Ancient Tools for Modern Warriors


Those of you who regularly read my blog know my penchant for ancient workout techniques. I prefer those exercises and exercise systems which have stood the test of time and I’ve a particular fondness for the Indian wrestling systems. Wrestling was a highly developed art with near-religious connotations. There have been several books written on the subject and one of my favorites is The Wrestler’s Body, an anthropological study of the ancient Indian wrestling culture. Many of the techniques go back thousands of years and were instrumental in preparing young warriors for battle. Some historians claim yoga asana practice originated in the wrestling akharas, (which is easy to believe since the original yoga postures described in the ancient texts were 7 or 8 seated positions.) The wrestling workout sequences are known as vayam and consist of: body weight calisthenics, primarily dand (aka Hindu push-ups) and bethak (aka Hindu squats) The system also contains elements of yoga asana, such as bridging exercises and other calisthenic-like moves, variations of which you see in Western yoga classes. But the wrestling system went much further, including swinging heavy clubs and maces. Also included was heavy object lifting, like round stones, sandbags and partner exercises. Additionally, gymnastic exercises were included, like tumbling and rope climbing. The system worked extremely well, producing phenomenal wrestling champions. One such champion of the Indian physical cultural system was the Great Gama, the Lion of the Punjab. Gama was undefeated over a 50-year career. He was widely feared by potential European and North American challengers and most avoided him. He was especially known for his strength and stamina and represents the epitome of what this system can produce.

I have studied the Indian system in depth and used it myself for years. I see it not only as an excellent training system for combat athletes–especially grapplers–but as a great overall health and thus anti-aging regimen. On my way to Portland OR, after spending time with Mark and Lisa Twight of Salt Lake City, I was blown away by the beauty of the Columbia River gorge. One spot had a dock jutting out over the river and it at once brought to mind a scene from a venerable Indian movie, The World of Apu, which some readers were generous enough to send clips from for the gada blog. In one scene, the camera pans over youthful Indian wrestlers performing their ritual exercises on the dock overlooking the Ganges river in Benares. I was taken by the moment, mesmerized even, and thought to myself, “I can have my own holy Ganges river experience right here on the mighty Columbia!”

I grabbed the wheel of the RV, hard, and had my assistant/chauffeur promptly exit to a placid rest area on the river’s edge. I gathered up my modern-yet-ancient training tools and hauled them down to the wooden dock. There, I worked my body like a wrestler of long-gone times, at one with the river and my own nature. There’s something so serene–yea, magical–in standing over a body of water. I felt incredibly uplifted and energized. This is what your ageless athlete did:

1) Rope skipping, 6 min non-stop
Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope

2) Hindu Squats
200 reps 6 min non-stop
w/ pranayama breathing
1st min: Ujaayi breath for heat

3) Hindu Push-Ups
100 reps
dockside, using the dock as a push-up board,
just like the scene from the movie
Once again, synchronizing breath & movement

The tradition was always to do half as many push-ups as squats.

4) Alternating Shield Cast
15# clubs
*in India and throughout the Middle East, they use large wooden clubs, sometimes colorfully decorated. I used Clubbells.
100 reps in 20-rep sets for 5 rounds

In the ancient vayam training system, a premium was placed on high-repetition movements, which builds tremendous tendon strength, mental toughness and the all-important strength-endurance required for extend bouts of grappling.

5) Gada swinging
100 swings, 50 each direction
20-rep sets x 5

6) Double Clubbell Swipe
100 reps in sets of 20
15# clubs

When I finished, I felt fantastic. I’d worked up a tremendous sweat despite the chilly drizzle coming. I stripped down and plunged into the cold river, bringing a sense of near-euphoria. Now I’d purified my body, along with my spirit, and was ready to present a fantastic kettlebell certification at Nate Jeffers’ Recreate Gym in Portland OR! Enjoy the slideshow on the right==>

Nate and his wife, Tina, own and operate an incredible gym. It has everything I love. They’ve really expanded their kettlebell expertise and hosted a wonderfully successful seminar. Everyone learned a lot and proved their mettle in Coach’s final, grueling graduation workout, maintaining terrific form and mental toughness throughout. I was proud to certify 14 new MaxBells instructors. If you’re ever in Portland, I highly recommend you contact Nathan and Tina and check out their gym.

If you’re interested in hosting a workshop, contact Maxercise@gmail.com, connect with my teen assistant and she’ll set up a way to mainline a shot of the ol’ Coach into your neighborhood!

In Strength & Health!
Steve