(Bump in the Road is a multi-part story detailing my attempts to get into wrestling school and the wrestling business. Part 1 discusses my growing up on wrestling and some brief backyard wrestling. Part 2 dives into my brief time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and a burgeoning wrestling school. Part 3 involves my first major nervous breakdown and suicide attempt. Part 4 begins the story of my time at a legitimate wrestling school in Toronto. Part 5 is a side-tangent on the creative process and homework.)
Right, you guys know the drill by now, so let’s get right to Part 6. I left off after my first class at Rob Fuego’s wrestling school (Part 4) and a short interlude about homework (Part 5).
For the first few weeks, things were going well – admittedly, frustrating at times, but well.
Early in, Rob accepted another new student. He was still in High School and needed his mother’s permission to join. I don’t remember his name, but I remember he was a good natured, quiet kid. He also wore baggy basketball jerseys over t-shirts, which tended to get caught or in the way when we grappled. We’ll call him Russell. Russell and I were often paired up, since we were the two newbies.
While the advanced students (including Mitchell) would work in the ring, Rob and Steve, the other trainer, had us work on grappling and holds. A wipe board listed a dozen holds to practice: collar/elbow lock up, head lock, wrist lock, full nelson, front armbar, side armbar, outside wrist lock, inside wrist lock, front face lock, key lock, hammerlock, and an arm wringer. I don’t remember how to apply even half of them now, but I remember I struggled with the key lock for some reason. Each of the holds had ways you could reverse them into other holds, usually one-for-one. We were also taught how to seamlessly move from one hold to another, such as having your opponent in a hammerlock and immediately slap them in a headlock. Heh, one time, Russell and I were practising, but we were moving around so much with each reversal that one of the guys jokingly asked if we were dancing.
During times in the ring, Russell and I practised bumping and running the ropes. During one class, they wanted to teach me to time ducking while running the ropes (for clotheslines and the sort). To help, Brent (who I mentioned last time) stood in the middle of the ring and threw clotheslines at me. After a while, he started throwing one of his long, lean legs over me. At one point, I may have forgotten to duck just as Brent was swinging a leg. WHACK! Foot connected with face. Stunned, I stood completely straight and fell straight back like a board. Some of the guys asked me afterwards if I intentionally sold the kick like that. My response? “Uh….yeah! Yeah, of course I did!” No one believed me, but it was funny.
Of anything that I struggled with the most, it was bumping. The first few weeks, I struggled with back bumps. Doing so goes against every single natural instinct, since reflexes want to do something to break your fall. From a squatting position, back bumps weren’t a problem. From a full standing position, I struggled. After weeks of practice, along with practising at home with the futon mattress, I started to get it.
Flip bumps, on the other hand, were a completely different story. Imagine jumping, rolling forward in the air, and crashing on your back, slamming your feet flat on the mat (knees bent). The best example of a flip bump is seeing someone take a hip toss. If the back bump went against instinctive reflexes, then a flip bump meant those reflexes constantly screaming, “Knock it off, asshole!” Every time – every flipping time – I psyched myself out. Half the time, I’d rush in gung-ho, sure that I’d do it this time, only to come to a screeching halt and freeze. This wasn’t like the forward rolls we did in warm up, where our arms were down first or we were low to the mat. This was being completely in mid-air for a second or two. One time, we were learning the sunset flip, which requires you to flip over your bent over opponent. I thought for sure I could do that – even if I struggled to flip. So I charged in, ready to jump…and then didn’t, only shifting a little bit to the right. Unfortunately, my training partner thought I had flipped and began standing up, as one must in a sunset flip. When he did, though, he spread his arms out, his right arm between my legs. CONK! Right in the gonads. I dropped. I lay there, face planted into the mat, in a semi-foetal position. Someone asked if I was okay. I only responded with a loud groan, “Uuuuuuuuugh,” which became the running joke of the night.
Despite troubles with bumping, I continued learning new moves. One of my favourite moves was a standing La Magistral. From a wristlock, we needed to step over our opponent’s arm, roll backwards over their back, hook their other arm while we fall onto the mat, and flip them over. From there, we needed to do a pinning maneuver. For some reason, I not only picked this up quickly, but thought it was a lot of fun. While practising it, my partner (Russell, I think) was nearly backed up into the corner. Realizing I wouldn’t have room for all this fancy flipping, I spun him around in the wristlock to have my back facing the corner. Noticing this, Rob complimented, “Good ring presence!” which totally made my night. Russell struggled with what to do after having arm-dragging his opponent. With them facing down, he was supposed to leap to their other side and hook the arm (or arms, I can’t remember). Instead, he kept straddling his prone partner (not me in this case). He was confused why everyone kept laughing, as he sat there, straddling. Rob said, “No no no, that’s the ground and pound! We don’t teach that here.”
Early on, one thing I struggled with was posting. In wrestling, when someone is lifted up, you may not notice, but they have their hands planted on their opponent somewhere in order to support their weight (and lighten their opponent’s load of lifting a 200+ pound guy). For example, during a powerbomb, you’ll tend to post, say, on their shoulders. In a body slam, while upside down, you post one hand on their thigh. In a piledriver, you post both hands on their thighs. Sandbagging – basically not posting or doing anything to assist your opponent with the lifting – is a huge no-no in wrestling. It’s usually done to purposely exhaust or embarrass your opponent. For me, I just honestly kept forgetting. I remember a few times, when I forgot, Mitchell would whisper to me from nearby, “Post!!” To practice posting and flip bumps, we handstand somersaulted over the back another trainee who was on their hands and knees. Once again, I kept psyching myself out, being unable to do this.
I remember one night, I became so frustrated with being unable to flip bump that I broke down crying. I managed to hold it until I was in the bathroom, but there, I just broke down. It was so frustrating that I couldn’t get it. Worse, I was starting to lag behind the rest of the class while they learned new moves that included bumping that I still couldn’t get. Mitchell tried playing the tough love card, calling me a quitter, which only made me more upset. Finally, Steve talked to me, telling me that everyone progresses in these schools at different paces. He told me about one guy who trained at Lance Storm’s school in Alberta, who was at the school for three months and still couldn’t flip bump. Know that that made me feel a little better.
I left that night upset, but over the next few days (during the week, before the next Saturday class), I only got madder and more determined. This was my dream. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. Resolute, I laid out our futon mattress at home and practised both back bumps and flip bumps over and over and over. Sometimes I landed awkwardly, sometimes I got it perfectly. Maybe it was the extra padding that gave me the confidence to try. Once I felt I had the flip bump, I even tried doing it at greater heights, leaping higher (well, as high as the ceiling would clear). Just to prove to others that I could do it, I even filmed it! Check it out:
Back Bump Practice
Flip Bump Practice
(Side Note: I think I was listening to a Honky Tonk Man shoot while practising. Pretty sure that’s the audio you’ll hear in the background.)
When I returned to the school that weekend, people complimented that my bumping was much better. Early on, when we all practised bumping together (during the warm-up), I successfully did a flip bump! It was definitely a low-to-the-ground flip bump, but still definitely a flip bump, not a front roll. The class actually applauded, some saying that they knew how much I struggled with it. Yet, I still struggled with the flip bump many times. It was awkward, but a hell of a lot better than it was before. Feeling confident, I decided to try my luck on the hip toss that plagued me so.
I still couldn’t do it. I had the right posture, and even remembered to post. When it came time to flip, though, I just couldn’t do it. Steve and another more advanced student (Chris) then suggested a double hip toss. So they would assist with lifting me. All I had to do was get it started. I would flip bump, but with their support. They hooked my arms. Chris looked over at Rob and said, “He’s shaking, man.” He was right. I was terrified. Why? It’s not like either of them intended to hurt me. So they finally got me to flip. I must have landed badly, though, because I remember the wind knocked out of me. I’d never felt such pain in my lungs. Gasping, I made it back up. When they asked if I wanted to try again, I shook my head and took a breather. I played it safe for the rest of the class.
During another class, we had a special visitor: Extremo! I don’t remember his real name, but I was hoping to meet him since I remember seeing some of his work in Chikara. He was incredibly helpful and supportive. He and Chris tried doing the double hip toss with me. Again, I struggled, but Extremo tried hard to pump me up. He smacked my chest over and over, saying things like, “C’mon, this is your dream! This is what you want! You can do this!” I recall I did it that time, but again, struggled to repeat.
One move I remember having a lot of fun with was the atomic drop. That’s where your opponent lifts you up, either from the front or back, and drops you onto their knee, hurting either your butt or your nuts. I was nervous being lifted up, but enjoyed selling it. I even jokingly mimicked my errant sunset flip incident, which got a few laughs from the students who were there for that. Still, I was nervous about being lifted up too high. I started wondering if my slight fear of heights (like being nervous climbing ladders too high) was the issue. In fact, I started to notice a pattern: the moves I struggled with the most involved being lifted up. Every single time, whenever I was lifted up, I would panic and shout, “Wait wait wait wait! Put me down!” When I caught my breath, I’d ask to try again and the whole thing would repeat. I had no idea why I reacted like this. I would soon have my answer.
There was a student there that I regularly had issues with: Caspan. I don’t remember his first name because that’s all we called him. I think it was his last name. He was one of the bigger students. He was wide-shouldered like me, slightly taller, with a natural fit look (not a lot of muscle tone, but clearly in shape; like someone that works on a farm). He had a tendency to be stiff. In other words, he didn’t tend to wrestle lightly. Unfortunately, training like this cost Mitchell, as he sprained or hurt his shoulder from bumping for Caspan once. While we practised shoulder tackles, I found Caspan came at me particularly hard. So hard, in fact, that I could rarely back bump and instead stumbled back against the ropes. Because of this and the incident with Mitchell (which was the end of his own wrestling training), I was pretty intimidated by him. Just as luck would have it, Rob or Steve would often pair Caspan and me. I figure it as because we had similar sizes compared to the rest of the students.
During one class, we were learning the stun gun. Here, the set up starts like a spinebuster or reverse atomic drop. Rather than being dropped crotch-first onto someone knee, our opponent would drop us throat first onto the top rope (or that’s what it looks like, since we would break our fall with our hands). Naturally, I was paired with Caspan. So, he started to lift me up, but before he even carried me near the ropes, I panicked again. “Wait wait wait wait! Put me down! PUT ME DOWN!” He would, and then I would try again and subsequently panic, squirming to break away. In the last attempt, he dropped me a little unceremoniously – probably frustrated at all my squirming and yelling. Stumbling, I fell back, sinking into the turnbuckle. It dawned on me:
I was afraid of being lifted up.
I said this aloud, near one of the other students. He shook his head and said, “Yeah, I think that might be a problem.” In a few moments, I recollected all the problems I’d had throughout my time at the school. I could flip bump no problem on my own, but at any moment that I had to work with a partner and it involved being lifted up, I panicked, or even shook in total fear. Aside from a slight fear of heights, I’ve never known myself to have a phobia, but it turns out that this one I had. Maybe I had a lack of trust in other people or maybe it’s because I was used to being the big guy in most groups of friends, so I’ve rarely been the one being lifted up by friends. I don’t even know if it’s a legitimate phobia or if there’s a name for it, but I couldn’t deny it any longer. In a business that involved being lifted up and dropped countless times, this was a phobia that couldn’t be worked around.
Frustrated beyond belief and disappointed in myself, I walked out of class that night.
It was the last class I ever attended.
I’m afraid that this concludes the chronicling aspect of Bump in the Road. The next instalment will be an afterword: final thoughts on the whole story, how I feel about it today, and whether I’d ever consider trying again.