In this chapter I will outline in detail the regimens of exercise, diet, and self-control that structure the wrestler’s body. Careful attention will be given to the precise mechanics of physical training which develop and shape the individual body in terms of somatic ideals. Before embarking on this project, however, I must consider the nature of the relationship of the individual body to these ideals.
The notion of a fit and healthy body being an ideological construct is a fairly common theme in discourses of nationalism and power (Gallagher 1986; Jennifer Hargreaves 1982; John Hargreaves 1986; Hoberman 1984). But while the equation is simple to state, the problem is, in fact, more complex. As soon as a healthy body is made to shoulder the burden of certain ideals it also becomes subjected to a microphysics of domination and control. Technologies intrude into the body and mold perceptions of health, fitness, sexuality, and aesthetic beauty. These covert technologies present themselves in many instances as emancipatory strategies whereby the individual can free himself or herself from the mundane fact of mere biology. With specific reference to the athletic body, De Wachter points out that in trying to escape from the vagaries of nature—sickness and aging—we have subjected ourselves to a numbing array of techniques. Far from freeing the body we have simply subjected it to a different kind of determinism (1988: 123). Exercise and training produce an impression of “dynamism, differentiation, and freedom” but in fact fitness is simply another way of controlling the body. This is what Heinila (1982) has termed the “nightmare of totalization,” wherein fitness manifests itself as a mode of domination acting through progressively more detailed schemes of physical regimentation (in De Wachter 1988).
Exercise and health regimens dominate and control individual bodies in the same instance that they create an illusion of self-motivated physical liberation (Crawford 1985; Zola 1972). The illusion is two-dimensional: that we have somehow superseded the natural mandate of our biological bodies, and that the regimens we adopt are emancipatory and self-inflicted rather than ideologically prescribed. The mechanics of this premise rest on a tacit acceptance of the Cartesian mind/body duality. Because the body is regarded as a mere flesh and blood object, it is conceived of as a lifeless thing which can be molded. It can be disciplined, sacrificed, branded, tattooed, reproportioned, and developed through exercise. The mind (disembodied thought) is always regarded as the master of this game of control. In other words, we attribute cultural value to certain physical features, and we regard these values as taken-for-granted “natural facts” of life. Broad shoulders, for instance, are regarded as a natural feature of the male physique. While certain dimensions of physique are regarded as natural, others are regarded as inherently mutable—weight and body fat, for instance—and therefore subordinate to aesthetic, political, moral, and religious principles. Conversely, in the logic of Cartesian dualism, that which is physical is somehow regarded as more real and more elemental. Health, for example, is thought of as a purely physical condition, and illness as a purely biomedical referent. While the mind is accorded a position of supreme power in this scheme of human nature—the source of thought, logic, disposition, and emotion—it is the body which is regarded as basic to real life: a flesh and blood existence in the here and now.
Both mind and body—perhaps because they are radically dissociated from one another in Western thought—are subjected to external controls. The body is constrained by biological nature and the mind by history and the cultural construction of reality. Significantly, the mind also molds the body. But mind in this sense is not the individual mind of free will and individuality; it is the mind of ideology and collective consciousness. In the Cartesian formula, ideological thought is associated with the mind. The body is but an instrumental object of secondary significance, a purely dependent variable. By implication the body is always subject to control and can never serve as an autonomous agent through which ideas develop and change.
In Hindu philosophy the mind and the body are intrinsically linked to one another (cf. Staal 1983–1984; Zarrilli 1989). There is no sense of simple duality. In yoga, for instance, it is pointless to try to define where physical exercise ends and mental meditation begins. If one considers Gandhi’s adherence to yogic principles it is indeed difficult to draw any line between the physical, the mental, and the political.
The implications are significant. If exercise and regimens of fitness manifest themselves as ways of controlling the individual body, then in Hindu India one cannot have a disciplined body without also having a disciplined mind. In the context of Hindu schemes of discipline it is impossible completely to objectify the body. The end result of regimentation and disciplined exercise in India is therefore quite different from its Western counterpart. Rather than a “nightmare of totalization” where the body is subjected to a refined and detailed biomechanics of health and fitness, in India one has a situation where discipline endows the body/mind with a heightened sense of subjective experience and personal self-awareness. This is not to say that in India the individual experiences discipline as personal emancipation. In India, however, discipline is not simply manifest as an objectification of the body but equally as a subjectification of the self. This point may be elaborated and clarified through an example.
In American physical education and sport, strength is a purely physical phenomenon. It can be measured in objective terms: body mass, arm size, muscle-to-fat ratio, heart rate, weightlifting ability, and so forth. As such, strength is something that can be developed as purely somatic and as quantifiable and calibrated. While strength is also manifest as a physical attribute in India, it is, more significantly, linked to such ineffable cultural values as duty, devotion, and morality. It is neither purely somatic nor strictly quantifiable. A wrestler cannot be strong if he does not follow his guru’s mandate. He cannot be strong and indulge in sensual pleasure. Strength is manifest not only in the size of his arm but also in the sparkle of his eye and the luster of his skin, symbols that indicate spirituality, devotion, and moral control.
In a situation of mind/body synthesis such as this it is impossible to turn the body into a mere flesh and blood instrument molded to the image of some abstract ideological construct. Strength cannot be objectified from moral duty or spiritual devotion. The regimens of health and exercise practiced in India—yoga, vyayam, dietetics—exert control over the body not only through a physical mechanics of muscular training and organic chemistry but also through a disciplined regimentation of what we would call the subjective mind. As a result, discipline in India manifests itself not in the objectification of impersonal bodies, but in the complete demarcation of the person as a thinking, feeling, and acting microcosm of ideological values. In India a person’s individuality is constructed through the development of his or her body. In the West disembodied individuality is imposed onto a generic biological human form:
The physical training associated with wrestling is anything but depersonalized. Nor does the wrestler emerge, through exercise, as a generic man on a larger, stronger scale (except, as we shall see, in the synoptic arena of the tournament). The disciplinary regimens associated with wrestling produce a person charged with a heightened sense of self-awareness and moral duty. The wrestler’s physical strength is but one manifestation of a larger disciplinary matrix which entails moral, spiritual, social, and physical regimentation.
The steel [of the machines and tools which bodybuilders use] depersonalizes. . . . Its homogeneity drives out the principles of individuality in the bodies that devote themselves to it. It does away with eccentricities—the dry and irritable skin, the concave faint-hearted chest, the indolent stomach. . . . On his/her contours, the bodybuilder watches emerging not the eccentricities his tastes and vices leave in his carnal substance, but the lines of force of the generic human animal (Lingis 1988: 134–135).