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“A takedown is a martial arts and combat sports term for a technique that involves off-balancing an opponent and bringing him or her to the ground, typically with the combatant performing the takedown landing on top.” (Wikipedia)

When I was fourteen my father took my older brother and I to witness a spectacle at the Edmonton Gardens known as Stampede Wrestling. Vaudeville in the round. The hero was salt of the earth Dave “the pig farmer” Ruhl, proud son of Hanna Alberta. The villain of the night was Archie “the stomper” Goldie, a very loud fellow who showed no mercy as he stomped his opponents with high heeled cowboy boots.


Mr. Ruhl tried to shake Mr. Goldies hand at the outset of the match but Mr. Goldie was having none of it. The match quickly degenerated into a blistering series of attacks on Mr. Ruhl that left him staggering around the ring like a drunken man. Between rounds a mysterious red liquid appeared on Mr. Ruhl’s forehead. A lady at ringside offered him her handkerchief but he politely declined. The sight of the red liquid though sent him into a recriminatory rage that was to take a heavy toll on Mr. Goldie. Judging by the roar of the crowd, this was seen as a necessary correction of Mr, Goldie’s previously bad behaviour. During the show Mr. Stu Hart (the promoter) was seen to sternly reprimand Mr. Goldie right there in front of the crowd for his use of inappropriate footwear.

The end of the match was signified by the pinning of Mr. Goldies shoulders to the mat. This was just a formality since Mr. Goldie had been rendered senseless several minutes earlier. The bully was vanquished and the good name of pig farmers everywhere was once again inviolate. As we stepped out into the crisp night air we could hear the sounds of arguments erupting all over the parking lot. They seemed to be centered around who were true believers and who might be so bold as to suggest that the nights entertainment might have been in some way choreographed. My father suggested that these arguments were driven primarily by the sudden release of adrenaline.

A few years later when I was in high school I became involved in Olympic Wrestling. This sport is very different from what I had witnessed at the Edmonton Gardens. In Olympic Wrestling it is forbidden to place your opponent on your shoulders, spin him round and round until he is dizzy and disoriented then slam him to the mat. It is also forbidden, once your opponent has been rendered senseless in the above noted fashion, to climb to the highest available perch and launch yourself like a flying squirrel, landing on your prostrate opponent. Olympic Wrestling is rather a sport of strength, endurance, agility and tactical skill. It was here that I first learned about the concept of the takedown. If I recall correctly, it was worth one point. A takedown is defined by the New World Dictionary as, “A wrestler gaining control over his opponent from a neutral position.” In other words, a rapid well planned maneuver that can take your opponent to the mat in a decisive way. Pinning your opponents shoulders to the mat is the ultimate goal.

When I was much older I learned, in the course of my employment, a very different application of the term ” takedown.” I was employed by the Alberta Government at the local mental hospital which had been in operation since nineteen twenty three. I was introduced to this concept during a compulsory training session which I attended prior to commencing active employment. We learned about takedowns up to and including the five man takedown in which each member of the team chooses a limb and on the signal from the extra man they rush the patient and each person grabs his chosen limb. Again on the signal of the extra man, the patient is then wrestled to the ground. Volunteers were requested in order to undertake an actual demonstration of the technique.

I agreed to be the subject of the demonstration. Everything went as smooth as silk and I was indeed grabbed and wrestled to the ground. Then a very strange thing happened. The six foot three two hundred and fifty pound instructor proceeded to lay across my chest. I was unable to breath. I was unable to even gasp for air. I was terrified. My heart began pounding like a steam hammer. I was not able to yell or make anyone aware of my distress. It took all of my will not to panic.

The forensic auditorium was packed with “medical professionals ” but curiously no one said, “Hey, how do you expect that man to breath if you are lying across his chest.” I focused on a registered nurse in the crowd who appeared alarmed, hoping against hope that if my face began turning that sickly bluish/grey colour, she would notice. My heart is not what it once was and I knew that deoxygenation could rapidly ensue.

All of this went through my mind as I lay facedown and helpless with people attached to both arms and legs and a very large man laying across my chest. I’m not sure how long this lasted but from my perspective it seemed like a very long time. It took several minutes to recover my breath after the instructor finally got off.

Later on during my employment at the hospital I had the opportunity to witness this technique performed on a real patient.

Unless you have seen a takedown it is very difficult to visualize. It is an entirely surreal experience to watch five grown adults rush an individual with the express intent of wrestling him to the ground and rendering him immobile. There is a profound physical inelegance about the whole affair.It’s all a flailing of limbs amid shouted protestations and desperate thrashing until the hypodermic syringe shows up loaded with the sedative of choice whereupon the patient is “pinned.” This signifies the end of the struggle. The patient is then transferred to a closed room to sleep it off on a floor mat.

The doctor who ordered this “intervention” was a forensic psychiatrist serving as duty doctor for the day in general psychiatry. The patient was a diminutive nineteen year old male who had never had contact with a hospital before let alone a mental hospital. He was brought in willingly by his concerned parents for assessment. He was not a dangerous criminal. He was not out of control. In fact he was a rather polite young man who had worked too many consecutive shifts and was unable to sleep. After a few days of induced sleep he was discharged home.

The things that stick in my memory about this young man and this event are:

  1. The relative innocence of the young man who was a working, contributing member of society with caring parents.
  2. The obvious shock he experienced at the realization that he could be wrestled to the ground, forcibly sedated and confined against his will.
  3. The bizarre flailing of limbs and vain attempts to convince his assailants that this was all completely unnecessary.
  4. The look of extreme panic in his eyes.
  5. My realization that this young man would probably never trust his parents again.

Preceding the takedown there is almost always a standoff. The standoff affords staff members time to negotiate with the patient, determine his grievances and attempt to resolve them. It takes a very skilled person to do this but it is usually possible given a little time. A standoff is perceived generally though as something that has to be resolved quickly. There are unspoken concerns about the spread of defiant behaviour particularly given the overcrowding and super ordered environment.

After the takedown referred to above was over, one of the participants, an overbearing man with a very muscular physique, was clearly experiencing an adrenaline rush. He began complaining to anyone who would listen that the takedown had not happened as quickly or as efficiently as he would have liked. There did not seem to be a specific objection though.

I remembered old Stu Hart lecturing Mr. Goldie about his inappropriate footwear all the while oblivious to the fact that Mr. Ruhl had just been pulverized by a brutal, sustained and cowardly attack on his person by Mr. Goldie.

The days of Stampede Wrestling and the Hart family dynasty came to an abrupt end when Mr. Hart’s son was killed while performing an ill advised stunt in the ring. I often wonder how many similarly ill advised stunts have resulted in needless harm to vulnerable Albertans whose only real offense was getting caught up in the strange nexus that exists between forensic and general psychiatry.

Joe Gitzu

Photo courtesy icantcu, flickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/photos/icantcu/3528133520/