As far as I was aware, Cumbrian wrestling is for middle-aged, toothless men wearing embroidered underpants on the outside of their clothes, but it seems that my memory is just as outdated as the view that wrestling is just for boys.
In fact, you could argue that this full-contact, traditional sport, which originates from the Lake District, is as progressive as they come – women earn the same amount of prize money as the men and participation among young women has reportedly been on the increase in recent years. All-female competitions began 10 years ago, but up until 1991 women competed against men. The story goes that when a female competitor beat a male in 1991, the men complained that they were being put off the sport. Naturally, I decided to give it a go!
The aim of the game is quite simply to get your rival on their back. The competition starts by shaking your opponent’s hand, before locking your arms and heads together in an awkward sort of hug, with your bum sticking out behind you. On the referee’s command, you wrestle, or, as in my case, get flung to the floor, legs over head, landing in a muddy pile or next to a cow pat. Yes, my masterclass took place on a field inside a ring marked by sawdust, which is how the summer competition is performed (although some bouts do occur inside, and training is often conducted at sports halls).
I was taught a series of techniques designed to floor your opponent effortlessly and painlessly by local wrestling expert Connie Hodgson. Most of these moves involve attempting to make the other person unsteady by sweeping their feet from under them with yours, or turning into them so you can throw them over your shoulder and onto the ground. Unlike Connie, who always managed to catch me off-guard and had me on the floor in the blink of an eye, I couldn’t quite time the shuffling and shoving right to successfully knock her off balance. Strength is certainly an advantage in this sport, but Connie is far from big and bruising, in fact she’s the opposite – with a baby-face, sweet smile and a giggle that threw me off as I didn’t want to hurt her! Unfortunately, she didn’t mind hurting me though, and after a couple of hours and far too many falls to the floor, I called it quits, sure that I could feel my brain shaking in my head.
While I can’t say that I’ll be signing up for the upcoming world championships, it was a refreshing change to get stuck in to a full-body contact sport where aggression is not only advantageous, but encouraged. One thing’s for sure though, I definitely won’t be sniggering at those embroidered pants any more – they’re a real life reminder that superheroes walk among us.