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About The 'Great Gama' : Life of an Indian Wrestler

Typically they would rise at around four in the morning, dig the earth akhara (arena) with a heavy hoe, which is a hard job in itself - some of them weigh thirty kilos or so - do two thousand squats (they call them bethaks over there, and they are slightly different from squats: they stand on the balls of their feet and go up and down very quickly, which makes it a lot harder) or so (the better, bigger, more well-known wrestlers would do around five thousand a day, and I've heard of one guy, who also killed a lion, who did ten thousand, but often in India you don't know what to believe is really true and what is exaggeration), and then do anywhere between a thousand and two thousand five hundred dands (alternatively they would do the dands in the evening), and only then would they start to wrestle. The really good guys would spar with everyone at the akhara, say twenty five men. In the evening, they would do more exercise, or go for a long run. So you can see they trained very hard. Of course a lot of them had knee problems from doing so many squats, but there you go. They also have some unique training equipment - the gada and jori. Gada are like huge lollipops, a bamboo stick attached to a ball of stone, which you swing behind your back; jori are sets of two cylindrical clubs, again, often huge, up to sixty kilos each, often richly decorated, which they swing behind their backs. Both exercises I guess were originally done to improve the shoulder-based motion of wielding a sword. Interestingly, in Iran they have a similar exercise to jori, with smaller clubs. There must be some kind of Mughal crossover connection, something to do with cross fertilization when the Mughals invaded India.

Gama Gama_While_Wrestling
"The Great Gama"
Real Name: Ghulum Mohammed
Stats: 5' 7" 230 lbs
Born: 1888

There really aren't any wrestlers left in India of the caliber of the men who were active fifty years ago. You have these beautiful akharas, with histories that go back hundreds of years, being bulldozed and turned into shopping complexes. It really is sickening. Wrestling is still strong in the villages though. The have competitions called dangals, which I visited a couple of times and which reminded me of Thai boxing matches in the villages in the North of Thailand. They don't have alcohol or betting in Uttar Pradesh, but apart from that it was the same - you have a stream of local dignitaries going up onto the wrestling akhara to receive respect by being given a garland or having a turban tied around their head. If a wrestler wrestles very well, he goes through the crowd picking up money; the best wrestler of the competition gets a money garland. All the competitions are open: anyone can compete. You can issue a challenge by walking around the perimeter of the wrestling area. Then someone will come, if they fancy themselves, and shake your hand, and the bout is on. Thinking about it as I write this, you'd probably love competing there yourself: it's for money, not huge money, but they would give good money to a foreigner and probably palm you off as an Olympic champion. The problem is that you win only by pinning the shoulders, which isn't easy. No subs of course. Their current wrestling, by international standards, is a bit naive. They don't really know much about leg takedowns; they do a lot of standing throws, standing grapevines, the sort of thing you find in folk styles all over the world. I didn't get to Pakistan, but I presume, from what I've been told, that the wrestling culture there is currently stronger - though it's far more interesting culturally in India.

They wrestle in a 'langota' (sort Indian underwear..). One of the most interesting aspects of traditional wrestling in India is the concept of brahmacharya. In the Indian spiritual traditions, there is the belief that you must retain your semen and sperm, and through doing so the fluid is transformed into a sort of spiritual energy. This is a central concept in ayurveda. In India wrestling they have the similar idea that to lose your sperm and semen is to lose your strength - and they are and were incredibly serious on this point. It's not just a case of celibacy and not masturbating, you have to avoid thinking about women, looking at women, thinking about sex in any way whatsoever; you have to eat satwic food that doesn't inflame sexual desire (no garlic or onions) - there's a lot to it. They have an expression for brahmacharya, or to be celibate, 'To keep a tight langota', and I would hear wrestlers say things like, 'Of course when he loosened his langota, his wrestling declined.' A lot of the best wrestlers in India never married. However I interviewed an Ayurvedic doctor who told me that a lot of wrestlers had problems bearing children because wearing a literally tight langota, as they do (when I myself wore a langota for the first time, It does not allow the genitals to swing freely as they should and creates heat which disrupts the creation of sperm. Actually, the same doctor quoted a study done in the US which showed, apparently, that women athletes who had had sex the day before an event performed better in their sport. What he meant was that the sperm in their body gave them more strength and stamina. You can see how bizarre some ideas are.

I think the Hindu wrestlers of India could become a force on the Olympic level today, if they change their diet. Most Hindu wrestlers never eat meat due to religious reasons but instead substitute by eating five pounds of almond paste every day, this is very inefficient. Adopted the modern rules for the sport. This would mean a break from traditional Indian rules, it would be difficult to get the hardcore guru's to change their ways which they may see as being unchangeable due the sport being passed down for 3000 plus years. Technically I think they would be very competitive.

He was the greatest wrestler to ever come out of India and is still considered one of the greatest of all time.
Zbyszko, the mighty, who tumbled Munn off his throne, after the latter had beaten Lewis, visited Paddulo, India, on January 31, 1928, where, before a huge crowd, he was defeated in four seconds by the Great Gama. Gotch had done it in six seconds, it took Gama four seconds, and yet a man apparently not a first flight grappler, if we can judge by the Gotch and Gama defeats, was able to throw World's Champion Munn, two straight falls inside of twelve minutes. The Zbyszko victory over Munn was one of the epochal double crossings of matdom.
When people look at the greatest wrestlers and wrestling families of all time, the Great Gama and his family should be right at the top of the list. Born in 1888 in Amritsar in the Punjab, Gama (whose real name was Ghulum Mohammed) was the son of a wrestler named Aziz. Gama and his brother, Imam, were the most feared wrestlers in all of India.

Gama won the title of Champion of India in 1909 and laid out a challenge to anyone who would wrestle him. Generally, in order to get a shot at Gama, a competitor would have to hold the title of his nation's Champion, or would have to first fight Imam - none were able to defeat Imam who lost only once in his lifetime. After winning his country's championship, Gama, Imam and R. B. Benjamin's circus of Indian wrestlers traveled throughout Europe taking on all comers. During this tour Gama defeated some of the most respected grapplers in the world, including "Doc" Benjamin Roller of the United States, Maurice Deriaz of France, Johann Lemm (the European Champion) of Switzerland, and Jesse Peterson (World Champion) from Sweden. His most acclaimed match was with the great Stanislaus Zbyszco, the World Champion from Poland. Zbyszco, upon assessing Gama considerable ability wrestled defensively the entire match and secured a disputed draw. In the match against Roller, Gama threw "Doc" 13 times in the 15 minute match. Gama now issued a challenge to the rest of those who laid claim to the World Champion's Title, including Japanese Judo champion Taro Miyake, Georges Hackenschmidt of Russia and Frank Gotch of the United States - each declined his invitation to enter the Ring to face him. At one point, in order to face some type of competition, Gama offer to fight twenty English wrestlers, one after another. He announced that he would defeat all of them or pay out prize money - still no one would take up his challenge.

Game returned to India as his country's hero and wrestled for the next 15 years. He once again faced Zbyszco and avenged his disputed draw by defeating the great Pole in just 21 seconds. Although he had a number of draws early in his career, he retired undefeated in an estimated 5,000 matches. After retiring, he helped to train his nephew Bhollu who held the Pakistani Championship for almost 20 years.
The Great Gama, the Lion of Punjab, died in 1953 in Pakistan and is still remembered as one of the greatest champions ever to grace the mat.