Photos By Jen Marigliano
After months of chickening out, I finally arrived at the House Of Glory Wrestling School in Ridgewood, New York, otherwise known as HOG. Walking into what resembled a boxing gym -- a ring, mats and a bunch of dudes who know what they're doing -- I was way too nervous to blurt out the fun "sick hog" icebreaker I'd rehearsed in my head the whole way there.
They've probably heard that one before, but they hadn't heard the one about a girl who loves wrestling and wants to write about trying it.
I've been an eager fan for only about a year now, but my interests have always been pro wrestling-adjacent: trash talking, drama and inexplicably damp muscly bods. I'd quickly learned that pro wrestling is a soap opera that requires as much of a sense of humor as it does athletic ability. There’s almost no form of showmanship that takes itself that seriously while being in on the joke.
The main difference between general wrestling (like you'd do in a singlet in high school) and professional wrestling (WWE, WCW, TNA and countless other independent companies) is that the match outcomes are scripted. This is why wrestling gets so much criticism as a sport ... yet also what turns it into a broader, more effective form of entertainment.
Going into HOG, I had a hypothesis: wrestling for entertainment requires as much athleticism as wrestling for sport (if not more athleticism). And if my hypothesis were correct, then I was totally screwed.
HOG is not just a school, but a wrestling company -- or "promotion" as they say in the biz -- that produces live shows and develops talent on a professional level. Alumni include Jay Lethal, Matt Striker and Tommy Dreamer, to name a few. For non-wrestling fans, this GIF of Lethal best illustrates how legit these guys are:
The atmosphere of the beginners class was as intimidating as it was friendly; almost everyone shook my hand before jumping into the ring to start grappling with each other. The energy was aggressive, but playful and inclusive, like a cross between a fight club and a community center. Soon it was time for me and the other newbies to take a bump.
To describe a bump as a fall would be an oversimplification. It's a carefully choreographed move that requires you to hit your back perfectly flat on a mat that, by design, makes a sound so terrifyingly loud that you forget how to position your body. Tucking your chin, keeping your butt flat and falling without hesitation were all things I couldn't do while fearing the impact.
Instead I mastered a move that my teacher, known as Smiley (an established wrestler who only performs in a mask, that's why we've covered his face in photos), called "The Starfish," which happens when you forget to tuck your chin and flop around on the clanging mat. It was a lot like wiping out in public; I popped back up and assured everyone I meant to do that.
Three marginally improved bumps later, we moved on to shoulder, forward and backward rolls. These seemed suspiciously similar to summersaults but with riskier footwork. The rolls are meant to generate enough momentum for you to move across the ring, which is also enough momentum to break your ankles if you cross them. I moved too slowly to present any real danger, except for kneeing myself in the face, which seemed like a less common problem.
Of the three rolls, I was best at the backward one — at least good enough to get praised by the only other girl in class, which was like winning a match for me. My cockiness was short-lived; we had to combine all the moves into a sequence before taking a bump. For me, this included two more knees to the face, two solid backward rolls and a slightly less fishy starfish.
I was ready to graduate, but we weren't done. Our final drill was tip-ups, a move that calls for jumping on the ropes at the turnbuckles. It looked like fastest way to feel like a pro wrestler while also feeling like I'm on a trampoline, so I was understandably psyched. The physicality requires jumping while lifting your hips, which (like everything in class) was more complicated than expected. This is a move that's much easier to master on the dance floor than in mid air.
Failing to lift my hips, I arched my back and went up legs first displaying what Smiley called "The Dolphin," but I think I look like more of a sea monster, personally.
Out of exhaustion, I muttered the phrase that every pro wrestler (and aspiring pro wrestler) hates to hear: "This is way harder than it looks." The reaction is like when a comedian gets asked, in a social situation, "Tell me something funny." It shows a lack of understanding of the job and what goes into it.
It only looks easy because they're good at it. So if anyone wants to talk down about pro wrestling, watch me work ... I make it look really difficult: