Wrestling with Tigers
Humble is a word for it. There’s a big field just behind the gym and it looks more like a clubroom for sport meetings then it does a wrestling gym from the outside. Looks can be deceiving though as this gym has over 65 years of history where the trainers are former Olympians and World title competitors. All of this, located just a short drive from our capital. I’m taking a wrestling class tonight and to say I’m feeling nervous is a bit of an understatement. I may need to wrestle some beasts that await me through these doors…
As I walk through the doors I see 20 children packed in a small gym learning to wrestle and having fun. That’s when I meet the giant called Nick Lane, he says “It’s a natural instinct for children to wrestle, people have that perception about wrestling is like WWE, and it’s completely false. In freestyle wrestling it’s in a safe, and controlled environment, so it’s all about moves, with the safety of the equipment’s, and rules. It’s really promoting that it’s just not a violent sport.”
For someone like myself I didn’t know too much about wrestling. I knew that wrestling had been one of thefirst ever sports in the Olympics dating back as far as Zeus himself (not the WWE wrestler). I also knew that it is an essential skill to have if you are to be a complete Mixed Martial artist. Fighters like Johnny Hendricks, Randy Couture, and Daniel Cormier owe their success in the UFC to wrestling.
Nick is a former policeman and a former New Zealand freestyle Champion. He was New Zealand’s most successful wrestler at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and has travelled all over the world competing at the highest level. He is just one of the many high calibre wrestlers to come out of this club.
I asked Nick to tell us a bit about his club that teaches predominantly freestyle wrestling. Nick points to thesign above my head and says; “The club has been around since 1958 and it is one of the oldest clubs in the country. Used to be three clubs in Wellington, but it has been declining for the last 10 years, and we are trying to fix this, but this club has a proud history of international competitors going through to Commonwealth games and Olympic Games. Three of our club members have represented this country in the Commonwealth games”
I asked him to tell us a bit about the trainers here like Scott Laurenson. “Scott has been here since it started. He’s the coach, the administrator, and the backbone for this club. If it weren’t for Scott there wouldn’t be a club here.” There is also Sian Law, who represented New Zealand in the Delhi Commonwealth games, and of course Graeme Hawkins who is a legend. He represented New Zealand in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, and after doing a pummelling drill with Graeme, I realise he is one hell of a strong man.
Wrestling in New Zealand is still seen as a minor sport. The outstanding victories of medals from the last Commonwealth games won by Sam Belkin, and Tayla Ford shows that our country can produce high-level athletes in any sports. After doing some research on the funding for Judo and wrestling, I was left a bit shocked.
“HPSNZ (High performance Sport New Zealand) is in charge of funding athletes. Among the $33.55m allocated, not a cent will go to Wrestling”. –stuff.co.nz
Nick says this: “There is little to no funding for wrestling by the government, there isn’t enough to contribute for a proper national team. You talk to anyone in the national team, they are funding themselves. They’re all working full time, and training at the same time, trying to fund for themselves to compete internationally for competitions. Countries like Russia, and the Middle East have wrestling as their national sport. Russians make a living out of it. When we were competing in the international games in the world championship in Russia, we had to take time off work, were as all the other competitors their job was to wrestle. It is really difficult to compete on an international stage when you have that going against you”.
It’s a steep ladder to climb if there isn’t much to support you, but Nick says wrestling has so much more to offer.
“Wrestling is a good sport to compliment other sports, if you see the All Blacks when they are warming up, they’re pummelling, and that’s a wrestling move. All the Super 12 rugby teams, rugby league clubs have wrestling coaches, Graeme has coached the Hurricanes. They’ve realised the wrestling’s core strength and fitness benefits their sport. It is a tough sport, but it has so many rewards to it, just general strength, and conditioning, teaches you discipline, and a lot of comradely comes with it. If you get really good there is opportunity to travel and train overseas. It’s an added bonus, I’ve travelled all over the world with wrestling, and it’s been fantastic”.
Nick has no problem teaching other martial artist from different disciplines wrestling, to him he says this, “The more the merrier. The whole idea about the club is to give the people an opportunity to wrestle, and ultimately we would like people to be competing for the club at a National level. Due to the rise of MMA, and there success it has had in the UFC we a starting to recognize that a lot of clubs in New Zealand see wrestling is a base you need to have skills in”. Clubs such as GSW, and Lockdown MMA in Wellington have a good relationship with Tawa Tiger.
I thanked Nick for the interview and got ready for training. After a solid hour and a half of wrestling I was spent. It wasn’t until I got home and did a bit more research on Nick and Graeme that I found out that they were both former Olympians and commonwealth competitors. Maybe they forgot to mention it, or maybe I forgot to ask them. There was something special about Tawa Tiger club. They a named quite ironically after an animal that you may not see around anymore, but their presence and legacy still roars strongly in the pages of New Zealand wrestling.
Go and check out there club in Tawa and learn some amazing takedowns and pins: https://www.facebook.com/TawaTigersWrestlingClub
Sam Belkin, and Tayla Ford and other Olympic wrestling hopefuls have to qualify through Africa. They have their national training camp in April; it is every year in Lake Karapiro in Cambridge. So please support our Olympic wrestlers!