As distinct from the term kushti, which is used to denote competitive wrestling, jor is the term used for wrestling done for practice, training and exercise (see plates 7 and 8). In the same way that surya namaskar is not only a form of devotion but also an exercise, so is wrestling not only a sport but also a form of mental and physical training. Implicitly if not explicitly, therefore, jor integrates some of the basic principles of yoga into the act of wrestling.
When wrestlers come to the akhara in the morning, each spends between one and two hours practicing jor. After the pit is dug, smoothed, and blessed, two senior wrestlers take to the pit and begin to wrestle. Given the nature of wrestling as a competitive sport, each wrestler tries to throw his opponent down to the ground through the correct application of particular moves. Each move is countered by a defensive move and this sparring continues indefinitely. The nature of jor is, however, significantly different from a competitive kushti bout.
In kushti tournaments (dangals) the aesthetic of structured motion is achieved through a radical opposition of movements. The tone of this aesthetic is harsh, for every move is matched with a countermove. In jor, however, both wrestlers tend to work together so that the moves which are applied are executed smoothly. The dangal produces a dramatic grammar of movement with sudden moments of brilliance and, ultimately, clear superiority manifest in the success or failure of one or the other wrestler. Jor, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the harmony of the art of wrestling as it is manifest in the details of each move. The emphasis in jor is to apply a move with precision and a minimum of effort. Jor is very much like some forms of dance.
In jor you must focus your mind at once on the details of each move and on the whole of which those moves are a part. As in surya namaskar you must focus your mind on the exact posture of your body as it moves from stance to stance and from move to countermove. As pointed out earlier, it is imperative to keep one’s guru’s name in mind while practicing jor or any other form of vyayam. The guru’s name functions as a spiritual beacon which channels the energy of enlightenment into the body of the wrestler. At Akhara Ram Singh the dadas and other senior wrestlers had a clear idea of who was concentrating on their practice and who was not. If a wrestler opened his mouth to gasp for air it was evident that his concentration had been broken. Any wrestler who appeared to be uninterested or not putting out a full effort was quickly rebuked by others.
As choreographed, regulated movement, jor has clear physical and mental benefits. It exercises every part of the body. Anyone who has wrestled for even a few minutes will soon realize that wrestling brings into play muscles which are not usually called upon to exert force or support weight. Unlike exercises like running, jumping, or lifting weights, jor does not require one to perform repetitive movements. In the course of a jor session, certain sequences of moves will, of course, be repeated. In the abstract, however, the exercise is conceived of as an unbroken chain of movement. In this regard jor is the antithesis of vyayam exercises like surya namaskar, dands and bethaks. While these exercises are mechanically repetitive, jor is almost wholly improvised.
Jor develops stamina as well as strength. As such, wrestlers place a great deal of emphasis on breath control. One should never pant or gasp. Never breathe simply to satisfy the body’s need for oxygen. One must breathe in and out regularly and with deliberate, conscious thought. This serves to focus the mind on the application of specific moves. Many wrestlers with whom I spoke said that practicing jor in the morning cleared their thoughts and invigorated their bodies, allowing them to go about their lives with more vitality. What wrestlers mean by clearing their thoughts and invigorating their bodies is the same experience articulated by those who practice yoga. Through the practice of jor one is able to achieve a higher state of consciousness which is one step closer to self-realization. This self-realization can be directed towards winning in competitive bouts or, more generally, towards living a richer and more fulfilling life. As Harphool Singh writes,
Singh continues his dissertation on the efficacy of jor specifically and wrestling in general by saying that wrestlers must always be happy, and present themselves to the world as people who take great pleasure in life. The experience of jor plays no small part in enabling the wrestler to affect such an attitude.
Wrestling in the earth makes the body elegant. Exercising in the earth removes pimples, unwanted hair and cures eczema while making the skin shine like gold. Exerting oneself in the earth and becoming saturated with sweat and mud makes the wrestler feel invigorated. Minor ailments aside, it is said that akhara earth can cure cholera and other serious diseases. One thing is for sure, however: after bathing, the wrestler who has exercised in the akhara earth will feel a sense of vigorous satisfaction as his mind becomes clearly focused. (1984b: 22)
Atreya has drawn up seven points to help define where, when, how, and with whom one should practice jor (1985: 23). Although these guidelines are not followed as rules, they do define the basic principles of jor.
- You should begin your jor regimen by wrestling with a young child or a wrestler who is clearly weaker than you. In this way you can warm up while the younger wrestler gets a chance to exert his full strength. You should always be careful to match strength with strength and never beat a younger wrestler simply to prove your superiority. As a senior wrestler you must draw the younger wrestler out to his full potential.
- After wrestling with a younger and weaker wrestler you should wrestle with someone who is your equal. This will enable you to exert your full potential. You should not try to win. Neither should you lose sight of the fine points of the art to the end of showing off your skill. You should match move for move and countermove with countermove in a balanced exchange of strength and skill.
- If you are called upon to practice jor with a foolish or braggart wrestler you should show him no mercy. He must be cut down to size immediately. Only in this way will he recognize that strength does not lay in conceit, but rather in the regulated practice of moves and countermoves. This must be done. Conceit clouds the mind and a wrestler will never be able to succeed or benefit from the practice of wrestling if he is ignorant of its basic tenets.
- When wrestling with a stronger and more senior wrestler you should exert all of your strength but at the same time show deference to his rank. This is a very difficult thing to do. It is imperative, however, if you hope to advance and improve. You should learn from a senior wrestler but apply what you learn on someone who is your equal. Thus your achievement will never challenge the seniority of the other wrestlers in the akhara.
- When wrestling with an old wrestler one must show respect and deference. Never wrestle as though you are stronger than him even if he is old and weak. Always seek to make the older wrestler feel good and strong.
- If you practice jor with a well-known wrestler you should assume the posture of a disciple at the feet of his guru. You should show respect for well-known wrestlers, and it is also important to learn from them. You should not assume that your strength or skill is a match for theirs.
- When wrestling with the best wrestler of an akhara you should always approach him in a forthright and confident manner. But never pin him down even if you are able. If you try to prove your strength then the practice of jor turns into a contest. As a result no one comes out of the session having gained any knowledge.
Atreya also delineates six places where one may practice jor: at your own akhara, at a competitor’s akhara, at some akhara in another district, at the akhara of a village or town where one has gone to compete in a tournament, at a bus or railway station, and while on a journey. In each of these contexts there are rules for proper comportment. You should not, for instance, show your true form while wrestling in someone else’s akhara. At the same time you must show respect for your host wrestlers. When at a dangal you should only practice with compatriots from your own akhara. Atreya’s list of places where one may practice jor is fairly inclusive, but there are places where it is deemed inappropriate to engage in jor. One should not practice at home, for instance.
In jor a great deal of importance is placed on who one practices with. Similarly, comportment is integral to the performance of jor. Only by adhering to the above-outlined principles is one able to learn the actual techniques of wrestling. This is to say that jor properly done is as much a matter of social decorum and personal attitude towards seniority as it is a question of purely physical training. Atreya tells of a young wrestler who thought that he was stronger and more skilled than an old but well-known wrestler. He practiced jor with the senior wrestler as though they were equals. As a result he began losing wrestling bouts and became weak and unhealthy.