I will hazard a guess that most of you have never heard of Karl Gotch. Under his real name, Charles Istaz, he wrestled for Belgium in the 1948 Olympics. Prior to that, he survived the Holocaust— as his German father refused to accept Nazi law, which resulted in parent and son being interned in a camp where they nearly starved to death…
Gotch made his living as a top pro wrestler (a common progression for former amateurs for decades) particularly in Japan, where he was dubbed “God of Wrestling.” In American pro wrestling he was considered old school, even in 1964, when he was quoted as saying, “My only disappointment is the strong reliance on gimmicks. I am at a disadvantage, because I don’t dye my hair, I don’t wear elaborate costumes, and I don’t have any funny names for the holds I use. My only gimmick is a knowledge of wrestling.”
What I admire most about Gotch is his famous work ethic. He was well known for saying, “Conditioning is your strongest hold.” Like so many other of my role models, Gotch influenced my dedication to my career as an attorney through his commitment to his sport.
Yet Gotch did not simply apply that approach to his athletic lifestyle. In his later years, when he had taken a hiatus from wrestling, he found himself in Hawaii. He needed work and found it as a sanitation man. “They’d get up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, and he’d be running behind the truck, picking up garbage. He’d have the crew working out with him,” said his tag team partner Rene Goulet.
Think about that for a second. Garbage men work damn hard. And here’s this guy in his forties running behind a trash truck, throwing bags of refuse at full speed in the island heat, turning a “dirty job” into an exercise regimen. The message? You take whatever you can get out of any work situation.
Thus I found myself thinking of Gotch when I was a young lawyer, sitting in traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge. While the drivers around me angrily honked as they struggled through their morning commute, I tended to smile to myself, grateful that I had found work doing something I enjoyed and was apparently pretty good at.