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The Physical Body: Indian Wrestling and Physical Culture

Vincent Giordano
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The genesis and creation of The Physical Body project is rather simple. While doing research for my forthcoming book The Vanishing Flame: The Bare Knuckle Fighting Arts of India, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and Laos, the workout regimens of the bare knuckle fighters overlapped those of the Indian wrestlers. I was given a tremendous amount of access to the wrestlers and decided as I do with most of my work to begin detailing their physical regimens. Its vital to those who really want to understand many of these arts to actually see them conducted in their environment by current and active players.

Already familiar with the majority of the exercises from my own personal workouts with Indian wrestlers and from the massive library of books, ancient documents and articles I had amassed over the years, I learned there was still more to it than I had thought. There were subtle variations to each exercise as would be expected from the many Gurus who run their own Akharas or wrestling gymnasiums, teaching their own variations and unique contributions to their students.

What I found most enjoyable was watching the different speeds the wrestlers worked at. One variation of the Hindu squat might be fast and explosive, another steady almost meditative. I grew fond of the intermediary exercise I called the Hindu squat thrust which combines the Hindu squat and Hindu push up into one action which mirrors a brother action in Surya Namaskar or sun salutation.

Many people have claimed the wrestlers damaged their bodies and were in poor health later in life. From my own research, and one part of my own personal interest and that of my research, is health maintenance and restoration. One can see clearly that all exercises are built from the ground up. When asked to learn the Jori, I was given very lightweights to begin practicing the action. In time, as my strength grew, the weight and size of the Jori would grow in accordance with my development. The circular actions were beneficial I found on the joints and the use of massage, an integral ingredient to almost all Indian martial arts, indispensable for maintaining overall health.

We see similar claims in Thailand, but again the body is built slowly over time to acclimate to the task at hand. Many foreigners to these exercises just assume they should do hundreds and hundreds of reps blind. Skill is developed in increments and over time. Many of the old masters I trained with lived well into their eighties and beyond and were active to the very last days of their lives.

From my own research, there were those who suffered debilitating injuries from their training and fighting careers as too in Burmese Boxing, Thai Boxing and the rest but a lot of the injuries I saw too were preventable with proper medical care. I saw several men with cataracts which went untreated, broken bones which were not set or healed properly, improper dental care, high blood pressure to name a few. The factors went beyond the normal wear and tear of a fight career. There were those also who just didnt take care of themselves as well or continued to fight well beyond the point of their own well-being.

I decided to show many of these exercises and link them to the larger physical culture arena in India to show the greater picture. True it is only a small fragment, one at least gets an inside glimpse into the true world without any hype or hyperbole.

The majority of the footage was shot as a sketchbook with interviews and training sessions looped together like a crazy quilt. I usually keep written notebooks and what I call visual notebooks for everything I do. Sometimes the visual is essential for remembering or recreating what has gone on especially as time erodes the memory of it.

Upon seeing the footage, I was asked by a prominent writer/researcher, wrestler and referee if I could record more of the exercises especially those of the Jori and Gada swinging. His help was immeasurable to me so I agreed to continue filming as a token of gratitude to him and all he had done for my research projects.

The work on this particular project focuses on the physical training, mostly on the overall regimens isolated out by akharas and a single wrestlers routine. There is a greater story to tell that clearly stretches beyond the physical.

I have found that there is just a fathomless fountain of knowledge still waiting to be discovered within India. My training and research continues to go on and in future writing and DVDs I will hope to explore and share it with everyone.