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Harriston Havoc: Theyre pulling for the hometown team

by Mike Robinson

HARRISTON - Members of the Harriston Havoc are ready to wrestle.

They’ll get that chance on Nov. 26 when the team takes part in a home turf competition at Harry Stones restaurant and ale house, in downtown Harriston. Recently, some  members gathered at Manjin Mechanics, west of Harriston, to talk about their team and the sport.

“It’s still an underground sport as far as mainstream sports are concerned,” said team captain Jason Manjin.

“While it may not be in the mainstream, the sport is growing.”

Manjin is uncertain how many hundreds of arm wrestlers - also known as pullers - there are in Ontario. He became involved because of his interest in strength sports. “Many guys who arm wrestle who don’t compete ... They just do it for something to do.”

Teammate Gerald Ronald said, “Who doesn’t arm wrestle? You go to a party, everybody arm wrestles ... It seems to be the thing to do.”

Manjin explained arm wrestling is a sport people can do with minimal equipment. “We have strict rules, and obviously a bit of special equipment.”

He referred to the table especially equipped for the arm-to-arm contest.

“It adds a safety factor. People can injure their arms in a bar, stretched out over a table. It’s kind of an awkward motion on the joints.”

His biggest challenge when starting, was making the first contact. The internet has made a huge impact and connection for enthusiasts over the past decade he said. “Everyone can communicate.”

Manjin noted the people running the Ontario Arm Wrestling Association are mainly from eastern Ontario, like Ottawa and Belleville.

The Harriston Havoc has existed as a team for about three years.

Most of the members are from Wellington County, with a just few participants coming from communities on the outskirts, he said.

And another team also exists within Wellington County - Mapleton Madness.

“But there are not enough arm wrestlers around yet to make a huge team in this small of an area,” Manjin said. “To get enough people, you have to go miles and miles.”

The Harriston group actually branched off from a team that was based in Teeswater, where Manjin had lived at the time.

In describing arm wrestling, he said, “It’s actually more intense than a lot of sports. The main difference in arm wrestling is that if you’re playing baseball, basketball, hockey or other similar sports, you get out there and play. Here, you can be done in half a second. That kinda adds a bit of nervousness and a bit of excitement.”

At the same time, he said pullers might be up there struggling for supremacy for considerably longer.

Ronald added, “There’s a lot of thinking too. You come to the table with a bit of a plan ... especially if you’ve pulled with the guy before and you know what he’s good at.”

Manjin also noted, “It does overlap a lot of other sports as far as speed, technique, strength, knowledge. A lot of people look at this as kind of backyard or underground, but it’s specialized - just like any other sport.”

He cited a recent fundraiser, where a former Toronto Argonaut took part in the competition.

“He was huge ... but he couldn’t touch any one of us arm wrestling.”

It’s a case of specializing. Manjin said he wouldn’t want to compete with a professional hockey player on the ice, either. He said, “There’s a lot more to this than gripping hands and going at it.”

Ronald added, “You don’t have to be Wayne Gretzky. You can come to the table, be who you are and do your own thing.”

Manjin said there is work required to get good, like in any sport. “A person needs to train, have skills and strength, but you certainly don’t have to be an overall physical athlete - compared to other sports.”

He considers that aspect a bonus for many.

“Some of the best guys in this sport are 50 or 60 years old. Their arms are so conditioned, it’s amazing.”

He said there are people who are only 150 pounds who can generate a tremendous amount of strength on the arm wrestling table.

He explained there are two basic techniques in arm wrestling: one is the top roll, the other is the hook.

“Those are the basic moves, and most of the other positions stem from one or both of those moves.”

To perform the hook, curl the wrist as hard as possible. Get the body over the arm, keep your arm close to the body. To get the pin, push down with the arm and body. The top roll is a positioning move where pressure is brought onto the opponents fingers and hand, forcing it to open up, gradually  reducing his power, for a finish.

Manjin said the Harriston tournament is one of five regionally-sanctioned circuit competitions held across the province each year. He anticipates pullers from Quebec, Sudbury and right across Ontario.

“This tournament is part of that circuit. It’s an official tournament at a professional level.”

Previously, the closest southwestern Ontario championships was held in Wingham.

Typically such tournaments attract about 80 entries, which would represent about 45 or 50 pullers because they can enter into numerous categories, he said. But the Harriston event might attract more because of the extra effort and prizes being offered.

Manjin said he wouldn’t be surprised to see at least 100 entries. “This one’s a little more special because we’re giving away a $2,000 laptop, cash prizes and huge trophies. So it’s going to  be a bit bigger than some of the other circuit tournaments.”

When asked why he got involved in arm wrestling, Ronald pointed directly at Manjin and said, “You’re looking at him right there.”

Ronald said a number of years back, Manjin was the only guy beating him at a tournament being held at Listowel’s Paddyfest. “I got mad and started talking to some of the guys, and they suggested I come out and train with them.”

Manjin said Ronald has good natural ability. But he could lose without the experience or training - compared to a lighter person who does have that experience.

Ronald said he had been pulling at Paddyfest for years, but had only been at it seriously for the last five.

Has any match stood out? Ronald said, “Not really. You get beat, you go home and you want to beat the guy who beat you, and you start training.”

He also has a fair idea of whom he can and cannot beat in a match. “I try to focus on what I have to do to beat them.”

Manjin said there are interesting combinations in the sport as well. While he might be able to beat Ronald, there might be a person that Ronald can beat that Manjin cannot.

Malcolm Hillock, of Harriston, said he has been at the sport for about two years.

“I started lifting weights over at Jason’s place and these guys pull over there now and then. That’s how I got into it.”

In competition, he has kept the weight lifting in mind.

Manjin said Hillock is building a machine and table for training with specific arm tension.

Team member Tyler Robinson was named Rookie of the Year in July by the Ontario Arm Wrestling Association.  The 21-year-old, who was born with cerebral palsy, has overcome countless obstacles.

Ronald added Robinson was more recently Puller of the Month.

“I just love it,” Robinson said. “I train hard every day to be the best.”

Manjin said Robinson has improved hugely over the past year. “Even with his condition, it hasn’t slowed him down at all in this sport. There are so many people out there scared to arm wrestle with him, it’s not even funny.”

“Except us,” added Hillock. “To be a good arm wrestler you need table time.”

Manjin agreed.

“If you’re interested, you need to spend time doing it. It’s your biggest training.”

He said there are some guys at a very high level and that is all they do. “They don’t do anything specific other than gripping up with someone else.”

Ronald added, “It’s the greatest sport alive. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter what your physical condition is.”

Manjin said there are a few one-armed people in the sport, and people in wheelchairs. There are various levels including regional, provincial, national and world divisions.

“It is very organized and very professional,” Manjin said. “The only thing it is lacking is a big payout - that is the only part where the sport has really stalled out.”

Manjin said one of the main issues behind that is arm wrestling it is not as spectator friendly as some other professional sports. “For us it is exciting and we know what we’re looking for, but we are working on a few things to make the sport a bit more spectator friendly.”

That could involve changing some of the rules and styles - resulting in matches that might be a little longer and  more understandable.

Manjin noted the current number one arm wrestler in the world is from Ottawa.

Looking at Robinson, Ronald said, “We have the best arm wrestler in the world here; they just don’t know it yet.”

Another main puller for the Havoc this year is Eric Furness.

There are two basic types of OAA events: circuit sanctioned events and sanctioned events. For more information call 519-291-6544 or 519-327-8354 or try the Ontario Armwrestling Association website at



November 25, 2011


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