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Scientific Wrestling – A New Dawn For an Old Style
The golden age of professional wrestling is often considered the era of Frank Gotch, but the golden age, in terms of “technical” wrestling, came afterwards.
At the start of the 20th century, namely the period from the teens to the late 20s, many of the top professionals began to excel in using their legs on the mat. These shooters were able to use their legs as another set of weapons and were experts in controlling their opponents’ legs and arms. These talented grapplers were commonly referred to as “leg” wrestlers and leg wrestling became part of the craft of the old catch-as-catch-can masters. Famous names among them included Joe Stecher, Earl Caddock, “Tigerman” John Pesek, George Tragos, Ad Santel and Clarence Eklund.
These men paired brutal submissions (double wrist locks, cranks, and footholds) with an ability to turn their opponents into pretzels. Unsurprisingly, it was around this time that the term “stretch it” originated. The fundamental ride employed by the leg wrestler of old was the crossover ride (commonly called the “one-legged vine”). It was from there that they maneuvered their opponents into all sorts of positions that the human body was not meant to take.
They used the guillotine (abdominal stretch), banana lunge, cross-faces and inverted cross-faces out of the sling ride, inside holds, upper scissors with a cross-face (commonly referred to as a “back mount”). They were also adept at shearing arms with their legs and using various nelson holds and double arm stretches to bring their opponents to the point where it felt like their muscles were actually tearing.
Clarence Eklund was arguably the greatest among former leg wrestlers, pound for pound. Known as the Octopus of wrestling, Eklund became one of the most technical wrestlers by the end of wrestling’s filming days. Barnstorming all over the United States, Eklund developed his style of leg wrestling on a plane all his own. Sportswriter Bill Sopris had this to say about the Octopus: “(Ek had) a knack for using the vine and impeding an opponent’s progress with his legs and his strong point was his legs and with this uncanny power, he was able to break the levers and wear down a man, eventually beating him with a mid-section chisel and barbell arm.”
Eklund weighed 175 pounds. and won the world light heavyweight title from 1916. He solidified his claim at the age of 42 by beating the best light heavyweight wrestlers in the world to win the undisputed world title in an Australian tournament in 1928. Among those he defeated were Clete Kauffman, the infamous Ad Santel and Ted Thye. The story of Eklund’s dominance over Ad Santel in their tournament shootout match became legend and bolstered Eklund’s claim that no man in the world could match him at 175 pounds.
I spoke with Dick Cardinal, one of the last old-fashioned shooters and a hook master, about Eklund. Dick had known Ted Thye (one of Eklund’s opponents in the 1928 tournament). Thye commented to Dick that Eklund’s performance against Santel was pure wrestling mastery. Thye’s words about the event, according to Dick, were impressive in themselves, and Eklund dominated his opponent at every phase of the match.
Another story that has become legendary is Eklund’s visit several years after his retirement to practice in Oklahoma with the NCAA National Championship wrestling team (Oklahoma A&M) for that year. The coach had invited Eklund to review the team’s progress.
Eklund walked around nodding appropriately when he saw something he liked. After a while, the trainer asked him if he would like to exercise. “Of course” said Eklund, “line them up”. The coach was surprised at this as he had only suggested training for Eklund with one of his lighter weight wrestlers; after all, Eklund was in his forties and had been retired for years. Nevertheless, he did as Eklund asked.
In the space of 15 minutes, Clarence Eklund, 45, pinned every member of the national championship team, from lightest to heaviest. The heavyweight lasts the longest, taking Eklund around 2 minutes to pin. Now imagine a wrestler coming in today and pinning every member of the wrestling team from the state of Oklahoma, or Iowa, or Minnesota, and you’ll begin to get a sense of the technical mastery of the Octopus of wrestling. Eklund was the king of scientific struggle.
I had long feared that the technical style of the old leg wrestlers had been forgotten over the years as professional shooting really died out in the pro ranks after the late 20’s. Then I came across something that almost made me cry with joy. I came across an instructional video tape game called “LEGAL PAIN” by one of the greatest wrestlers of all time – Wade Schalles.
Wade Schalles’ leg riding/pinning style is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the Old Time Leg Wrestlers style. Wade is a 4-time NCAA champion and has pinned more world and national champions than any man in history. I’ve seen very few current amateur wrestlers who have the technical efficiency of old-school shooters, but Schalles takes riding, rocking, and pinning to a new level.
It’s in Schalles style of wrestling where you can see a bridge between the old and the new. When I look at Wade’s material, it’s very easy for me to visualize what men like Eklund, John Pesek and Earl Caddock must have looked like on the mat. Everything is there: leverage, fulcrum, speed, technique and above all AGGRESSION.
If you were to add toeholds, neck cranks, and double wrists to the material presented by Wade and master it thoroughly, you’d be a very dangerous person in a very short time, and that’s no joke. I’m giving this material 5 stars, but I’d like to give it 10 (it’s that good). It is simply the best riding and pinning gear I have ever seen.
For more on Clarence Eklund, see Wyoming’s Wrestling Rancher: Life and History Of Clarence Eklund Champion Wrestler
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#Scientific #Wrestling #Dawn #Style