"I want to tell professional wrestling under a dramatic category in a friendly way as a 'professional wrestling person.'"
- Kazutoshi Saigou

Lately, I've been reading the website of Kazutoshi Saigou, a 47-year old Japanese wrestling fan, who has written about professional wrestling as art, a world "noticed by imaginative power."

I'm obsessed by what it means for us to be wrestling fans and how wrestling takes on meaning for people. As wrestling fans, we're actively involved, both emotionally and intellectually, in what we're watching. Whenever we watch wrestling, it's because we've made an active choice to do so. It's a highly selective and motivated activity. We watch because we expect that doing so will give us gratification. Gratification that can be seen in relation to the satisfaction of certain psychological needs and wants experienced by us as individuals.

"It is of infinite variety how professional wrestling (fan) does not enjoy the result, enjoys the process, and can enjoy it by the man's view of life, knowledge, culture, age, sex, and sensitivity. There are some persons who are carrying out psychological analysis, and there is a person who can see only the surfaces, such as a technical side."
- Kazutoshi Saigou

Originally, I was going to talk about how this match is stark and minimalist, moody and depressing, incomplete, but self-reflexive of that fact. I had intended to explore how it has its own visual style, explaining some of its motifs. Now I want to personalise those aesthetics.

I've spent a lot of time exploring what my own psychological wants and needs might be. It's easy to identify how you feel about something, the key to self-discovery is determining why you feel a certain way. This means Self-knowledge - life, plus reflection on our reactions to life. You have to force yourself to look at things from the inside out.

I've come to the conclusion that I watch wrestling to learn something about my own life. Wrestling is self-reflexive of the emotions, thoughts and feelings I invest in it. It helps me understand myself better. It may be egocentric, but wrestling is as much about me as it is anything else. It's about my personal identity: finding reinforcement for personal values; finding models for behaviour; identifying with valued others and gaining insight into oneself.

Gen'ichiro Tenryu vs. Toshiaki Kawada is an archetypal story that unearths a human experience, wrapped around a unique, cultural expression. When I watch, I'm entering an alien world I do not know, but once in this world, I find myself. (An exotic dance, strange, but imminently engaging.) Deep within these wrestlers and their conflict, I discover my own humanity. I inhabit vicariously another human being that seems unlike me, yet at heart is me. Watching wrestling isn't about escaping life, but about finding it.

At first I thought this match was like two guys at the last outpost, who haven't heard the war's over. I'm quickly discovering that what I think is visual or evocative description is detachment from exploring the way in which a match affects me emotionally. Wrestling is visceral and pervasive. As wrestling fans, our lives are permeated by wrestling images. It may be that these images inject messages directly into our veins, but I can no longer distance myself through the way something looks. Somewhere amid the violence and brutality, life is transformed into story. Wrestlers connect with me, saying, "Life is like this!" And I answer with an emotional response.

I could tell you a lot of facts about this match, but facts are neutral. Story is metaphor for life, never life in actuality. Occurrences bring us nowhere near the truth. What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens. Consider a set of facts known as "The History of Toshiaki Kawada and Gen'ichiro Tenryu." When I bring these men to the page, they become unique. Their facts stay the same, but the "truth" about their lives is meaning, which I find. Meaning that would be entirely different in another writer's hands. As a writer, I am not eclectic. I write about one idea: the struggle for self-expression. What I see as "having something inside you that you can't get out." This is the subject that ignites my passion.

I imagine that Kawada and Tenryu say things to each other in this match they could never express otherwise. What happens when Kawada, the one who has always trailed, demands answers from Tenryu, the one who deserted? The truth is that Tenryu answers him. Tenryu challenges not only Kawada's values, but my own. TENRYU stands in for external (even internal) antagonism in my own life. It's a challenge to discover that which I do not know about myself: why I have the need to express myself. What happens, if like Kawada, I fail in my pursuit of self-expression? I'm not sure how I react to that challenge, but I try to explore it through metaphor.

We're drawn to wrestling even though it has a predetermined outcome. Kazutoshi Saigou says that wrestling fans, "enjoy not the result, but the process." Life, too, has an outcome we can't determine. Wrestling teaches me that I need to learn (change, grow) from the pursuit of desire, without fear of failing. Life is about the process, and living is about enjoying that process. I enjoy the struggle in this match; I need to enjoy the struggle in life.

But matches like these are reminders that if you think values of self-sacrifice, courage, trust, honour or loyalty will always be important to you, think again. At least Tenryu is honest about his desertion. This match is not an apology. Tenryu says, "I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses." How many of us can say the same about ourselves? Perhaps, when I've lived a little, I'll understand why Tenryu did the things he did. For now I sympathise with every Kawada blow, "How can you change like the wind? Don't you believe in anything?" And Tenryu answers, "Why haven't you changed? Don't you see the futility of your situation?" Why haven't you found any answers on your life's journey? Do you enjoy suffering? You can see how wrestling becomes self-reflexive of our own hopes and fears.

While thinking about the meaning I get from wrestling and what I see in it, I've been encouraging people to think about wrestling in different ways. A change in perspective, so wrestling fans use their imagination (their "imaginative power") to discover what matches mean to them.

Wrestling is not an activity that has equivalent meanings or significance for all people. Everyone participates and perceives differently. But as wrestling fans, we construct meaning out of matches. The meaning of a match is not something fixed, or inherent within the match. Matches acquire meaning only at the moment of reception, when we view them. We are the "producers of meaning, not just the consumers of content." "The wrestlers answering to the fans who come to the arena with their indescribable dream," is only possible when you've discovered your connection with what you're watching.

Kazutoshi Saigou, Bob McKee's "STORY," and "Questioning the Media: A Critical Introduction."

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©2001 by the author