Before your first day of training, you need to get your duffel bag ready. Don’t bring a big pull-along suitcase to training because you’ll look like a dork. Here are a few things you should be sure to have every day when you come into training: a small towel, deodorant, Gold Bond (it’s just a good habit to begin carrying it now since not every venue will have a shower), an extra T-shirt, knee pads, and clean gym shoes (not the ones you wear every day).
Wear a pair of comfortable gym shorts and a T-shirt when you train. Never wear jeans or khakis during training; doing so will make you look like a scrub and can cause some nasty chaffing.
When you get to training, be sure to introduce yourself and offer a handshake to everybody. Now’s not the time to be shy. Just think, in months you’ll be wrestling in modified underwear in front of dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people. Never assume anybody is insignificant; greet everybody. During my last stint working behind-the-scenes at WLW, experienced guys who hoped to become WLW regulars often came in and treated me like a wall decoration instead of the first graduate of the school, the man who trained the then-trainer, the television producer, and a major source of creative input when it came to live events. They assumed I was insignificant and I said nothing to make them any wiser. I just took a mental note and kept it in mind when it was my turn to voice my opinion about them.
You’re already familiar with the cardiovascular exercise because you did it during the tryout. Never question why you’re doing exercises and another person isn’t. Maybe he’s not a student and is no longer required to do certain things. Perhaps he’s working through a knee injury and has been told not to do any squats. It’s none of your business. The important thing is to just keep your mouth shut and worry about yourself. That’s right, I said keep your mouth shut. The soft skills they teach in corporate America are rare in professional wrestling. If it still bothers you then your skin might not be thick enough to be in this business.
During cardio, you may have trouble doing all the exercises. Maybe you can’t do 200 Hindu squats when you first begin training. I’d rather see you do 100 of them correctly and keep pushing as long as you can than to see you cheating your way through 200 of them. Another trainer might not agree, so find out his expectations and do your best to meet those.
After cardio, you’ll get into the ring and work on your front and back bumps. You learned during your tryout that a professional wrestling ring is made of wood and steel with a thin foam lining below the canvas. Bumps hurt—they always will—but with practice, they will hurt less. Don’t hold your breath right before you hit the mat and don’t forget to tuck your chin every time. The human brain is not built to be rattled around, but it happens if you don’t keep your chin pressed against your chest when you take bumps.
The first few weeks of your training will probably consist mainly of cardiovascular exercise, learning bumps and running the ropes, though you might also receive an introduction to wrestling basics. Don’t expect to be doing moonsaults right away.
Be patient when it comes to learning; not everybody will learn at the same pace. If a guy has a hard time learning to execute a front bump, it doesn’t mean that he’s never going to make it as a wrestler. I’ve always learned most things almost immediately, but I also tend to peak quickly and sometimes watch people pass me by who once lagged behind.
As a student, I was a quick study because I was always attentive to everything going on around me when I wasn’t the center of instructional attention, which accelerated my learning. I listened to my trainers instruct others and watched the experienced guys in the ring while others played grab-ass.
The most important things to learn during training are safety and listening. You only get one body, so take care of it. Pay that same courtesy to the guy you are working with (wrestling). Never do anything to compromise your own safety or your opponent’s. In ideal circumstances, you wouldn’t be leading anybody in a match for at least a couple of years. If you can listen and execute, you can be led. If you can’t learn to be led, you’d better think of another trade to pursue.
Paying dues to the business starts the day you enter the business, and it means more than just paying the tuition for training at your chosen wrestling school. It can include, but is not limited to, hanging up posters, selling tickets and concessions, working security at events, and setting up and taking down the ring.
Contrary to what a bush-league bully may think, paying dues does not consist of letting a veteran treat you like a bitch—making you pay for his dinner, fetch him an ice cream sandwich at three in the morning, or do his laundry. Some wrestlers try to take liberties on students and inexperienced wrestlers, and it’s a bunch of crap. Within reason, you should grin and bear it while at events, training, or other wrestling-related times, but when you’re away from the business you’re a grown man who should be treated with the same respect you give others. Expect and welcome a little good-natured ribbing (joking, pranks, etc.), but respect yourself as a human being and insist that all others, regardless of either party’s level of experience or success, extend the same courtesy to you.
After one month, you should be comfortable with the two basic bumps and running the ropes. You ought to know how to lock up with an opponent and properly apply a few holds to the head and arm. If you are progressing well, maybe you’ve learned to take those bumps from basic moves like a hip toss and a clothesline.
After a trainee gets his feet wet, different trainers use different methods to prepare a student for his first match. What follows is what I did to ensure that a student was ready to debut within six months of training.
By the end of the second month, I liked to lead the student through some short, basic matches. Mostly holds and reversals, a few spots using moves that are used during drills.
During the third month, I had three training focuses: selling, visualizing, and executing.
Bumps hurt, and I never had any desire to take one unless it meant something. Selling, or projecting pain or other emotions to the crowd, gives meaning to everything that is done inside the ring. This was my favorite thing to do inside the ring and seeing it done effectively is a thing of beauty. Making my opponents look good through effective selling was one of my strongest skills and maybe the biggest reason many guys liked to work with me. Sell like it really hurts, but don’t oversell. Fans can snuff that out. Sell what hurts, don’t just sell the fact that you are taking punishment. A punch in the face should draw your hands toward your face. A choke should bring your hands toward the source of your pain: the rope, forearm, or hand that is constricting the oxygen to your lungs and the blood supply to your brain. In a hold, you should try to do what you would naturally do, which is alleviate the pain while looking for a counter maneuver. If somebody is twisting your arm clockwise, you should push counterclockwise to relieve the pressure, show the crowd you’re looking for a reversal or a way out. I would often have somebody grab me in a hold legitimately so I would know how I naturally react in a real-life situation and how to sell it. Give it a try.
Believe it or not, spots (sequences of holds, moves, and/or events) are easier to call on the fly. Most wrestlers prefer to call everything before the match, leaving little room for spontaneity based on the crowd’s needs at any given moment in a match. A wrestler is a salesman—he’s selling himself and the story—and any great salesman will tell you that the key to sales is listening. A salesman listens to the needs of his clients (in your case, the crowd) and caters to them based upon their needs. Besides, it’s a pain in the ass trying to remember 50 things before you go to the ring. Calling on the fly can be done as long as both wrestlers are visualizing the spot in their minds as it’s being called and then executing the sequence of pictures they see in their heads. With just about anything in life, you multiply your odds of accomplishment if you visualize yourself succeeding.
By the beginning of the fourth month, my students were becoming comfortable following an experienced opponent inside the ring and were able to visualize and execute basic spots. They had a good foundation on which to build. That month, I would focus on the basic match structure and introduce them to wrestling psychology.
A wrestling match is not just an exhibition of moves and holds. The whole purpose is to use wrestling moves and holds in the right manner and at the appropriate time to generate the maximum crowd reaction while doing no more than needed to control and entertain the customers. It’s live-action theater; storytelling using action and reaction to tell the story. Like any good book or movie, there shouldn’t be a bunch of holes in the story. Wrestling psychology is the art of in-ring storytelling while minimizing the holes in the story. It’s filling those holes, perhaps preventing them from opening in the first place. If a guy sells his leg throughout the match, he probably shouldn’t do a 450 splash like his leg was in tip-top shape later on in the match. That kind of stuff falls under psychology, which I’ll get into later on.
During the fifth month, I would start to work with the student on developing a gimmick.
The student would follow veterans through numerous matches. He was about ready to debut. That’s when the fun would really begin!
UP NEXT: Chapter Three: Creating a Memorable Character AND Chapter Four: Creativity
UP NEXT: Chapter Three: Creating a Memorable Character AND Chapter Four: Creativity
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