Wrestling work-out showcases the real heels at Wolverhampton club
“Leave your attitude at the door and don’t be too hard on yourself.”
We’ve just completed the warm-up and I already can’t feel my legs.
I’ve played rugby and been a professional wrestler for over 20 years, but nothing could prepare me for the work-out I got from Wolverhampton Wrestling Club, one of the city’s best kept secrets.
The Guru Nanak Satsang Gurdwara is located on the Cannock Road in Park Village and would be the last place you would expect to be a training base for such a club.
As I discovered when I first met the head coach Ranjit Singh, Sikhism and wrestling have a link that dates back to the 16th century, when Guru Angad Dev Ji took a keen interest in sports and physical training.
The spiritual leader made a special wrestling arena, or “Mal-akharas” where people could train, with no discrimination between the rich or the poor, and all participants treated equally.
Which brings us to this unassuming training hall just outside the centre of Wolverhampton, which carries this tradition into the 21st century.
“To some people, we are hidden away and word of mouth is bringing people in,” says Ranjit Singh, 44, the head coach.
“You bring your friends, your cousins and brothers and other people and this has helped it to just keep growing.
“I thrive on being a coach now, having retired from competition. I thrive on my guys winning competitions and titles and there’s nothing better as a coach then seeing my guys, from the juniors to the seniors, winning competitions and doing well.”
The training hall, which is behind the Gurdwara, is a welcoming environment – even if Ranjit and the trainees, who include several top level MMA fighters and some prospects for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in wrestling, will have no qualms about manhandling you in the ring.
It also has a former Olympian among its alumni, with Ranjit’s brother Amarjit Singh having competed in the Super Heavyweight category of Freestyle Wrestling at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Even before we start, I’m being warned by Joe “Silk” Cummins, current Extreme Fighting Championship Lightweight World Champion, that there will not be a part of me that does not hurt afterwards.
“Wrestling is definitely not for wimps,” laughs Joe.
“If you get through the warm-up and you’ve never done wrestling before, then I rate you, because there’s no playing around here.
“I’ve just come back from South Africa where I won my world title and Ranjit is my main wrestling coach and even though I’m known as a striker, my fight ended up being a wrestling match and that’s all down to Ranjit in regards to my skill level.
“The thing with wrestling, especially for young children, is that it’s not a martial art where you’re going to get punched in the face.
"It’s a self-defence sport, it’s fun and will keep you fit, as well as keep the kids off their computers, and the main thing is that it’s a family environment that you feel comfortable in.”
And they aren’t going easy on me – runs, burpees, rolls and cartwheels which aren’t becoming of a man of my grace, are followed by a series of lifts.
I end up facing Carlos, a Californian who wrestled at college level in the USA and who is enjoying a final turn in the ring before he retires to start a family with his wife.
“With combat sports, you can’t really hide,” he says. “You have to put up or shut up and it really humbles you, which helps you find out what everyone’s made of, which is really good.
“The one thing I would say to anyone thinking of coming here is to leave your attitude at the door and don’t be too hard on yourself as this is a tough sport.
"It’s one of the hardest sports in the world and never easy, although I’m biased when I say that due to my experience, but everyone can agree it’s a tough sport, but very rewarding.”
I am at the weight where I would be considered a super-heavyweight, so I end up in a group with Carlos and Muslim, who is half a foot taller than me and the same weight.
I spend the next 30 minutes repeatedly hitting the floor under the strength of both men. I give as good as I can in the mini-matches, but the experience of Carlos and the pure brute strength of Muslim leave me hitting the mat.
Ranjit and the rest of the team are complimentary – I never gave up, and kept on going throughout, but it provides little solace to my aching bones.
After one last exercise using legs and lower back power to push Carlos from one end of the mat to the other, I am allowed to collapse in a heap while the other trainees do a final exercise.
It has been one of the hardest training sessions I have ever done, but all the support and help made it worthwhile.
Wolverhampton Wrestling Club train champions and they work hard to make sure that everyone enjoys the session and feels welcome. It has, after all, been centuries in the making.