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How to become bullet proof: Lessons on pain from a Mexican wrestler in London

Lucha Britannia’s Pure Britanico (AKA Co-Founder of Reset LAB Thomas Dawkins) discusses the insanity of London’s Underground Mexican Wrestling scene and what being a Professional Wrestler has to teach the rest of us about how we look after & care for our bodies.

Hidden down an alley under a railway arch in Bethnal Green is one of London’s most notorious underground performance venues – where on the third Friday of every month those in the know gather to witness the spectacle that is London’s only regular Mexican Wrestling night, Lucha Britannia.  

As a punter, once you’ve made it past the elegantly masked doorman in a pinstriped suit, what you’ll find inside is an all action immersive theatre show featuring a cast of daredevil wrestlers and neo-burlesque performers. Imagine Cirque Du Soleil meets Monty Python with muscles, lycra, fighting & zombies – where real life super heroes come flying over the ropes, and if you’re lucky, land in your lap. It’s stupid as hell, immensely fun and for those who love it - it’s a regular fixture in their annual cultural calendar.

But behind the spandex, sequins and body slams – who the hell would be insane enough to put on a pair of their girlfriends tights and fling themselves around a ring until they bleed for your entertainment?  

Well, as one of the performers in the show, with a slight death wish and love of performing insane stunts for anyone who will cheer – I guess that would be people like me; a martial arts trained am-dram thesp originally from Hornchurch, now resident of Bethnal Green, who considers himself both an artist and an athlete with a two part passion for lycra and getting hit – really, really, really hard.  

‘Wow, that’s cool’ people usually say with a look of disbelief when they first find out I’m a jobbing wrestler, shortly followed up with ‘but doesn’t it hurt?’ to which my stock reply is a blunt - yes. 

Allow me to illustrate. In a Lucha Britannia show in 2015, (aged 28), a wrestling accident in the ring left me unconscious with a torn rotator cuff and separated shoulder. (You can watch video footage of the incident below – I’m the fella in white). 

As I get suplexed off the corner post and subsequently landed on by the guy in blue, my shoulder is genuinely popping out of it’s socket, I am actually out cold on the mat, and I really am completely disorientated as I flail around trying to figure out how to move myself out of the ring before the monkey drops from the celling onto my throbbing head.
So yes, It’s real.  so real in fact that for many performers, this injury would have been the beginning of the end of their wrestling careers. But as a martial artist & (professional) Professional Wrestler, injuries and injury rehabilitation have been part of my daily life since my teens.

I knew in that moment, as I watched the Viking and the Monkey tussle from on high, that how I reacted to my body’s pain signals, what I did to rehabilitate my dislocated joint, and how I would go on to condition my shoulder over the coming months would directly affect the frequency and severity of my future levels of discomfort and chronic pain.

So post-match, on walking out of the dressing room - instead of taking the standard approach of rest & ice, followed by physiotherapy or surgery - I set about fixing the damage to my shoulder myself (and ignoring the concussion - I’m a wrestler after all) through movement sequences that understand the body as a complex system of interconnected tissues.

Today age 31 after 3 further years working as a Professional Wrestler, I’m performing more frequently, in longer matches with an increased work rate and have sustained no further major injuries in the ring. I’ve been lucky for sure – but I’m
also currently learning a one-arm handstand on the shoulder that got hurt and it’s now stronger than my good arm – and that’s no accident.

So what’s the point of my story, and how does all this relate to you? You’re not a wrestler and you have no intention of attempting stupid stunts that to any sane person seem risky, inane and down right dumb… Well, my point is this:

If you do any kind of regular physical activity at all, including walking, DIY or domestic chores, which of course is everyone that is human – then it’s more than likely that you’ve sustained an injury at some point in your life. An injury that still gives you a bit of jip, or worse, restricts what you can do with your body in a more major way… all of which you may customarily put down to the ageing process.

And if that’s you – then I have good news. Take it from a boy who wanted to be a super hero like Batman as a child and never grew out of it - age is just a number.

Wrestling and for that mater, sports in general teach us that the body is amazing - it can repair and heal in ways that will astound you. You can regain previous levels of physical capacity and even get stronger as the years go by. What you could be capable of doing tomorrow can be better than what you are capable of doing today. All that is required is a little patience and some thoughtful action. And most importantly, if an idiotic wrestler like me can do it - so can you.

So my challenge as a Professional Wrestler to you is this; stop thinking of your injuries as problems that go hand-in-hand with an increase in age.  You’re not a broken specimen. Your body is not ‘faulty’. You’re just a regular Homo Sapien in need of some gentle movement and a spot of physical challenge... which is why I’ve decided to launch Reset LAB, an alternative health and fitness company based in Bethnal Green. 

At Reset LAB, we teach movement classes that help encourage you to change the way you react to injury and perceive pain signals in the body.  Through the acquisition of gymnastics, martial arts and contemporary dance skills, we specialise in helping you to rehabilitate your creaking joints with innovative movement practices that condition the body and prepare it for the demands of daily life. And the results are clear. We know from our students that with a little awareness, patience and thoughtful action – it is possible to reverse niggling physical symptoms and gain new levels of strength, mobility and fitness; no matter what your age.

So as a wrestler who puts my body on the line week-in-week out, what my one-arm handstand on my bad shoulder shows is that with a little time, patience and diligent application of counter intuitive principles - full healing is available to you, if you want it.  
By working with pain rather than against it and by celebrating pain as a learning opportunity rather than fearing it and giving up on your body, you can discover more about what your body needs day-to-day to feel nourished, energised and alive.

So aside from the bumps, bruises and ‘Brain Busters’ what the world of wrestling, pantomime fighting and stupid stunts has to teach us is that pain doesn’t necessarily mean stop doing what your doing and rest. Instead, it can show us that if we learn to see pain as a message from the body asking us to take a little time to explore the sensation followed up by appropriate action (as opposed to inaction) - then anything is possible.

What we all know from experience is that doing nothing in response to pain will simply lead to more pain, but through martial arts, wrestling and sports, I’ve learnt that thoughtful engagement with the pain will always lead to a better outcome and often major reversal of it’s severity, intensity and chronic status.

So if you are suffering from chronic pain, weakened ligaments, tendons and joints, muscular restrictions, reduced range of motion, fear of risk taking and potential resulting injuries, then do your self a favour and join us at Reset LAB for a movement class and find out for yourself how the lessons of Professional Wrestling could help you to stay active as you age. After all, if you want to be fit in your 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – then the time to start looking after your body is now.
Thomas Dawkins and Claire Heafford are Co-Founders of Reset LAB - the alternative health & fitness brand currently tearing up the industry rulebook in East London to provide cutting edge fitness classes that promote self-care, mindfulness & physical creativity through movement. Classes run Mon-Sat in Bethnal Green. Visit www.resetlabfitness.com to book a class. Lucha Britannia runs on the third Friday of every month. Tickets at www.luchabritannia.com

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