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Functional fitness the Indian wrestling way

Just over thirteen years ago I was working in London getting my career off the ground in a promising graduate position for a famous professional services firm. It was a gruelling three-year apprenticeship period with oodles of internal training, external training at specialist colleges, and competive exams. This on top of an already-challenging full-time job that criss-crossed London. I was pretty drained. What fitness I’d won at university through boxing and circuit training was steadily eroded until I was getting pretty pudgy and creaky.

Finally on the day I achieved my professional license, I quit and hopped on a flight to Okinawa to teach English for a year in a tiny subtropical island. The itchy feet could no longer be denied. Trading the high-pressure hustle of grey dreary London, overnight, for the balmy 30+ sunshine and beaches of a small rural community came as quite the shock, and relief. It also presented a fitness challenge.

How would I recover my fitness when there’s no gym on the island?

All I had to work with was a tatami-matted spare bedroom and my own body. I couldn’t even rely on mail-ordering equipment because everything would need to be shipped in on a prohibitively expensive two-hour ferry. This was before the internet became ubiquitous, before youtube was full of training videos. I had just a 56k dail-up modem on my Sega Dreamcast.

Luckily, I found my way into functional fitness through bodyweight exercises. Initially through a guy called Matt Furey who was touting the dinosaur training of old-school strongmen like Otto Arco, Maxick and George Hackenschmidt. He’d also recently gotten the nod from an ageing Karl Gotch to begin marketing his old catch-wrestling workouts. This was back when Furey still had good material to sell, before he branched out into some fairly questionable internet marketing off-shoots.

The Great Gama, Hackenschmidt, Solovev, Maxick

The old timers are incredible. This was the era before steriods, human growth hormone and ephedrine. Back then “bodybuilding” was called “physical culture” and was inseperable from good long-term heath. The old timers spent as long practicing deep breathing and muscle control as they did pure strength gains. I was never interested in a gym body with huge muscles and low bodyfat, having been introduced to physical training through boxing where the world “musclebound” is an insult. I wanted a body that could respond to all my daily needs with spring and vibrancy.

I trained three times a week with a hardcore session that left me so drained I could see Jesus walking on the water. I’d usually do another light session to round out the week. For one calendar year I did these workouts:

      • Variation A: Royal Court: 500x hindu squat, 100x hindu pushup, 5 minute neck bridge
      • Variation B: The Gotch Bible: work through a deck of playing cards doing the number of reps on the card face (picture cards = 10, ace = 15). Black is hindu pushups, red is hindu squats
      • Variation C: 250 Pushups: combination of push-up variations in sets of 10.

The results were immediate and significant. I became much fitter and stronger than when I’d dabbled in weights as a teenager and all round felt great. I wouldn’t particularly recommend high-rep workouts anymore but my knees are great without any soreness thirteen years after hitting them hard with 500-rep squats. I’ve since moved my training more towards kickboxing and isometrics, but encourage you all to try the Royal Court.

There’s something special about knocking out 500 non-stop squats. First time took me 35 minutes, and my peak it took 11. You’ll start off scoffing at it’s ease, then begin to feel the burn in your quadriceps as you approach 100. By 150 you’ll be wondering if you can finish and by 200 really beginning to marshall your mental discipline. By 250 you’re over the hump and beginning to zone out. 400 is the home stretch and you feel great. By the time you step off the mat at 500 you know you’ve acheived something beyond 90% of men. For months after you can look back and think “I have the mental discipline for 500 squats, so I have the mental discipline for anything.”

A watch is like a jacket

The cheapest £5 black digital watch is more reliable than a £5,000 Rolex automatic. Sorry to break it to you like this, but watchmaking was revolutionised by the quartz crystal and all those beautifully engineered luxury watches are old technology. Granted this, did you also know that the ETA organisation makes pretty much all of the internal movements found in every brand of luxury watch – TAGHeuer, Breitling, Omega, Panerai etc. Last time I checked only Rolex and Seiko made their own movements. Thus when you buy the brand you’re basically buying the case it comes in and everything under the hood is generic. Lastly, the distribution system for these watches involves huge mark-ups at every level and the watches require bi-annual servicing by official engineers (read “gravy train”) at eye-watering prices in order to maintain the resale value and warranty.

So it’s a dumb idea to buy a luxury watch, right? Nope. I love them.

Just keep in mind that you are not buying (i) status (ii) reliability (iii) investments. You are buying a cool-looking watch that accessorises your personal identity. With that in mind, you won’t have a watch for all occasions, picked for something so primitive as telling the time. You will buy a number of watches to suit different outfits and social settings.

1. Friday Night Lounge Bar

After a hard week’s graft in the office you’ll be headed to the local pub for a quick snifter with your work colleagues and then perhaps across to Soho to rendevous with your best friends for some carousing of the ladies. Chances are you’ve dressed down for Friday’s work but are closer to sunday best than casual. Perhaps dark fashionable jeans and a well-fitted semi-formal shirt. Your outfit is projecting the air of a competent high-status breadwinner ready to throw off the responsibilities of his week. In this case I recommend the Panerai Luminor Marina.

This watch balances a retro military feel with it’s chunky bezel and functional dial, together with a sheen of sophistication and leather-strapped maturity. It’s also the Rambo watch. When Sylvestor Stallone was in Italy during filming of his disaster movie Daylight he stumbled across an old vintage Panerai in a curio shop. He inquired and subsequently bought shares in the ramshackle watch company and then commissioned 50 specially-designed Slytech watches given away to his best buddies in Hollywood. It didn’t take many A-lister parties before people started noticing the watch they were all wearing and overnight Panerai could start charging £5k per item.

2. Daily Activity

It’s Sunday afternoon and you are driving over to a friend’s house for summer barbeque. Perhaps it’s Tuesday evening and you’ve packed your sportsbag before headed over to Muay Thai training. You’re in casual jeans, leather boots, and a t-shirt. A normal physically active guy going through his day with vim and vigour. Take a Hublot Big Bang.

The rubber strap gives it a sporty durable look while the exaggerated chunkiness of the ceramic bezel and brushed-steel mount fondly recall the Tonka Toys you smashed up as a young boy. If James Bond is ever assassinated by a super-spy, his vanquisher will be wearing this watch.

3. Gentleman’s Club

Saturday evening and you are in your reading room with old friends, sipping whiskey and puffing on cuban cigars. Soft jazz plays in the background, leather-bound classics line the woodpanelled walls, and you recline peaceably in a chesterfield sofa. As an older man you enjoy the refined luxuries of life. Naturally your watch musn’t overshadow the situation. I recommend the A Lange Sohne Zeitwerk.

There are few social settings in which a simple indented and worn brown leather strap together with rose gold case would not look ostentatious, but your club is were you are at liberty to feel pompous. To offset such detail I suggest simple clean lines on the face and an unusual and retro feel. This is a watch you can take back into the 1940s.

Naturally I don’t suggest you pay full retail price for these timepieces. Find an online dealer in Chinese replicas and then check the replica watch forums for his reputation. Each of these watches will set you back about $140 for a good quality knock-off. When buying replicas, pay attention to the reputation of the dealer rather than fall in love with a particular watch. I got my last few from Watch Eden.

A fleeting encounter in Chiang Mai

I’ve been in Chiang Mai for almost two weeks, bunking down in a private apartment near the university district and heading to the muay thai gym four times a week. Training in 30C+ heat after a long jog under the blazing mid-afternoon sun can give one a rude awakening about one’s fitness. Determined as I am to improve my conditioning and drop some weight, I have to gather all my mental resources when my legs alternate between jelly and lead. Yet every evening as I lie on the massage mat and get rubbed down after training, I feel great.

We chose Chiang Mai due to it’s far less seedy atmosphere than the likes of Bangkok or Phuket. My fledging thai language study doesn’t allow us to properly integrate with the locals but we do at least see how normal thais live. We find a farang-friendly riverside bar near the Old Town and take a well-earned break to watch live music.


This whole country has an hormone imbalance in the current generation. For the most part the women are cute and feminine but there is an absolute abundance of lesbians. Little frumpy girls with short quiffed hair and serious expressions. There’s probably ten times as many as would naturally occur. The men are a joke. Except for those small oasis of muay thai gyms, there is barely a milligram of testosterone in the whole country, of the younger generation at least. The men are all skinny, weak, mincing push-overs supplicating desperately to the women. Ugh.

Brutus and I get a drink and install ourselves against a pillar to watch the band as they run through a set of Greenday and Republica covers. There’s a din of light-hearted chat and the pub is bathed in a warm glow. We already stand out from everyone else. Apart from their obvious physical differences, the thai men are determined to wreck their intrigue and vibe by shamelessly pandering to the girls and then jumping up and down to the music in the vain hope they score by being “fun”. The few farang are seriously creepy. One such low-life is blatantly angling to touch-up and probably date-rape a wasted-drunk local girl. Others are breaking out into short solo dances then value-scanning the bar to see if any girls noticed.

Reconstructed with actors

We ignore them all. Just watch the band and talk to ourselves.

I see a smoking hot local girl with exactly the balance between beautiful and sexy. A swishy polka-dotted summer dress flows from her figure, her long tresses of black hair are softly pulled back into a ponytail, and she has on big fat black geek spectacles. Her whole aura exudes elegance. My blood bubbles. This is the girl for me. Within a few minutes she walks past with her plain friend so I turn and stop them. It’s loud, the English is strained so after a minute I say thank you and turn back to the music. But it’s long enough to make a favourable impression. She returns to her group on the veranda by the river.

Ten minutes later she manoeuvres near to us on one side, then the other. I feign inattention. Another ten minutes and she’s back again so this time I say hello and offer her a spot in front of me. She begins a pleasing gyrating dance that is the right side of slutty. She’s showing me how sexy she is without slippy over into attention whoring. Again I feign indifferences. She stops, confused. She restarts the dance, and so on. Ten minutes of me gazing over her to attend to the band and I finally talk to her. She jumps at it. I confirm not only does she fancy me but she’s not just trying to tool me. I like her more at this juncture. She’s the most suitable girl I’ve met since my arrival.

Ok, you've convinced me

She has to rejoin her group of three friends and an old Korean guy who seems to be some kind of esteemed guest that they are showing around. As the night winds down I decide I’ll have her but I’m certain it won’t be tonight. Too much social pressure and her vibe wasn’t “fuck me” it was “I like you”. Brutus and I decamp to the veranda and for the next quarter hour the girl keeps stealing glances at me and smiling. Surrepticiously she lets me break her off from her group for long enough to exchange details. For the first time in a month I’m having a strong physiological response. My heart is beating faster when I look at her and I’m absorbed in her manner and beauty. That does not usually happen.

Fate has put this onto the backburner. She texts me the next day to say she’s in the airport on her way back to Bangkok. Still, it’s always enlivening to share romantic moments with a real woman.

A man must fight

Gene Tunney, arguably the best heavyweight champion in history and himself a renaissance man, titled his autobiography “A Man Must Fight”. Boxing fans know him principally for his dethroning of the beloved Jack Dempsey by shutout decision and then the allegedly controversial “long count” rematch. He also shares with Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis the distinction of being the only heavyweight champs to retire having beaten every man he faced. Impressive.

Moments before a fight of legendary savagery

I hold an affection for Tunney because not only was he a well-rounded, cerebal man as comfortable in the social circles of the heiress he married as he was in the prize ring, but he was also a dedicated humble man with incredible courage and determination as exemplified by his first bout with my all-time favourite fighter Harry Greb. Witness his own description from his book:

In the first exchange of the fight, I sustained a double fracture of the nose which bled continually until the finish. Toward the end of the first round, my left eyebrow was laid open four inches… In the third round another cut over the right eye left me looking through a red film. For the better part of twelve rounds, I saw this red phantom-like form dancing before me.

It is impossible to describe the bloodiness of this fight. My seconds were unable to stop either the bleeding from the cut over my left eye, which involved a severed artery, or the bleeding consequent to the nose fractures…..

… The bell rang for the thirteenth round; the seconds pushed me from my chair. I actually saw two red opponents. How I ever survived the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth rounds is still a mystery to me. At any rate, the only consciousness I had was to keep trying. I knew if I ever relaxed, I should either collapse or the referee would stop the brutality. After the gong sounded, ending the fifteenth round, I shook hands with Greb and mumbled through my smashed and swollen lips, “Well, Harry, you were the better man, to-night!” and I meant that literally. Harry missed the subtlety of the remark, for he said, “Won the championship,” and was dragged from me by one of his seconds, who placed a kiss on his unmarked countenance.

A man must fight. There are rituals in all societies marking a boy’s ascent to manhood. The English rural artistocrats would blood their sons on hunting day, for example. Fighting is integral to a fully actualised man’s demeanor. Like saying, “he’s a lover not a fighter. But he’s also a fighter so don’t get any ideas.” You can see the difference in body language and presence between a man who has fought and acquitted himself to his own satisfaction and the lilly-livered pussy who still fears physical confrontation. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” ask’s Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. This doesn’t count as a fight…..

My first fight came in Japan in an amateur kickboxing show. I’d signed up on a whim, having read Kurt Angle‘s biography while on holiday in Thailand and then returned to Tokyo with a drive to put myself into the ring and see what I’m made of. Before then I’d been practicing a sophisticated ego-driven avoidance by training martial arts but finding excuses not to fight. So I sign up and train hard for six weeks with roadwork, good diet, and frequent sparring. By the final week my body is at it’s lifetime peak of fitness. I wake every morning feeling like I’ve won the genetic lottery. I’m full of pep and spring for whatever the day throws at me. It’s a feeling of almost indescribable physical bliss. But I’m ill-prepared for the effects of adrenalin.

A week before the fight a tiny kernal of stress balls itself up in the pit of my stomach and begins growing relentlessly. I get increasingly distracted from my daily tasks as my mind wanders to my opponent and fight night. I struggle to get good sleep and my appetite wanes. The closest analogy I can find is the week before an important exam. I understand now why trainers say most fights are lost in the dressing room. It’s a struggle to master the adrenalin and the emotions it brings. But as fight day arrives I feel good.

The fight itself is a blur. I forget all my higher skills, forced to get by on muscle memory and determination. I take far more punches than in the gym and I can hear my girlfriend shouting “Don’t hit my boyfriend!” But I perserve until the fight finishes with my chasing my opponent around the ring because I hit much harder than he. He gets a well-earned decision based on his good start. We shake hands and as my seconds remove my gloves my girl can’t keep her hands off me. The power of testosterone! I retire to the best shower of my life and for a week afterwards I’m walking on air. I’m blooded. I know more about myself. In the early-going I was battered from pillar-to-post and never gave up.

artist's impression

So as I write I’m sitting in my Thai apartment the morning after watching a gym-mate headline a small hall muay thai show. He’s a 45-yr old former fighter (not high level, just avid martial artist) who wanted one last chance to experience the thrill of the ring. In truth it was a poor fight. He’s shot. I’d only met him that night, as it was my first day in Thailand, but simply watching him perform the pre-fight Wai Kru ritual I knew he was done. His body was too stiff, too ringworn, I knew he wouldn’t even be able to turn his kicks over at the hip. It was exciting while it lasted but eventually he retired on his stool at the end of the fourth with a broken rib and right hand.

Disappointed? You wouldn’t know to look at him. He’d been in the ring with the buzz of adrenalin, the din of a cheering crowd, and the look of satisfaction of having been hit hard but give it back as best as he could. Needless to say the women mobbed him.

What does a fully developed man look like?

Vibe – How do you feel when you are around a man? He is fun, relaxed, happy in his skin and with his superiority over those around him. He needs nothing but freely gives of himself. He is the warm end of the pool.

Presence – What is the initial impression that strikes you as you meet for the first time? When you size him up in those first moments how does he make you take note and think “this guy has something about him?” It’s a combination of physical competence, grooming, dress, body language, facial expression.

Mastery – A man is master of his world. He has seen it, done it, become extremely good at it. Whether he’s observing the world with clarity, advising a protege, or playing chess he is able and focused.

Intrigue – He leads a lifestyle of experience and magnitude. He travels, he fights, he loves, he drinks. When sitting at a dinner party with a fully developed man he weaves story upon story into a early hours as everyone sits fascinated.

Male development visualised