Wanna Arm Wrastle?


“It’s a surprising sport. There’s a lot of technique and finesse – it’s not just about muscle, although that’s important, of course.” Rick North talks arm wrestling

We’ve all done it. Some of us do it in our homes, some do it in school, some do it on the weekends, and some do it every day. Not that. Get your head out of the gutter. I am talking about arm wrestling. Fans of the sport may have heard about the Rhode Island Arm Wrestling Championships, to be held on January 25 at the Atlantic Sports Pub. The competition is sure to be a great time for all!

I set out to arm wrestle Event Director Rick North, the founder of the Rhode Island Strongman Federation, but, alas, the wonders of modern communication failed me and I had to do the next best thing. I organized my own arm wrestling tournament between me and Alejandro, the 4-year-old nephew of one of my closest friends.

Now, I know what you are going to say. It isn’t exactly fair to have a 24-year-old arm wrestle a 4-year-old. That is why I made some rules to govern the tournament. I could only hold on with two fingers on my left hand (I am naturally right-handed); Alejandro could use both arms and his full body-weight (about 60 pounds). I would be blindfolded, which does not seem to be a disadvantage until you learn the next rule: instead of a countdown to begin, it would be a silent start, counted down by the fingers of Alejandro’s mother. While two-finger wrestling with my left hand, I had to recite the Star Spangled Banner, while writing the pledge of allegiance with my right hand (surprisingly a LOT harder than it sounds). Finally, Uncle Andres (my close friend) would be allowed to tickle my nose with a feather duster. If I sneezed or broke my grip on either the pen or on Alejandro’s hand, it would be considered a loss.

So how did it all turn out? Badly. Even with all of the advantages for Alejandro, he was still no match for me… until the feather duster kicked in. On the verge of a great victory for all of adultkind, Andres saw the time was ripe for giving me a full face of feathers. (Alliteration is FUN!) Itchy as all hell, and especially dusty, I wrote a check my nose couldn’t handle. Eyes watering, nostrils twitching, finally I broke my grip on the pen and scratched the hell out of my face. I lost. To a 60 pound 4-year-old.

My search for glory finished, so was my arm wrestling career. Check out the real thing at the Atlantic Sports Pub, 70 Shove Street in Tiverton at 1 pm on January 25, benefiting breast cancer research and March for Tomorrow.

Talking to Rick North is like talking to someone who’s always in coach mode. We did pin him down on some of the details of the sport of arm wrestling.
Motif: So, is the Stallone movie “Over the Top” an accurate representation?
North: It probably was for the 80’s. The sport’s evolved since then – it’s not just a bar sport now. Especially in Europe, where it’s really taken hold, it’s become much more legitimate. It’s televised there. In Sweden it’s a high-school sport.

M: What about the US?
RN: Here it has become more mainstream as well – there are competing national leagues. If you search for it on YouTube, you’ll get hit with all kinds of footage.

Why is it growing?
It’s a surprising sport. There’s a lot of technique and finesse – it’s not just about muscle, although that’s important, of course. It involves strategy too. You have to know how to work your opponent. You have to know how to use the table [between the table and the 4” elbow pad, there are numerous starting positions to consider].

Is there also a mental game?
Sure. My wife [Michelle Grayson North] recently took second place in Connecticut [at the Connecticut Fall Classic]. Her last opponent wouldn’t look at her or make eye contact – it was an attempt to psych her out. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that she was about 6’2”.

Your wife also arm wrestles?
She’s very good. She did it as an exhibition event at the RI International Brew Fest a few years ago [2009] and won 47 times in a row. She’s undefeated at brew fests.

How did you get into this?
I’d been doing strong man competitions. But in New England in Winter… my strong man stuff basically froze to the ground. 6 years ago, I started arm wrestling because you can do it indoors. [North then connected with the IAF (International Armwrestling Federation) and took up the baton for its RI Chapter]

How long do matches last?
Typical is around 30 seconds. But it can last from 1/2 a second to 2 minutes or more, depending on the participants. I think the record’s around 7 minutes, but I don’t know how anyone held out that long.

How do people train for this?
climbing ropes, pull-ups, a lot of spring grippers and stuff like that. If you lift, you use wider bars, so your hands are more open while you’re doing it. And of course, practice! Locally, we practice every Tuesday from 7 to 9 – that’s a lot of fun. We have a lot of veterans and former champions around our area. I know I always learn something.

Any highlights you’re excited about this year?
We have three novice categories – that’s exciting, because you never know who’s going to be sitting across the table from you. Beyond that, we have former world champions we expect to be there, like Tim Bresnan and Norm Devio – he’s 165 lbs, proving you don’t have to be a big guy. He can hold a one-armed pull-up longer than anyone. We expect “Badger” Drew, who’s been described as ‘25% NFL, 50% Red Bull, and 25% WWE’. I’d be especially excited to see a rematch between Gabe Accardi and Ron Klemba. Accardi was National Champion in 1982 – he’s a smaller guy, but he just knows where you’re gonna go and how to beat it. This isn’t a young man’s sport – experience takes the match a lot of the time. And Klemba, the “High Chief”, is a 3x World Champion and larger than life. It came down to them a few years ago, and it was one of the best matches you’ve ever seen. They’re both very astute arm wrestlers.
But we’ll have folks from all over New England – it’s a great bunch of people, and veterans are always up to help the new people out. It’s a great family sport, and it’s going to be a lot of fun!