Want To Be a Wrestler? – Lessons in Wrestling and Life

Many fans and athletes aspire for a life inside the squared circle. However, to make it in the land of big pops and high spots, you must first master the basics before risking life and limb. Like in life, nothing comes easy, and being crisp of mind is just as important as being fleet of foot.

Having spent time in the ring and on the road with many wrestling vets and road soldiers who devoted more than 300 days out of the year for many years to their craft, each has bestowed much of the following, a few ideals and old school ways of thought that will never lead you astray.

Sit under the shade of the learning tree as we discover that the wrestling business is much more than just a vehicle to fame and fortune!

"So, you want to be a wrestler?" Left: Stu Hart stretches a wrestling recruit in the infamous Hart Dungeon. Right: A batch of pro wrestling students absorb life lessons and fundamentals during training.
“So, you want to be a wrestler?” Left: Stu Hart stretches a wrestling recruit in the infamous Hart Dungeon. Right: A batch of pro wrestling students absorb life lessons and fundamentals during training.

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."

– Calvin Coolidge


Honor

Earning the trust and respect of your peers is something that everyone, in any field, at any level, should strive to seek out.

While it is never possible to be liked by everyone, if you are good at what you do and perform at a higher level consistently, you will have their respect, whether liked or not.

Like everything else in the real world, trust and respect are earned by your actions and much less by the annunciation of your greatness to anyone willing to listen or is within earshot to hear it. No one, anywhere, is deserving of anything but an opportunity. You earn everything that is worth attainment in this life.

The best way to earn respect the world over is first to be humble in yourself and open to instruction.

Paying your dues takes time and devotion to your work to achieve the desired result. Part of earning that trust is putting in that time and paying dues by showing up each and every week, no matter how much you hurt or how hard it may be.

Not only showing up each and every week but showing up early and being the first one there, the last one to leave – these actions speak louder than words, and the people around you will take note of this and see your commitment.

When you’re willing to give this of yourself to achieve your goals and invest the time required, it makes other people want to invest in you as well. Therein, trust and respect come. But not only by that, but by learning to dance.

Of course, there’s great importance of learning the dance, which is how to work in that ring without hurting yourself or the person you’re in there working with.

The individuals you share the ring with are your family members, and you are all in there not only to work but to earn.

Another part of learning the dance is understanding that you’re not always going to be on top, and you’re not always going to go over (win). You have to learn when to take the losses and why, and within that, you’ll grow as a student of the business.

Though it seems that basic fundamentals are being stressed sometimes too often is because the basics need to be focused on.

Going to a wrestling school and having someone tell you that you’re ready to get in the ring doesn’t mean that you should be able to walk up to any promotion and get a push. It just doesn’t work that way. If you think it does, you’ll earn nothing but heartbreak.

Part of that give and take, that ebb and flow, inside the ring depends on the wrestler not being greedy. It also relies on knowing when to take direction and listen to your elder, the ring general, the one that’s out there to show you the way.

Just walking in thinking you can start calling shots is no way to get anywhere. It’s not going to garner one ounce of respect. Without that, nobody’s going to want to do anything with you, because, let’s be honest, you’re putting yourself at risk, along with everyone else around you.

Another way to garner the respect of your peers, not only in the fraternity of professional wrestling but in the real world itself, is by always fulfilling your contracts and obligations.

If you give your word and say that you’re going to do something or have it written down in contractual form, you should be ready to fulfill that without question or hesitation.

Sometimes you’re not always going to get the payday you were expecting, or maybe you have been promised, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t show up and give it one hundred and ten percent regardless.

While things aren’t exactly the way they were in the old days when it was a full-on handshake business, whenever you shake someone’s hand and promise that you’ll be there, make it happen, no matter what.


"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do."

– Pele


Sacrifice

All artists sacrifice for their calling and for what they love. Athletes are no different in that ilk.

While an artist’s journey may have gone from doodling with crayons to creating masterpieces in their elder years, the professional athlete’s window to achieve the same is much shorter.

Once the "bump clock" begins to tick, it is only a matter of time before your term is done in the ring.

Many are willing to give up everything to reach that pinnacle of legendary status that will attain them professional immortality. But at what cost?

Simply put? Everything.

Sacrifice and perseverance go hand in hand, and while perseverance is the test of the heart, sacrifice is undoubtedly the test of the soul.

You have to be willing to hold that reserve that you can dig deep into when times get beyond the point of acceptable loss and uncertain gain so that it can see you through to that next opportunity.

“Being in the right place at the right time” is the colloquialism that we most often connotate with the spark of success and getting a breakout opportunity.

Being in that right place often comes from being there all the time and giving all of yourself to the profession you have chosen.

No one ever gets a life-changing opportunity sitting at home on the couch in the bosom of their family, as much as they may like it to happen that way.

Let us not drape the cloak of narcissism over the performer, as their families and loved ones also bear the burden of sacrifice, as mommy or daddy may be away during the special moments that can define them as being part of their children’s lives.

This was galvanized during an interview segment in the movie 350 Days when Wendi Richter talked about not being able to be in her young daughter’s life because of the hectic schedule she was enduring at the height of her run in the early days of the WWF.

It was a seminal moment in the movie, and you could see the loss in her eyes and hear the pain cracking her voice as she talked about it.

That piece of work should be seen by anyone who desires to become a true professional in the business and the fans so that they may learn to appreciate more what is given them by these men, women, and their families. It is an inspired piece of film that embodies so many of these core values discussed in this article.

The sacrifice is not only one of family relationships.

The costs levied upon the human body are rarely equaled in any other occupation with the exception of stunt man/woman, or other athletes in the other contact sports.

Those who are fortunate enough or have worked skillfully enough in their careers are inevitably the ones you see hobbling around and broken. The visible proof of a life of giving their bodies to each other, and ultimately, their craft. Their art.

For with success and sacrifice also comes pain.

Even with all the personal penance that is extracted from a wrestler, there is also the professional atonement that must be considered from time to time.

You can never win ’em all, and to believe so is either naivete, ignorance, or a lethal combination of the two that gives workers the delusion that they will never have to lose a match.

“Going under” (losing) shows that you are able to do business and that you’re also willing to give of yourself to put someone else over.

The true greats were and are able to lose, while still getting over themselves, without overshining the push.

The biggest names in the business have had this quality, and it lends itself to why they have the term “great” connected to their names to begin with.

See: The Rock loses clean to The Hurricane, creating the unexpected in 2003!

Stories of Mick Foley sleeping in his car so he could get the training he wanted from Dominic DeNucci, or Steve Austin eating nothing but raw potatoes because he couldn’t afford anything else, and also the tragedy and aftermath that may come from the untimely death and loss of a loved one to the perils of the business, both inside and out of the ring.

The price of success can levy a heavy demand on the lives and bodies of the men and women who seek it. Is it fame or fortune, or perhaps possibly the acclaim that can be denoted in the history books that drive them?

It could be all these things, but I tend to believe that it is because that is all they know; the love of competition and need for the warmth of their achievement in the glory of its embrace.


"Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody."

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Perseverance

How deep are you willing to dig into your heart of hearts to achieve your dreams? When it seems they may slip through your fingers, will you walk away? Or will you search again?

For every cliché, there is victory, and beside that victory a thousand defeats.

Many careers have gone to the wolves due to a lack of conviction, whether by personal submission or attrition by the "forces that be.”

While it may often be more the former than the latter, it all comes down to the desire to persevere and continue when everyone else around you says otherwise.

It isn’t just about having the grit to pull through when the deck is seemingly stacked against you, but also having the mental toughness to keep your head in the game, so to speak.

People will try to get in your ear and sidetrack you. In these times, you have to be able to stand alone and stand tall in the face of that adversity.

The stories are endless of the old-school guys that would test your desire to be a part of the fraternity of professional wrestling.

Roddy Piper being told to run into a gas station and get sandwiches only to be left there, miles from the venue, and left to his own devices to get to the show.

Another that I always enjoyed was the story of Jake Roberts being dropped off in an apple orchard to "get some apples for the boys", only to find himself on the receiving end of the farmer’s buckshot as he was chased out off the property!

I would even go so far as to add the classic tale of Hiro Matsuda breaking the leg of a fledgling Hulk Hogan to see if he had the heart to come back and prove his worthiness to be a part of the business.

While the rigors of those days may be behind it, there is undoubtedly still that measuring stick applied to see whether or not you have "it" and if you can be counted on to stay in the game, even if the chips are stacked against you.

Each and every case, including Hogan’s, is a test of self, and how much you want to succeed in the profession you have chosen, be it wrestling or whatever else in life.

It is the ability to not only keep kicking out at two and a heartbeat, but coming back for more that marks the desire to not only survive but thrive when everyone else thinks you’re spent.

Now don’t get me wrong, as I’m not endorsing the black and blue iridescent chest of someone that has taken their pursuit of working stiff to nonsensical levels, but showing that heart of steel, and not one of papier-mâché that will crumble under the slightest stresses. That inner strength of reserves-in-waiting is one of the telltale signs of a person that will succeed where others will indeed fail.

Striving through the struggle of not only training but breaking in, getting picked up, and then hopefully a push to a title are all different levels of success that, despite what some of the "you deserve it" generation may want to believe, are earned by an unbreakable combination of perseverance and sacrifice that few have when times get tough, and the river runs lean.

It is then that focusing on the prize of your pursuit and letting that be the well from which you draw that one more drink that will sustain you to attain that which you seek or reach the desired destination that you have given all to see. It will all be worth it when you reach that mountaintop.


"The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it."

– Kalpana Chawla


Dedication

Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. If you want to succeed, you have to earn it.

We’ve all heard these words in our lifetimes, but some never seem to grasp the idea. More and more, however, the sense of entitlement pervades our society on all fronts. The wrestling world is far from immune to its venomous sting.

Now, while you may think that I am about to launch into a tirade about the younger generation of "sports entertainers" not being willing to pay their dues and expect everything right now instead of putting in the time and learning it the old school way… I’m not.

The demographic that I want to take a stern look at is that of the wrestling fans themselves, en masse.

The patience to invest emotionally in a true storyline has become fleeting as the years have passed since the Attitude Era.

Insatiability for "what’s next" has led to uninspired writing, thrown-together tag team pairings, and lackluster use of technique on the face of bigger, better, faster, higher… NOW!

Stars have taken to the air in a frenzy of twisting, flipping nonsentia purely for the cheap pop of their unknowing fanbase.

While some may say that this trampoline ideology is the future, it’s important, too, to get back to the basics of what makes a great match.

That’s going to be hard, as long as the sense of achievement is wrapped around mindsets that are encapsulated in chants like "You deserve it!" which we have to hear at least once every live event now. Whatever happened to the idea of earning it?

The old saying goes: if something were easy, then everybody would be doing it.

Experience and knowledge of your craft comes with time and the dedication to doing it the right way, without compromising to shortcuts or flash in order to overcome lack of substance.

Every steak needs sizzle, but if you don’t have any meat to bite into, you are left hungry.


“The ability to change constantly and effectively is made easier by high-level continuity.”

– Michael Porter


Continuity of Craft

The stonemason who takes raw marble and refines it into sculpture is a craftsman. The poet who can move you to tears or jubilation with mere words on paper, too, a craftsman. The artist that opens the windows to the world of his soul through paint and canvas, likewise, stands among this constituency.

The professional wrestler, much more so than the sports entertainer, is a little piece of each.

They give you everything and were created from nothing but themselves. Their sweat and blood are the oils that they use to paint their stories on the canvas of the mat, in order to tell the stories that draw us in and generate those emotions that keep us wanting more.

Professional wrestling has and will always be entertaining to those of us who love it. However, it’s important to remember continuity in the craft of professional wrestling, that graying of the predetermined lines drawn by being a face or a heel, and what it means to be one or the other.

Little by little this distinction has been eroded away by the recent need for sports entertainers to give the fans what they want instead of manipulating their emotions the way they should be.

Gone, of course, are the days of kayfabe when babyfaces and heels would ride separately.

Ricky Steamboat once shared the story of walking into a restaurant, and there were heels sitting down eating.

Even though he knew that he would be sitting at another table, if he had an angle going on with one of those heels, he explained, “We’d turn around and walk out and go find someplace else to eat!”

Nowadays, almost everyone in the business sits together (social media and restaurants alike).

If you can, try to keep the illusion alive. Travel separate, hotel separate, and limit posting pictures on Twitter of the whole crew out and about. Kayfabe may have died, but that does not mean it was a good thing.

I love the wrestling business, and it has always been a special part of my life, and undoubtedly always will be. The men and women in its ranks are artists on every level and I respect them and all that came before them for what they do under those bright lights, whether it be at Madison Square Garden or the local Elks Lodge.

Whether you’re an aspiring wrestler or just a fan of the game, I hope you enjoyed and found something meaningful in the above short subjects and the core values each represents.

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Jim Phillips is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He's been a wrestling fan since the late '70s and a journeyman writer for the past decade. He can be reached by e-mail at squints72hhi@gmail.com.