Why America needs wrestling and combat sports

Wrestlers battle at the 2020 California State Duals Championships (Photo/John Sachs,

I heard a statement the other night while watching a show on Netflix that deeply resonated with me. The character, Sensei John Kreese, said, "More than ever, Cobra Kai is needed, the American society has gotten soft." It is not a direct quote, but it is close enough to understand the message. "Cobra Kai" is a TV series based based on the 1984 classic "Karate Kid." The acting in the show "Cobra Kai" is B-rated (at best). Cobra Kai lacks creativity. It is a near-identical story as the original movie. The two main characters are the same, Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. The plot is the same. A kid is bullied, learns karate, beats up the bullies, and wins a karate tournament. However, "Cobrai Kai" is interesting enough to keep watching. The lessons embedded in the show are worth paying attention to. Mainly, the life-changing power that a combat sport like karate has on a person's confidence and self-esteem.

American needs wrestling. As Sensei Kreese said, we have gotten soft. Our society is entitled and expects rewards without putting in the time and effort. We want everything quick and instant. People do not want to struggle. Nor do we value it. We expect things to be easy and comfortable. Each day new inventions provide new options to be even more comfortable. Modern technology allows us to never have to leave our homes or even have direct in-person conversations. It is impressive, but it has allowed us to get lazy, complacent, and "soft."

Technology is only one reason we have become soft. Each year while demonstrating proper exercise habits with high school students I teach, I ask the classes, "How many of you ever been in a fight?" Before anyone gets up in arms, I ask the question as an analogy to teach them how to "brace" their core when squatting. Bracing is a technique that promotes safety while lifting weights. It involves taking a breath through the abdomen and pushing out our stomach. Essentially, it makes our stomach tight and keeps our back safe when exercising. I use the fight analogy to highlight our natural instinct to tighten our bodies to keep us safe from harm. I pick a student and tell them to get ready because I am going to punch them as hard as I can in the stomach. I pull my fist back and strike toward the students' stomach. I stop a few inches from the target. The students always laugh, and the student I pick breathes a sigh of relief that I didn't punch him. I then ask him what he did before me throwing the "punch." He says he tensed his entire body with his arms close to his sides as if on cue. From that example, the students understand the idea of bracing and why it is crucial when we lift weights.

Going back to the question, I ask my students, "Who has ever been in a fight?" At best, one or two hands go up out of thirty. It perplexes me a little. I know times have changed. And for that matter, I do not think fighting is the answer in any situation. It just surprises me that so few kids have ever been in a physical altercation. I am not encouraging or condoning fighting. I tell my own children, 14 and 16-years-old, to say to an adult or me if they are bullied or harassed. They look at me and ask, "Why are you telling me this?" Since grade school, they have been conditioned to not stick up for themselves and to tell a teacher or adult if they are picked on. In a movie, though, it is celebrated when a child sticks up for himself and challenges the bully. It is an irony. We teach our kids not to fight back but also wonder why they shy away from difficult situations. We want them to be more independent, but we rescue them at the first sign of adversity.

America needs wrestling and other combat sports more than ever. Not to fight a bully but to learn to endure, struggle, and deal with discomfort. Life can be a bully. It can beat us down. As a society, we need to learn to get right back up and keep moving forward and not expect someone to rescue us. A person snapping your head down and blasting you with a hard double-leg attack hurts and can knock the wind out of you. A punishing armbar does not feel good. But these types of activities make us tough, more resilient, and ready for when life punches us in the stomach.

Wrestling and other combat sports require us to face difficult challenges. It teaches us how to deal with misfortune and setbacks. Wrestling shows us that we become better people by doing difficult things. In a wrestling match, an opponent is trying to physically harm us. It is the nature of the sport. Wrestling and other combat sports are aggressive and physical. But at the same time, the competition prepares us for different areas of life. We become adaptable to challenging life events. We become more equipped and better.

I know if more people wrestled, many of our modern-day issues would be resolved. Productivity in the workplace would go up. Accountability would improve. Entitlement would slowly dissipate in favor or people who value working hard and have pride in their effort.

I am not naïve to think that putting on a wrestling singlet will solve all of America's problems. I do know that if you ever have wrestled, you see life from different eyes. You have failed, been tested, and understand what it means to struggle. You've been hurt and beat up. Your pride has been damaged and ego bruised. But, if you wrestled, you didn't stay down, quit, and give up. We need more of that right now in our society. If more people wrestled, American would be a better place.

John Klessinger has been a high school teacher and wrestling coach for the past 21 years. As a head coach, his teams have won close to 400 matches, and they have won multiple county, region, and tournament championships. Six times he has been named the Baltimore Sun and the Annapolis Capital Gazette Anne Arundel County Coach of the Year. As a competitor, John was twice a Pennsylvania All-State wrestler. He was a four-year starter at the Division I collegiate level and a Division I East Regional champion. John competed in the 1997 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

John wrote an ebook called "Strong Mind Strong Body" that can be found on Amazon.


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headgear643 (1) about 2 weeks ago
Great Article! Couldn't agree more with these lines: 1) Since grade school, they have been conditioned to not stick up for themselves and to tell a teacher or adult if they are picked on. 2)We teach our kids not to fight back but also wonder why they shy away from difficult situations. 3)We want them to be more independent, but we rescue them at the first sign of adversity. Been going on for years and we see the result in today's young adults. Loved the been in a fight example, coaching in a suburban school, we faced the same issue. One coach on our staff would always say, before we can teach them how to wrestle, we have to teach them how to be tough. So true in today's world.
ban basketball (1) about 2 weeks ago
Being a former boxer and wrestler myself, and coming from a family of such, there's no bigger fan of combat SPORTS and one who's been around both more than myself. However, to openly teach our kids to fight on the streets is irresponsible and raises kids to be stupid, and only teaching them to fall back on a barbarous way to try to solve an issue.

My sons are 31 and 29 and not once did I ever feel the need to have to teach them, nor encourage them to show their intelligence and fight with others. There's other ways, folks.

Perhaps the "turn the other cheek" proverb from the Bible is fitting for you? It was for us.
huemat (1) a week ago
Klessinger is not talking about teaching kids to fight in the streets, or even advocating for kids to do so. He focuses on how combat sports (wrestling) are needed to be a part of teaching kids how to be resilient and better deal with adversity.