Functional Hand Strength

Functional Hand Strength

John Wood's Blog of hard training and unusual strength development



Memories of Karl Gotch

Karl Gotch and MMA fighter Josh Barnett on the January,
2007 cover of Weekly Gong Pro-Wrestling Magazine
(Life is Movement, Movement is Catch)

It's 2:30 in the morning and I just got the news that Karl Gotch passed away just a few hours ago. It doesn't sound like it was unexpected nor that he was sick or suffered during his last days which is a good thing, although news of an unexpected death is never an easy thing to take.

I was fortunate to have met and trained with Karl back in June of 2001 when I went down to Tampa, Florida to train with Matt Furey.

Let me take this opportunity to say that some of the things that have been posted about Karl and Matt Furey are flat-out untrue. -- I would know, I was there and saw things as they were with my own eyes.

Now, however, is not the time to discuss that, but what I will do it tell you what it was like to train with Karl Gotch.

Let me back up a minute.

I had already been in Tampa for two days – and had already had three Workouts, when Matt told me be ready a few hours early today (a Sunday) because "we've got to pick up Karl first."

That's right, Sundays were the day when Karl would attend Matt's training sessions. Thing is, Karl lived at least 90 minutes away so if he was going to be there, we had to go get him – and take him back afterwards, obviously quite a commitment -- and very well worth it.

Anyhow, we made our way to pick up Karl at his apartment. As Karl approached I got out of the car and introduced myself. Aside from a cordial hello, Karl didn't say a word to me for the rest of the trip which was not a surprise as it took a while for Karl to warm up to anybody (if he ever did at all, which I guess wasn't often)

Many miles later, we arrived at the gym and met a few more of Matt's students who were there for the session.

The session itself was split up into two parts: first half was conditioning, second half was sparring/ submission work.

As we began, Karl, who had just had hip surgery, sat on a chair in the corner and watched everything going on like a hawk.

I was on the far side of the room working on my wall walking. I had only been bridging for less than two weeks at that point and still learning the ropes.

Karl came over to me and said, "Let me show you how to do that right." We started with basic wall walking which I was pretty good at and Karl seemed pleased.

Once that was finished, it was time to go unsupported at the bottom position. – This can be pretty scary when you aren't used to it, but fortunately I'm a fast learner and was able to get at least a passable grade. Then it was time to wall walk but walk while keeping my chest on the wall at the bottom.

The first few times I couldn't get it and Karl barked "you must master this step if you are going to learn bridging gymnastics"

He was right, if you can't get your chest out over your chin, it just wont work.

After some more tries, I could just about get it, although Karl helped out by pushing my chest against the wall and making me hold it for a few more counts than I would have been able to otherwise.

"That's how to do It," he said, "now let me see you fall into a bridge."

Fortunately about a week before I had learned to fall into a bridge, by using my hands as support. I did so.

"Good, now do it without using your hands"

Truthfully, I was scared to that I would break my neck if I did that and was hesitant. I kept not bending far enough and ending up flat on my back as most people do

Karl's solution was to grab my hands in order to slow the speed down and get me used to falling backwards. This helped quite a bit although I never did make it on my own that day. (I got a no-hands falling bridge about a week later)

"Now bridge," he announced as if the whole world should start doing it, Karl went off to correct a few other students there. When he got back to me he said, "let me see you kick over."

I hadn't quite mastered that either yet but could almost do it. Karl seemed pleased with what little I was able to do. "Here's how you work your neck," and he proceeded to do manual resistance in every direction while grabbing my head like a cantaloupe.

"I hope you don't have to drive anywhere tomorrow because you won't be able to turn and see the traffic light when I get done with you." (He was right)

The last exercises of the day were what he called half-moon pushups; performed on a small "board" I guess you would call it. (I dont know the correct name, but it was something from traditional Indian physical culture.)

This board allowed for a greater stretch for various kinds of pushups. In any case, instead of telling us how many to do, he said go until I say stop (which was about 10 beyond what anyone was able to do.)

I was the last in line so at least I knew what I was up for. As I was fighting for those last few impossible reps, Karl said "relax your face, you look like you're giving birth."

(How’s that for a line?)

"You must stay relaxed at all times, especially when giving maximum effort," was Karl's coaching point.

At this point, the conditioning period was done and it was time for sparring and submission practice. Understand, this was like taking a math lesson from Einstein or a singing lesson from Caruso.

In a word, amazing: Karl's ability to dissect each and every move was truly remarkable. He taught us the correct way to apply the front face lock – the chin lock, and how to pop a guys elbow out with the flick of a wrist. It was with good reason why he was known as "The God of Wrestling."

Bear in mind, I have yet to see this information demonstrated any where else, even to this day. Once the session was over, it was time to take Karl home.

We loaded up the car and I sat in the backseat as Karl and Matt talked.

About half way through the trip and halfway through a conversation with Matt when Karl turned back to me and said "John, you must lose the weight around your middle." I told him I would work on it. He said "good" and went back to his conversation with Matt.

We arrived back at Karl's apartment and said goodbyes. Karl said it was a pleasure working with me. Later Matt told me he rarely said that to anyone.

All in all, it was an honor to have trained with the man. His teachings directly and indirectly had a permanent affect on my training, something which I will always be grateful for.

Thank you Karl, I appreciate it. Rest in Peace.

John Wood

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