after Gilgamesh and Enkidu approached the edge of the forest with trepidation, Ralph Waldo Emerson put a poetic spin on their attraction to the place. "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." On that day the two wrestled evil they were victorious. Before man understood time, he understood to survive he had to wrestle. He wrestled against the elements, and the threats to his security, and he wrestled to contain his own fear. He wrestled. It is no wonder that the story of wrestling appears in the oldest written story of human history. When the Tigris and Euphrates nourished the ancients, people didn't have much time for luxury. Reading and writing weren't high on their list, so they wrote about and drew of the things most precious to them. Art and literature reflected humankind's fascination with the combative nature of wrestling. In ancient Sumeria, came the Epic of Gilgamesh. And, for the ancient Greeks and Romans were the Iliad and the Odyssey contained within the pages were the struggles of courage taken from stories of wrestling. When the Myceneans used mythology to explain their civilization, we found their youth wrestling against a creature half-man half-bull named the Minotaur. When Alexander the Great built an army and expanded farther than any civilization before, the stories that came from the pursuits of the legions battling against the barbarians inevitably turned to wrestling. Alexander found comfort in wrestling as did Socrates who once said: "I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler." The ancients new wrestling, and modern society needs to know wrestling. Like most people, I will never forget September 11th 2001. Etched in my memory is the horrible tragedy of human suffering, not on a distant shore but in the heart of America. That morning I sat at the Olympic Training Center Athlete Cafeteria, commiserating with others as a seemingly never-ending horror played out before our eyes. One Tower was hit, then the next. The Pentagon was just evacuated; more people were dead. As if the suffering wasn't already too unbearable, then came the news a fourth plane appeared to be under the control of the terrorists. It was turning around, target unknown. The gasps from the athletes were audible. No one really knew what would happen next. Four thousand years removed from a battle against evil in a cedar forest, another was about to take place on that stolen aircraft. We know the result; thankfully the list of the dead wasn't longer. Imagine what the devastation could have been. How many more lives would have been lost? Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly took note in this paragraph from the web-site wrestlingcoach.com: Why does America need wrestlers? One former wrestler's unselfish courageous determination can best illustrate the value in answering this question. Former New Jersey all-state wrestler, Jeremy Glick with two fellow passengers aboard Flight 93 (Tom Burnett and Todd Beamer) heeded the famous 9/11 call "Lets Roll", and proceeded to "wrestle" on behalf of us all, against terrorism. "At a time like this, sports are trivial. But what the best athletes can do -- keep their composure amid chaos, form a plan when all seems lost, and find the guts to carry it out -- may be why the Capitol isn't a charcoal pit". Sports may be trivial but the lessons and courage learned through them can become the foundation to monumental achievements. No comfort can be gained from that day, except for the comfort of learning the valiance that came from people, a wrestler, like Jeremy Glick. As I tried to make sense of it all, it was no accident to me that wrestling played a role on that fateful day. It wasn't an accident and it wasn't mere chance. Intertwined in the human spirit and again not by accident or by mere chance is the spirit of wrestling. A philosophical question that the brightest minds have wrestled with throughout history is "what do people know when they are born?" The concept is known as "innate knowledge". If you knew it when you were born it was innate within you---your mind----maybe even your soul. Descartes, Kant, Freud, Socrates, Mill and many more came across this point in their wonderment of the human condition. Assuredly, many views have been proffered but the philosophers missed one obvious innate quality in those born to earth---wrestling. Wrestling is natural; it is essential; it is a part of the human spirit. It is innate. History has taught us and anthropology reveals that every time period and all cultures have realized a connection to the sport of wrestling. Why is wrestling there at each point in history and within the rituals of societies and civilizations throughout the world? Simply put, the instinct of wrestling is inborn within all of us. It is innate. "What was the first sport?" is a question that many athletes philosophically toss-around when discussing sports. Running is often an answer, but to me it seems quite wrong. When the ancient tribes, closer to apes on the evolutionary line, needed to decide who had ownership of the cave and who would face the freezing elements, it is doubtful that they had a foot race. Rather, combat, wrestling was their instinct. The Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest is rooted in the combative skill of wrestling. And from our Neanderthal roots, we modernized and civilized but wrestling inherent and innate in all of us remained. When wrestling flourished in ancient Greek society, Plato asked a question to the citizens, "What kind of mettle are you made of?" While Plato was defending his view for a society separated by classes that inevitably seems anti-democratic in today's terms, the question seems all the more relevant today. "What kind of mettle are you made of?" The words seem fit for a wrestling coach to challenge his wrestlers with. The challenge that the Spartans, the rival of the Athenians, made to their people was fierce training based out of sport. Plato responded by recognizing the value: "We obtain better knowledge of a person during one hour's play and games than by conversing with them for a whole year." The Greeks most renowned wrestler was Milo of Kroton, a man unequaled, seemingly unbeatable. Probably one of the most valuable but often overlooked values that wrestling teaching is that of humility---the art of being humble. Hubris as the Greeks called it. Milo of Kroton, perhaps bored with his inability to find a worthy adversary, began to show his strength to the people of Greece in rather sideshow like exhibitions. Holding his arms out in a cross, and challenging men to force his arms to his sides. Palming weighty rocks, much like our basketball friends do with their feather-light ball. Milo of Kroton's hubris got the better of him in a forest the story