Chuck Palahniuk – yeah, the Fight Club guy – has a book which is a series of short stories called “Stranger Than Fiction”. The second chapter is titled “Where Meat Comes From”. It’s not long, only 19 pages, but it’s incredibly accurate. The story is summed up best by Palahniuk himself after he describes cauliflower ear:
“At best, this is a postcard from a hot, dry weekend in Waterloo, Iowa. Where meat comes from. From the Northern Regional Olympic Trials, the first step, where for twenty dollars any man can compete for a chance on the US Olympic Wrestling Team.”
It’s a story about what we love. It’s a story that made me sad, smile, and even laugh aloud on the plane a couple times.
Each part of the story is like a miniature conversation about wrestling, and to me each one was complete. Cauliflower ear, why the sport seems to be dying, cutting weight, the instant camaraderie when you recognize another wrestler, missing pain when you take a week off, the injuries, the brotherhood with your training partners, the shift toward MMA, having to quit after the major injury… I’ve never wrestled the way these guys have wrestled, but the experience seems to be universal to grappling.
I found myself thinking back to my own injuries and my own versions of each story. How Beth hates when I’m cranky, starved, and thirstier than I think I’ve ever been on the drive up for weigh-ins. The judo tournament where I was 0.2 lbs over after spending all morning running in the gym with my parka over my gi over my sweats, and forcing myself to finally make weight by sitting in the car with the heat cranked until a fifth of a pound of sweat was caked into my clothing. The feeling I get every time I see someone with cauliflower ear and I get this smirk as I ask “So, how long have you wrestled?” and they inevitably ask “How could you tell?” and I just point at my ear and I’ve never had anyone do anything but laugh and say something along the lines of “Yeah, that’s a dead giveaway isn’t it?” Being in my doctor’s office talking about how I really need to quit, but that I won’t. Any time where either I’ve accidentally injured a training partner whom I was close with or a close training partner has accidentally injured me and we just laugh about it because we know it wasn’t recklessness, but just the way the chips fall sometimes when you go hard.
It’s an incredible summary of the sport to me. I wish I could carry it around and when someone asks why I wrestle give it to them to read. I can’t really explain why I love what I love, but somehow the social proof is there when I’m not the one explaining why after umpteen broken bones, two heel hooks, and a couple of back injuries I’m still on the mat. When someone else explains for you, it makes loving what you do seem less insane because that guy loves it too.