I've only had three brushes with brawls in my travels. In Shanghai, a relatively safe city, two drunks toppled out of an alley bar just as I was walking by at 2 A.M. "Hello, hello!" they kept chanting as they walked behind me, keeping up with my accelerating pace. When one grabbed my arm I spun and cracked him in the face, then took off in a sprint as he floundered back into his buddy's arms. His face crumpled, his friend's mouth pursed in a giant O. Probably just drunks being drunks, but when it's two against one in the middle of the night you hit first. Another time I found myself in a bar in Riga, two sheets to the wind, when a monstrous buzz-cut commando sat in the stool next to me, pulsating vibes of trouble. I avoided eye contact, but in a couple minutes he was staring right at me. "Hey. Hey you. Where you from?" "Hey. You me... we break," he said smacking a closed fist into his other palm. "I don't understand," I replied with a big stupid smile. He returned it with a smile of his own, most of the teeth missing. "We break! We break!," he said again throwing short hooks and jabs into the small space between us. "I'm sorry man. I don't understand. You are Latvian right? I love Latvia. Riga very beautiful. Nice street. Nice church. Nice girls!" I offered with a laugh, desperate to change the subject. He flat stared at me for five long seconds, considering options. "Ok," he finally said thrusting out a meaty open hand, "Friend." This is how it's done. If you do fight, make it hard and fast and then leave the scene with haste. But preferably confuse your would be assailant until you can diffuse the aggression. This was not the pattern I followed in India.
Fighting another man, mano a mano is always serious business, but when you step into a cage to do it the intensity doubles down. The X factor, however, was the camera, and my announcement that I was hosting a show. No intensity level was discussed, but I assumed these variables might soften the hard reality of two men sealed into a dirt pit. As soon as our arms grasped, I knew I had assumed wrong. With a twist of the hips I was tossed to the ground. Hard. Too upright. The secret to wrestling is leverage. You've got to get low. We returned to the center of the cage. I squated and then exploded for the man's knees. I wrapped my arms around his sweaty legs and drove forward. For a moment I thought I had him. Then he reached over my back, clasping my underwear in an iron grip, lifted my legs out of the soil, and piledrove me into the dirt.
This ass-kicking, of which I was mainly on the receiving end, was official. Cops, community leaders, and my said entourage lined the outside of the cage and squealed with glee as I got flipped, spun, and pushed around like a genetically inferior caveman. And make no mistake, by the end of a Kushti wrestling match, dressed in a soiled loincloth and caked with mud, you look like you timewarped in from the Paleolithic era.
|Two Kushti wrestlers doing the dirty |
The rules seem similar to freestyle except weight classes be damned. When I lost to the lightweight, they gave me a middleweight. When I couldn’t budge the middleweight a heavy decided he’d show me a trick or two. The experience was the ying to my yang. After having 3 different guys own me my gas tank was empty and my aggression gone. Twenty minutes in the mud akhara had cleaned my soul out as efficiently as yesterday’s microbes had flushed my pipes.