Wrestling in Ritual Space
William Calvani started wrestling at 8 years old in the hale and hardy New Jersey wrestling scene. His experiences and other interests provided the intuition that in traditional cultures wrestling is a spiritual path and was codified, validated and known as such in those cultures. This can still be seen in Japanese Sumo, Iranian Zoorkaneh, Laamb from Senegal and Indian Akhara, Kushti.
Joseph Alter’s book The Wrestler’s Body and Scientific Wrestling‘s video of Karl Gotch’s Conditioning for Combat Sports led to an auto didactic exploration of the excercises of the Akhara, called Vyayam and their effectiveness in promoting strength, dynamic movement and longevity in relation to grappling. William is a brown belt in BJJ under Gordon Emery at Charlottesville BJJ, a submission grappler and catch wrestler.
Working to promote a heretical version of this tradition under the name Waryoga,
the focus of his regime is Dand, or Hindu Pushup, Bethak or Hindu squat, Gada or mace swinging, Gota or stone lifting, Asanas, or postures and Gar Nal, stone necklace and most importantly, grappling.
His experiments, excercises, insights and musings can be found on his Facebook page under William Calvani.
Grappling will teach you that you are not all that you think you are. Alone you go out to face symbolic death for the promise of not only competence in a martial art, but also rebirth. Dying to what you have inherited from family, fate, tendency and ignorance to become a new man. This rebirth is fraught with ordeal.
A few years ago I was working on a domestic Akhara wrestling pit with a group of people of like mind. This pit was to be a circle of specific dimension therefore a measure of space. It was a specific depth in the Earth and to be filled with sand from a riverbank, mixed thoroughly with ghee, Tulsi, turmeric, red ochre, and rose water. It was to contain certain items buried deeply in it’s center, including iron. It was then dedicated with fire and the bell and bounded by actions and words. Part of the ritual contained these lines: Earth lies fallow and prepared, light, darkness and rain have done their work and await man’s hands to complete. (Ring iron bell) That which sleeps, awaken light of mind, rain of sweat, heat of blood awaken the currents. The world is nothing without man to traverse it. The shining ones set forth the boundaries and the laws shape and motion, that glory may be had. That memory may fill the spaces between divided things.
The pit became a sacred container for the great work: distillation of the elixir of sweat and blood, in the forge of heat and attention. There were excercises, Dand, Bethak, Gada and others to be done as austerities, and matches, man to man.
As ancestors of the Bull Cultures, we made a new dedication of an ancient impulse. A small quantity of the earth of this pit would be brought to other Palaestra similarly dedicated and mixed into their earth. By virtue of sympathetic magic, the magic of contagion or like Bell’s Theory in Quantum mechanics, wherein two things in contact continue to influence one another, or like electricity moving from higher potential to lower potential, would create an Astral temple, whose outermost circumference would be measured along these dedicated spaces. This temple, like a string of lanterns burning through the night.
Our conceptions of ourselves die frequently. It is the sacrifice by which we gain. If we have the will we rise up recreate ourselves through work and contact and association with men of greater knowledge, greater skill, on the same journey as ourselves, toward mastery. Mars is in man. The other gods shine there like stars in the void of mind, but Mars looms large.
For some men the transition is smooth. They enter, their assumptions about themselves regarding their ability to fight, to move, their strength, their conditioning fall away and are replaced by the incremental development of the things they see must be done. Submission is quickly understood as a necessary restart to go over and groove new patterns, new ways of thinking and conducting oneself. For some it is cataclysmic.
Submission to another man, even in the ritualised context provided, is the immolation of all they thought they were. Some never return, these are the dead, but some are called back to the living by the living around them on the mats, and they answer the call.