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What Scottish schools can learn from professional wrestling



The only clue that I’m pulling into the correct, entirely anonymous car park is a small sign on a wire gate that, with some mischievously recognisable orange and blue branding, points the way to the Iron Girders pro-wrestling gym. The door is already open.

The first person I meet is Kieran ‘Kez’ Evans, who welcomes me into the building with a handshake and a smile and then points me to the toilet that doubles as a changing room. He is one of the gym’s trainers and its owner Barry – better known as WWE wrestler Wolfgang – has asked him to show me what they’re all about.

Kez has been wrestling since 2015 and had his first ever match against the man who is now his boss. It was, he tells me, “unexpected” – especially given that he had only been training for six months at the time.

“He carried me to a good match,” he grins.

Since then he has worked in various promotions, winning championships as well as praise, and shared the ring with some of the best performers around.

Our session starts, as you would perhaps expect, with warm ups and stretches: shoulder rotations, modified (and absolutely brutal) press ups, double-leg lifts and a particularly intense form of squat that, I’m told, has come from the Japanese style. It doesn’t matter to Kez that I’m just a journalist looking for a story – there are no exceptions or short cuts here.

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It sets a clear tone and sends a message: people might be drawn to pro-wrestling because it’s flashy and fun, but the work involved is serious.

As we work our way through the different exercises my gaze wanders around the room. This is partly because taking in the environment is my job, but even more so because I need a distraction from the pain in my (pathetic) muscles.

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The Iron Girders pro-wrestling gym

Front and centre is, of course, the ring itself – a 14ft square of steel, canvas and taped-up rope. It’s smaller than the ones used by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which is by far the best known wrestling promotion on the planet, but I’ve only ever seen those on television. Up close, this supposedly smaller ‘squared circle’ still seems enormous.

Most of the rest of the floor space is filled with an array of high-quality gym equipment that students can use to build and maintain the required physique – a couple, including rising star Leighton Buzzard, are working away on their own while Kez puts me through my paces.

The walls are decorated with event posters (both for local events and large-scale shows featuring Scots such as Drew McIntyre) and an array of championship belts, as well as spray-painted motivational slogans such as “Don’t be sh**e”.

Once the warm-ups are over Kez takes me through a series of basic ring movements, having me observe and then work through each one. I go from the simplest of moves (the sort of forward role I’ve not done since I was in plimsoles) to bouncing up on, and even over, the ropes. We seem to be going at a fairly rapid pace, and yet I don’t feel like I’m being rushed or pushed beyond my limits.

Kez, I realise, is a pretty brilliant teacher. From the moment I set foot in the gym he has made me feel welcome, but he is also determined to get the basics right, and makes a point of really explaining seemingly minor points regarding footwork and hand placement. Some things, he tells me, can be ‘good enough’ and then sorted out later on, but others need to be nailed down right from the start in order to keep people – both the students and their potential future opponents – safe.

He is equally precise when it comes to his use of language.

“I hate the word can’t,” he says. “I hate it when people say, ‘I can’t do it’. You’re struggling with it – but we can work on it.”

There are some people who just seem to be made for teaching others, balancing the competing and complementary needs for challenge and support while helping students to understand not just what they are doing, but why. Kez is one of them.

It all means that when he asks if I’m up for the next step – which happens to be the one when things start to really hurt – I’ve agreed to have a go before I’ve even really thought about it.

I always thought the ropes in a wrestling ring would be elasticated. I was wrong.

I also thought that ‘running the ropes’ would be the least technical challenge I’d face during my visit. I was wrong about that too.

The ropes hurt, even when you get the technique right – and I certainly didn’t manage that on every pass.

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Breathe. Three steps. Turn on the left. Elbow over the top. Grasp with the right. Remember to exhale.

It sounds like advice for escaping some sort of emergency evacuation but was actually the mantra going through my head each time I bounced off one side of the ring and launched towards the other.

Finally, it’s time for some ‘bumps’, which is the euphemism that wrestlers use when they mean ‘throwing yourself, or being thrown, onto the ground’. I’ll be throwing myself onto my back without, I hope, hurting my myself too much or giving myself a concussion.

Kez demonstrates the technique, taking care to explain the importance of turning my hands and slapping my palms into the canvas – this not only makes a much more impressive sound, it also helps to spread the impact. Then it’s my turn.

I cross my hands over my chest, bend my knees, tuck my chin in tightly – and then throw myself backwards more in hope than expectation. There’s a crash mat there to make sure I can do it properly and, to my surprise, Kez seems impressed. Then he takes away the crash mat, which raises the stakes but doesn’t change the technique.

It’s at that point that I realise just how comfortable and, unbelievably, confident I’ve been made to feel, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that the careful, person-centred teaching style deployed here is the reason. In the end, the full bumps on the hard canvas are actually fun, and I only hit the back of my head once.

I’m not going to be the next Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels or even Grado, but thanks to Kez I managed to step into a pro-wrestling ring, and get back out again, without completely embarrassing myself. Ten year old me would be happy enough with that.

After two hours in the ring with Kez, I then meet David Thomson – known in the business as DCT.

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DCT (Pic: David Wilson) 

Like Kez, he is a former world heavyweight champion in Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW), a Glasgow-based promotion through which an impressive number of current wrestling stars have passed on their way to WWE.

Back then, David’s persona – the character that a wrestler performs as during shows and for promotional videos – was that of an X-rated comedy underdog billed as the “Award-Winning, Hammer-Swinging, Headboard-Ramming, Scoop-Slamming, International Sex Hero”. Like so many of the best pro-wrestling gimmicks it was completely ridiculous but, thanks to David’s skills, it also worked.

Today he’s not here to get in the ring. Instead, David is hosting a class on character development and promo-writing and is happy for me to sit in.

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In the wrestling industry, being able to talk is absolutely fundamental. The physical side of things matters, of course, but if you can’t pair it with an ability to engage an audience then you’ve only got half a show. A gymnast could do all the moves in a match, and a public speaker could hold the attention of the room – but a pro-wrestler has to learn to do both, sometimes at once.

Some students – including a couple here today – started out at WrestleFit, a weekly fitness class where people can train like wrestlers without having to worry about being thrown into a turnbuckle or slammed onto the mat. Having gotten a taste for it, they might decide to try moving on to full training and while the physical step up involved can be daunting, the thought of speaking to a crowd of people is, for many, a far more intimidating prospect.

David is here to help them get over that hurdle, but there’s still more to it. Giving the students the opportunity to think about character development, and to work on speaking skills, all with a view to engaging an audience, isn’t just about preparing them for the business – it also gives them something enormously valuable and, for so many people, very difficult to find.

“This isn’t just a physical outlet,” he insists. “It’s a creative outlet too, and I think the creative side is just as important.”

“People find themselves here.”

The class begins and I just can’t help it – the English teacher in me takes over. I observe as David prepares and then begins the first task of the class, issuing a random occupation and emotional state to each person and asking them to prepare a short promo for the character. There’s an obsessed car salesman, a confused plumber, and even an angry pirate after I agree to take part too.

For the next ten minutes the students are utterly consumed by the task. I can see them thinking through different angles, testing out particular expressions, making adjustments to their planned delivery and more. It’s all ridiculous of course, but that feels like part of the lesson: if you want to succeed in pro-wrestling, you need to actively embrace the absurdity of what you’re doing.

Each student takes a turn delivering their hastily-arranged promo to the rest of us and it’s obvious, as both an outsider and a temporary insider, that the atmosphere in the group is crucial. Like so much else that seems to happen here, a supportive community – even within what is ultimately an extremely competitive environment, with everyone jostling for spots in a limited number of shows –  is at the heart of their success. Everyone is being helped by the trainers, but they’re also helping each other.

After the introductory activity the students are moved on to their main task for the evening: taking the character that they are developing for themselves, imagining them preparing for their ‘dream match’, and delivering the sort of promo that can grab attention and, above all, sell tickets.

Once again the students throw themselves into the task and produce some hugely impressive performances.

But the person who impresses me most is David.

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Wrestling class

While the students deliver their speeches – which might range from threatening and sinister to laugh-out-loud hilarious – he is part of the group, joining the hilarity (intentional or otherwise) or helping the performer bounce off their audience; but once the talking stops, a different David appears.

Having performed, every student receives feedback that meets a sort of gold standard in teaching – it is specific, detailed, immediate and actionable.

Everything from word choice and posture to intonation and pacing is picked up on. When one student mocks a particular rhetorical pattern once used wrestler-turned-Hollywood superstar The Rock, and then ultimately (and knowingly) deploys those same structures in their own speech, David recognises and praises the technique.

When another doesn’t quite nail the emphasis in a key part of their promo, he steps into this new character – sunglasses and all – and demonstrates a more effectively delivery. Advice on improving the comedic impact of a particular line is delivered with illustrative reference to the speech style of comedian Jimmy Carr.

Suddenly, despite the surroundings and the subject matter, David isn’t an ‘international sex hero’, or even a pro-wrestler.

Like Kez, he is simply a fantastic teacher, and one that I’m glad to have been able to see in action.

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