March 19, 2009

"The Last Wrestlers" book review

I stumbled across Marcus Trower's "The Last Wrestlers" quite by accident one day wasting time wandering around looking for martial arts books (honestly its not an addiction, I have it under control). A mix of travelogue, soul searching diary, and honest attempt to decipher the undying urge for men across the globe to engage in one of the most common combative sports that all cultures share; grappling or wrestling.

What initially turned me on to this book was the fact that Trower travelled to some of the most remote areas of the world in search of the roots of grappling and its spiritual meaning. India, Mongolia, Nigeria, and Brazil all offered indigenous wrestling arts throughout there rich histories and, with the exception of Brazil, all of these ethnic wrestling styles have gone all but extinct! In Nigeria for example Trower struggled just to find someone who was familiar with the native wrestling and cultural ties inherent within its practice. Outside of "The Wrestlers Body" by Joseph S. Alter (a scholarly milestone in terms of ethnic identity via wrestling), I know of no other English publication that addresses the wrestling cultures of Mongolia, India, or Nigeria (if any readers know of such publications please email me and let me know!).

Fueled by the lack of a grappling subculture in his native England, Trower channeled his frustrations over his personal struggle with a chronic disease that prevented him from participating in various martial adventures, into researching the spiritual dimensions of wrestling practice and competition. The reader is walked through Trower's personal discovery of meaning and growth via interviews, practice sessions, and cultural research in an effort to find a spiritual aspect to the martial realm. Disappointingly (for him) Trower finds that the spiritual attributes of practice are secondary to the innate desire to compete and challenge mans limitations and abilities within oneself.

"Though wrestling training can have a profound spiritual dimension... the act of competition itself is essentially worldly, because it centres upon winning matches, and the respect and status that comes with victory."

From here Trower starts to head down a different path focusing on testosterone and it's effects on the male body. His "Rutting Theory" is the central focus for the rest of the book where he attempts to prove that testosterone and mans urge to compete against other men is what essentially differentiates men from women, and in many cultures becomes a central priority that dictates marriage, family life, and ultimately ones status within his given culture.

Filled with anecdotes and wonderful stories (celibacy has some interesting side effects in India!!!) "The Last Wrestlers" is an easy joy to read for grapplers and non-grapplers alike. One can see the evolution of Trower's confidence in his writing, as the first couple of chapters were rather scattered and not very tight in terms of writing ability, but as the book progresses Trower gets very comfortable with his style. In general I would have liked to have seen more pictures especially of the rarely publicized practices of Mongolian wrestlers, Nigerian grapplers, and Indian fighters. But really other than that I have no complaints about the layout of the book, nor it's content. Anyone interested in the art of wrestling owes this book a read through. I doubt you will be disappointed.

I will leave you with what I feel is one of the most powerful statements Trower offers in his text:

"As we allow wrestling cultures to decline, it could be that we are reneging on our side of a clever bargain our ancestors made with human nature both to contain and harness the testosterone-driven urge to fight for females. Having long forgotten the importance of the deal, we abandon wrestling at our peril and invite male aggression to manifest itself elsewhere."


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