Modern American Folkstyle wrestling has a number of restrictions and regulations in place to promote and maintain the safety of its competitors. Notably, these restrictions include the outlawing of techniques such as the twisting hammerlock and the illegalization of “slamming.” At one point however, these restrictions did not exist in American wrestling, and the only prohibited techniques were foul moves such as eye gouging and biting. Due to this and other factors, HAF was very different to the American wrestling we know today.
Slamming, unlike the twisting hammerlock and other individual techniques, is more difficult to define and far more circumstantial in nature. The concept of slamming is much broader than any single technique, and it’s presence or absence exercises a proportionally greater influence upon the practice of wrestling as a whole. To understand Historic American Folkstyle, one must understand this crucial part of the technical landscape. This piece will address both the reasons for its use and the means by which it was accomplished.
Defining the Slam in Historic Context
The term “slam” is a somewhat modern artifice and represents a specific distinction made by today’s wrestling officials that did not exist in the past. Because the techniques that are today considered slams were not illegal or even explicitly addressed in the rules, there was no reason to develop criteria or terminology for them. Many techniques that do not necessitate a slamming action were still practiced in such a way as to incorporate these actions due to the inherent benefit of impactful wrestling. Thus, to understand the role of slamming in HAF, one must investigate common concepts and terms rather than explicit technical instruction.
Hugh Leonard’s A Handbook of Wrestling is by far the most robust 19th century instructional text on period wrestling. Leonard uses fairly consistent language throughout his 275 page book, including a few terms relevant to slamming or impact techniques that make them relatively easy to identify.
The Historic Utility of Slamming Techniques
One of the criteria for slamming, as ruled by the NCAA, in MAF is the use of “excessive” force or violence. This is intended to mean that a wrestler should not apply more potentially damaging force to an opponent than is necessary to bring them to the ground and ultimately win the match. Excess is, of course, only meaningful relative to necessity however, and the conditions of HAF necessitated the application of slamming techniques to win.
In the absence of a points system, a technique is only valuable insofar as it contributes to the pinning of an opponent. Thus, any effort could be nullified by a sudden defensive action. Even with an opponent’s shoulders mere inches from the mat, if the pin could not be achieved the wrestlers may as well be standing. Slams and other measures were therefore necessary for success under these rules.
The Leg and Shoulder Lift
The Leg and Shoulder lift would today be recognized as an almost textbook illegal slam. A wrestler is elevated off of the ground to rest upon his or her opponent’s shoulder entirely and is subsequently snapped forward such that his or her upper body strikes the ground with force.
The position from which this technique is initiated is very similar to many techniques in the Handbook. Like many others, this technique begins by exploiting an error in the opponent’s stance to attack beneath his or her lines of defense. With the knees bent, the lead leg is put forward into a shallow penetration and lead shoulder is imposed into the abdomen or hips of the opponent, ideally creating a slight incline in his or her posture.
The text itself recommends that the aggressor’s shoulder rest into the “chest,” but this is not entirely consistent with the rest of the technique.
Though a hold about both legs is adopted once the opponent has been elevated, the technique begins with a two handed attack upon the opponent’s lead leg. Instead of encircling this single leg, the aggressor’s far arm reaches into the crotch and around while the near arm supports the opponent’s kneecap.
Leonard briefly explains that “The knee hold enables the aggressor to hold his opponent’s weight squarely over his own shoulders…” In more detail, the knee hold is not necessary to support weight, it is merely a stabilizing brace that ensures the proper application of the primary lifting mechanism.
The lifting mechanism is set in by applying the leg hold from the inside crotch with the hand being placed just below the opponent’s gluteal muscle. This grip does not, however, make up the entirety of the mechanism. The aggressor’s far shoulder, in obtaining the hold, should have come underneath the opponent’s center, the optimal position for lifting. The crotch hold is then used to lift the opponent backward while the aggressor comes to his or her feet underneath the opponent’s center. The opponent’s upper body becomes a counterweight to his or her lower body and both are thus lifted from the ground.
In truth, neither the knee hold nor the crotch hold are technically necessary for the completion of the lift. If the opponent were to balance his or her self upon the shoulders of the aggressor, he or she may be lifted without the use of the aggressor’s arms at all. Though this will not occur under live conditions, it should be understood that arms are not to be relied upon to complete the lifting action.
The second position of this technique is depicted in position 59 (mis-printed as 56 in the caption) of the Handbook. There are, however, actions that occur in the intervening period between the pictured positions that should be addressed.
The back, throughout this entire maneuver, should be kept straight and in a strong alignment with the hips. This can be said of all maneuvers in Leonard’s wrestling unless explicitly stated otherwise. If such a posture was lost during a preceding segment of the technique, it should be regained by lowering levels and advancing the hips into their proper place.
The above admonitions are important because the lifting power comes from the hips, through the spine, and into the shoulder. The often said and oftener true maxim applies: one should not lift with the back. The hips should be engaged in order to return the aggressor to an upright posture and to carry the opponent into the air.
A second, less noticeable, adjustment must also be performed before the aggressor assumes the second position. The aggressor’s hands must clasp around both of the opponent’s knees from the outside. As when changing grips upon the mat, the aggressor should not attempt to move both hands simultaneously because in so doing they would completely lose control of the opponent. Instead each hand should be moved individually while the opposite hand’s hold is maintained.
Obviously, the hand that the aggressor first placed on the outside of the opponent’s knee is closest to the intended placement for this part of the maneuver. Thus, it should be moved first while the crotch hold is maintained. The other arm must first be withdrawn from the crotch fully before it is reset around the opposite knee. Care should be taken that the shoulder upon which the opponent rests is not moved any great distance as the crotch hold is abandoned. Once this is done, the second position may be assumed in full.
The third step of this technique is fairly intuitive in execution and result. The aggressor’s upper body is thrown forward and the opponent’s knees are drawn back; the combination of these two actions then whip the opponent to the ground. Thus the two wrestler’s find themselves in the third position.
Unlike some other slamming techniques, the aggressor remains in essentially the same position even as the opponent is cast to the ground. The aggressor does not follow his or her opponent to them mat with his or her weight, but rather remains upright. This is done to maintain control of the opponent’s legs and ensure the safety of the aggressor’s head.
The opponent’s legs in the third position are not on the same side as they were in the second. Where the opponent’s entire body was hoisted upon Leonard’s right shoulder, the final position has both of the opponent’s feet on his left side. Leonard has pulled the legs across his own body between the two positions.
There are a few reasons for this adjustment. Firstly, if the opponent’s legs are drawn back along a straight path, there is a limit to the distance they can be moved before they are stopped by the aggressor’s own torso. When passed beneath the opposite arm, there is no such obstruction and the opponent’s legs may be drawn up to a greater height. This not only adds impact to the opponent’s landing, but brings them flat upon their upper body as well.
The second primary reason that the legs are passed to the other side is to clear a path between the aggressor and the opponent’s upper body. This allows the aggressor to readily secure a chest-to-chest pinning position or cross-body position on the ground should the need arise.
The Double Bridge From Double Armlock
Unlike the leg and shoulder lift, the double bridge (as it will be heretofore referred) is a reactive maneuver. Whereas the lift is procedural, necessitating the prosecution of a series of specific steps to enable its use, this technique is a response to a likely unintended position. Thus the stepwise presentation used to delineate the leg and shoulder lift is not applicable here.
Instead, Leonard suggests a position, in the preceding image, that may develop into a circumstance in which this technique may be applied. In both positions a double armlock has been applied upon a wrestler with a chestlock upon his or her opponent. In the double bridge, however, the wrestler maintaining the armlock is in the top position facing upwards. The upper wrestler’s position is secure so long as his or her legs are spread apart, both roughly equidistant from the opponent’s body.
In order to destroy the under wrestler’s structure, and thus bring them flat upon the ground, the upper wrestler is advised to use a different form of slam. The upper wrestler drives off of his or her legs while retaining the lock upon the under wrestler’s arms and a straight body alignment. Once the under wrestler’s upper body has been drawn a distance up off of the ground, the upper wrestler relaxes abruptly, bringing they under wrestler’s head back to the ground with force. This movement may be repeated as necessary.
Strategy and Systematization
Both of the above described techniques are designed to oppose the defensive bridge, but clearly they do so in different ways. The leg and shoulder lift is meant to make bridging an impossibility for the under wrestler. In Leonard’s own words:
The suddenness and vigor with which the throw takes place is such that a bridge cannot usually be effected by the under wrestler.
Whereas the double bridge is meant to break a bridge that had already been effected. Again in Leonard’s own words:
[the upper wrestler] brings his opponent’s head down upon the ground with more force than his neck can stand, thus causing him to settle upon his shoulders.
Slamming techniqes in A Handbook of Wrestling generally fall into one of the two above camps, either preventing a bridge or breaking it. Preventative measures are preferred, and these techniques are usually set-up from a neutral position. Breaking bridges is still an important skill, but techniques that do so are usually included in reversals or other maneuvers from a disadvantageous or unusual position. Also, as above, preventative techniques are generally done only once, and if done correctly almost certainly lead to victory; bridge breaking techniques in the HandbooK are repeatable and may be more effective cumulatively. These principles may, broadly speaking, be applied to all slams in historic american folkstyle wrestling.