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Arm Wrestling Opened My Mind

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Arm Wrestling Opened My Mind

Andrew Ryan

Last night I was spending some quality time with a friend from Perth who is here in Melbourne for a little bit. He’s an excellent dude, a straight up excellent time, complete with a mullet and a filthy mustache. A mutual friend once pointed out that all dudes in Melbourne try to look like our friend Pete, while Pete just goes along doing his thing without being a jerk, smiling, illustrating, managing a tiki bar, winning competitions to go to Jamaica, it’s all just totally natural. People either want to be him or make out with him (except me, I just want him to buy me cocktails and to smoke his cigarettes) so when I found out he was visiting I was all “YAY HE’S GOING TO SHOW ALL THE MELBOURNE FUCKS HOW IT’S DONE”. What I didn’t realise was that this would actually mean he’d be arm wrestling strangers in the beer garden of Bar Open.

I choose not to get involved in sports. I have a tendency to get a little too competitive if given the chance, and when I am not the victor, I don’t take it very well. Back in the days when I was eager to prove myself as one of the boys etc, I would do the arm wrestles and show them I was game, and then I would lose, and it was a great time, but inside I would fume. In displays of anything physical, I always come up short- I am a clumsy runner, a weak swimmer, and haven’t an inch of muscle on me. I can climb pretty gracefully (trees, bar fridges, tall people), but that is purely an aesthetic thing, I’d be fucking terrible at rock climbing. It took a little while to figure out that if I’m not going to train my body to do this shit, I probably shouldn’t bother wasting my time and confidence. Fuck it. I am confidant that my brain is well trained, and that’ll do me for now. There is no need to embarrass myself for the sake of being a tom-boy anymore.

But when it comes to other people arm wrestling, well hey now, that’s a whole different story. I want everyone to arm wrestle each other in front of me. Male or female or otherwise, skinny or tanked or otherwise, I don’t care, just get those bendy little elbows on the table and do it.

For a while, I didn’t know you could love watching arm wrestles. After I resigned from sporting activities, I grew to become very much an anti-displays-of-physical-strength kind of person. I believed it was totally pointless to be proud of having huge limbs if you’re only going to use them for fighting or kicking and throwing things.

I have a cycle in which my love and belief in humanity ebbs and flows, and this period was certainly one fueled by disgust. Fuck strong men, fuck athletes, it’s a joke and everyone is a moron. I felt like this all the way up until last night; when Pete expressed his wish to arm wrestle a man sitting our table, who we nicknamed Kurgan.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PJfqQErOLU
I wanted to make my friend happy, and I was drunk enough to talk to strangers, so I decided to open my consciousness up to take in the rest of the table, and figure out how to make this happen in an organic and hopefully hilarious fashion.
Two young women were sitting diagonally to us; both of them dressed vaguely like 12 year old boys in warm weather. One caught my eye: she was round like a barrel, and as vocally enthusiastic to her drinking partner as my buddy was to me… I watched her for a few seconds, and jumped in on their conversation. I was welcomed and encouraged, and so quickly directed it towards the fact that she should arm wrestle Pete… which worked beautifully. Within a minute of first turning to speak to her, it was happening- elbows on the table, fingers at the ready.

I was more concerned with capturing the moment on my phone than paying attention to what was happening, and it was over very quickly. It was hilarious to watch Pete’s face, satisfying to see him win, and terrifying when this woman wanted to challenge me straight afterwards. “NO WAY. YOU WILL KILL ME” I cried. And boy, did we all laugh, my red wine stained teeth hopefully hidden from view in the low lighting. Pete and the barrel woman then had a thumb war, which she won, so balance was restored.

Where’s that mildly perverted fascination with arm wrestling then? I hear you ask. It’s about to poke it’s little head out from the inner depths, don’t you worry.

It wasn’t until Pete had locked arms with the Kurgan that the world went dead outside of them and I became totally absorbed.

We had to wait a while for the Kurgan to come back to our table- he disappeared at some point before the barrel wrestle, and remained unseen for quite a while. We asked his wrinkled friend if he was still at the venue. His wrinkled friend was hard to understand, but we figured out the answer was affirmative. I warned him that his friend would be challenged to an arm wrestle when he gets back, and I don’t really remember much after that (more wine, maybe a shot of Jagermeister?), then suddenly, emerging from my tipsy, noisy haze were the Kurgan and Pete, their elbows on the table, sizing each other up slowly and deliberately.

Their hands met, and so did their eyes, and this is the reason I have grown to love it: I saw a story in that man’s eyes, and a very different one in the eyes of my friend. They were looking and locking into each other’s souls with their focus, holding hands, squeezing their skin together and staring, watching, speaking totally silently. Kurgan was placid, was doing this only to humour the boozey, eager younger man in front of him. He knew he was the silverback, and had a small, peaceful smile as he pushed his arm against the strength of Pete’s. Pete got worried. Kurgan said he’s worked with his hand all his life, he is a violin maker. Pete’s respect grew, and so Kurgan won.

It’s a psychological test as well as a physical one, and I believe I now understand the sporting mentality a little better. This is why some intelligent, creative people I know wouldn’t miss listening to the tennis broadcast on the radio if they can help it, why they travel across the world for a soccer match. It’s the recognition of psychological power, the combined effort of body and mind as the ultimate machine, on display for the rest of the world to watch and learn from. Courage, ferocity, humbleness, fairness… it’s complex, and it’s natural.

Thank you arm wrestling, thank you Pete and Kurgan; you opened my mind. I’m certainly not going to get myself along to any AFL games next season, but I won’t be looking at it with such loathing and resentment anymore. Let the sports fans get off on displays of power, whatever! It doesn’t matter! We all have our weaknesses.