While at West Point, Dwight D. Eisenhower began wrestling. He later said that through wrestling “I learned the mental discipline along with maintaining the physical stamina I would need for my future responsibilities.” In fact, there is a Torah of wrestling to be learned.
Torah describes Jacob wrestling with a beatific being. On the eve of a fateful meeting with his brother Esau, Jacob is filled with fear. While alone, Jacob encounters a heavenly adversary. They wrestle through the night.
By morning, the match is a draw. The text says that Jacob wrestled both with men and divine beings. In the end, Jacob succeeded in transcending his debilitating fear. He began the new day enlightened yet carrying forward his wounds. The activity of wrestling served a psychological purpose. After the full contact of wrestling, Jacob overcame his self-doubt. He learned that he had the strength to wrestle with all human antagonists.
Wrestlers report that the sport is as much a mental activity as a physical one. The principles of a good wrestler are applicable to everyday challenges. Appreciate you have control over how you approach an adversary. Will you engage calmly or with pressure or by sheer force?
Preparation is critical. A wrestler practices regularly before a match, just as we must practice building our own emotional and spiritual skills. We must spend time developing our techniques and skills.
While engaged in a challenging situation, you have control over whether to remain focused or retreat with your head down. To win, maintain a positive outlook. Those who succeed often have confidence in their abilities and approach. Those who lose are typically terrified of losing. You will not win every match for the rest of your life anyway…that isn’t realistic. If you lose…then you have the control to accept the loss and move on. If you are always afraid to lose, then you might never find success. Rather discover how the uncertainty of outcome can fire you up and fuel your performance, rather than poison your performance with panic.
The wrestler has practiced mental toughness as much as their takedowns. Mental toughness bolsters determination. At times we all feel overcome by negative thoughts. A consistent performer finds a way to feed off of even the negative things encountered in competition. Supplant negative thoughts with thoughts that make you feel worthy and powerful.
From Jacob to Dwight Eisenhower, wrestling built self-confidence and fostered the development of great leaders. The lessons learned from wrestling are a Torah for all times.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame