Wrestling with the Sport
The indigenous Naga style traditional wrestling has been played since time immemorial. It is a contact sport that requires physical strength, agility and skill. Interestingly, there is no category in this sport, which means participants with huge weight differences have to take on each other. The tradition has been passed down from generation to generation but nothing much has changed and people still play with the same zeal and sportsmanship. It brings khels, clans and villages together and celebrates the power of human spirit and build friendship. Though many indigenous Naga games are either forgotten or neglected, traditional wrestling is one sport that has survived the test of time. This is mainly because the Naga society appreciates and values participation. It is encouraging to see this beautiful sport being zealously sustained, and in fact, being taken to another level with wider participation. The spectacular sportsmanship and camaraderie displayed at the just concluded Nagaland Wrestling Association’s (NWA) championship indicate that the sport will get bigger and better. It is becoming one of the biggest crowd-pullers and an event that many look forward to.
NWA did a commendable job by introducing under-16 category this year. It is a good step towards preserving as well as promoting wrestling, which is one of the most popular sports in the state today. To encourage wider participation, it may also be necessary to introduce weight categories which most combat sports do. Traditionally, it might be played by menfolk only, but excluding women narrows down the scope of any sport. It could be a taboo for women to participate in the sport according to Naga tradition but all sports evolve and adapt with the changing time. After all, it is not very different from other forms of wrestling that women play. Apart from these possible changes, it is also necessary to increase the prize money for this sport. Some may say it’s the title and not the money that matters (as was the case until recently) but it’s not so any more. This is a contact sport that requires weeks and even months of training and a healthy diet. Professional wrestlers spend a significant amount of money and invest lots of time preparing for a tournament. There are also possibilities of sustaining injuries during the bout, which can put participants in financial trouble. So, the move by the NWA to raise the prize money for this year’s championship by a considerable amount was encouraging. This is needed to infuse a sense of professionalism among the participants besides promoting the sport and other organisations that organise wrestling events should follow suit.
Amid the growing popularity of this sport, there is literally no scope of going beyond the state, at least for now, except in some Naga-inhabited areas like in Manipur. This is a huge setback for those wanting to make it big in sports. So wrestlers from the state can try other forms of the sport, especially belt wrestling that is akin to the Naga style, and bring laurels to the state. This form of wrestling is popular in several countries and contested at several levels including the Asian Games. Exploring other forms of the sport will not only help find the possibility of excelling in such a genre but also enhance one’s skill in Naga traditional style of wrestling. There is no harm trying out new avenues and nobody loses from a competition.