The Übermensch and Alan Rotatori
It’s 8:20 am and Ms. Aransky’s yoga class is disrupted by the sudden and prolonged groaning and slamming coming from the weight room next door. One yogi, junior Ethan Weinstein, said he just took yoga as an easy class because who would want to do anything so early on a Monday A block? Whoever was in the gym next door, clearly was not like-minded to Weinstein. The grunting and moaning was coming from just one man next door, trying to push his body to the limits. Alan Rotatori, the Newton South wrestling coach, was in the gym alone at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning to stress his body. Some would say, even tormenting himself just to become stronger.
If there’s one thing Alan Rotatori doesn’t do, it’s take the easy way out. In life Rotatori is constantly challenging himself, accepting the stress that may come with self-improvement. Although it may be a slight disruption to the yoga class next door, it is entirely necessary. For Rotatori, all of the commotion he creates at the break of dawn is not really a choice. Rotatori’s disruption is simply his Will to Power taking over.
Rotatori and the rest of the wrestling program, are constantly drilling this philosophy into the team. Wrestling is a brutal, honest, and unforgiving sport. The Newton South Wrestling team even says, on their website, “Wrestling is the toughest, most grueling high school sport available.” The hardships that wrestlers experience every day is not for nothing, “the harder he’s willing to work and the more he’s willing to sacrifice, the more positive outcomes he’ll see and the more success he’ll have.” This idea is a cornerstone of Rotatori’s life, as well as any serious wrestler.
To be a great wrestler, it is necessary to sacrifice self-indulgence and physical comfort. To become great it will take hard work, suffering, pain, humiliation, loneliness, risk, and determination. So when Rotatori is lifting weights at the crack of dawn he is only striving for greatness. He is actively becoming the Ubermensch.
The Ubermensch, or the over-man, is a concept created by Friedrich Nietzsche. The Ubermensch is a model human being, the ideal person. Where others may feel guilt or pain or faintness, the Ubermensch is able to explosively power through. The Ubermensch does not hide from pain and suffering. The Ubermensch is the over-man because he is able to live amorally and temporally to his singular goal. The Ubermensch is not limited by any morality imposed upon him, is not held back by any memory of the past, and is not impeded by any fear of the future. The Ubermensch is able to live in the moment and accept his state of being, no matter how dissatisfied the normal person would be. The Ubermensch is the manifestation of self overcoming, whatever that may be.
Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century, created the Ubermensch because of his deep displeasure with the popular lazy culture. He thought this was afflicting the grand population, or what he referred to as “The Herd.” This authority, and the morality and suffering which it produces, will affect the person like a disease.
The common “herd-man” follows and even believes in the narrowness of the morality expected of him. He does things to please the people he knows. He is tame, peaceable, and generally well-liked. Conforming to society’s expectation will strip one of its greatest power: the ability to live by one’s own values. The Ubermensch does not fall victim to the same pitfall. By ignoring morals, thus living amorally, the Ubermensch is able to live like no other. He is effectively becoming a Super-man, the Ubermensch.
The path to becoming a great wrestler is not so far from Nietzsche’s description of the Ubermensch.
The discipline required to become a champion requires a level of existential strength. Training, sweat, and blood are all parts of wrestling. Going to tournaments is brutal. A typical Saturday morning for a high school wrestler. You would wake up at 4:30 and maybe check your weight. It’s still pitch black outside. Arrive at South for the bus leaving at 5:30. Drive about two hours in some freezing school bus to some town where you can strip down and weigh in with a bunch of other dudes. After making weight, wrestlers refuel, and begin to warm up. All around you there’s skinny, serious-looking young men. Most of them have earbuds in and their hoods pulled tightly around their heads to dim out distractions. Almost none of them are smiling. They will have a look of scary, serious concentration. Eventually it will be your turn to wrestle. You get your ass kicked on the mat in front of a bunch of strangers. By the time you get home, it is pitch black again.What kind of person would voluntarily sign up for this?
Wrestling is often misunderstood as an external struggle, and it can be. It is you versus the other wrestler. But really, much more prominent is the internal struggle. How does the wrestler convince himself to wake up day after day and do the same thing that kicked his ass yesterday? When it’s last block of the day and your entire body is sore from yesterday’s damage you may not be looking forward to wrestling practice. At this point, the mensch are split from the Ubermensch.
The normal wrestler might veer away from this frontal charge straight into physical discomfort. They’re still going go to practice, but they are doing this because of fear. “Will Coach notice I’m not there? Will I get in trouble? Will I be behind because I didn’t go?” This is where the great wrestlers are divided from the normal wrestlers. The great wrestler will crave the ache in their arms and their legs, will crave the bruises on their face and the bruises on their knees.
The wrestler must become a “Yes-sayer,” and only then will they achieve greatness. Every wrestler knows that the suffering is unavoidable. The key to becoming the Ubermensch is knowing how to use the suffering to your advantage. It is only the great wrestler who not only endures suffering, but invites in suffering with the knowledge that it is an opportunity for growth and an increase in wisdom.
The NSHS wrestling captains of 2015, Zach Nislick and AJ Josephson, were able to embrace this mindset. They were able to exemplify Nietzsche’s Ubermensch in such a way that left me and my fellow ‘herd-men’ freshmen in disbelief. In preparation for sectionals and then for the state tournament, Nislick and Josephson were constantly using the suffering to their advantage. Nietzsche often says that joy and sorrow are sisters; they are inseparable. After practice, when most of the team was sitting in a pile of their own sweat, taking off their wrestling shoes, and trying to catch their breath, the captains would be running sprints, trying to get in some extra cardio. That way, at the end of their last match at states, the feeling of accomplishment will be greater, because of what they had to give up to get there.
Nietzsche likes to describe this relationship of progress and suffering with the lows and highs of this natural world. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche compares the similarities between the peaks of the tallest mountains to the depths of the deepest oceans.
“I must first go down deeper than ever I descended — deeper into pain than ever descended, down into its blackest flood. Thus my destiny was it… Whence come the highest mountains? I once asked. Then I learned that they came out of the sea. The evidence is written in their rocks and in the walls of their peaks. It is out of the deepest depth that the highest must come to its height.”
Wrestling is exactly like the mountains and the oceans. Those who are willing to endure the most, will experience the most overcoming, thus making them the strongest. Like Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idol’s, “Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”
Self-overcoming is something that sticks with the body. Just as the tops of the mountains have evidence of the deepest seas, the wrestlers lifting their hands in victory are molded by where they came from. All of the training in preparation for that match is often apparent in their physique. Due to their hard work, wrestlers are often ugly. Treetrunk-like legs and disproportionate forearm. High cheekbones, swollen lumpy faces and disgusting ears like spray foam. Wrestlers decide to wear these as a code of honor. The wrestler is aligned with Nietzsche. The ‘ugly’ aesthetic (ascetic?) is not the enemy. Nietzsche writes that man “should not wage war against what is ugly.” Instead, the wrestler is at war with his or her own mediocrity. Nietzsche states this over-man ideology as ‘giving style’ to one’s character. He actually advises it. He says that this kind of character, this kind of greatness is the kind that can only be achieved “through long practice and daily work.” This is exactly how these wrestlers achieve the figure they have, but also their amazing control and discipline.
Ben Lowy did a series of portraits from the N.C.A.A. championship, which captures this phenomenon perfectly.
Nietzsche writes: “To ‘give style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practised by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye.”
Rotatori, affectionately called “Roto,” is someone who has certainly ‘given style’ to his character. With unwavering determination and dedication to being true, Rotatori is knowledgeable about Nietzsche, even if he doesn’t know it. Rotatori has lived his life evading mediocrity at all costs. He has just turned 50, yet he still may be the most fit person in the entire school. According to Eric Detjen, “Yeah, Roto probably goes through like three shirts every school day. Guy is always in the gym.” And the wrestling team knows this. Roto is not afraid to use the wrestling practices as an opportunity for a workout. He frequently practices with his team, usually challenging whatever Rotatori lives his life avoiding the hedonistic activities which most people indulge in. In a society where pleasure seems to be based on addiction, Rotatori seems to reject the temptations. In his wellness class, he teaches about his strict diet, which doesn’t allow for anything that comes in plastic or comes in a neon color. Roto doesn’t watch reality T.V., he doesn’t drink alcohol or ….. And Rotatori isn’t embarrassed by his lifestyle in any way. In fact, he has reached a point so far from self-conscious or doubt in his persona that he isn’t worried about wrestling with kids during practice, or grunting next to a yoga class, or having a crappy flip phone. He has created his own laws, which he follows strictly. Rotatori’s level of confidence and legitimacy is referred to as ‘the spirit’ by Nietzsche.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra there is a parable with a series of spiritual metamorphoses, which can be seen as a guide to liberating one’s spirit, to becoming an Ubermensch.
The spirit starts as a camel, the modern man.
The camel is staggering through the desert, weighed down by life’s burdens. The camel does not travel through the desert out of will, but out of a sense of duty.
As the camel travels through “the loneliest desert,” it starts to realize that there is no universal truth or value. The camel realizes that it is only traveling through the desert because a dragon named ‘Thou Shalt’ has enslaved him to do so. ‘Thou Shalt’ is a representation of the duty and virtue imposed upon humanity by society.
The camel metamorphizes into a lion, losing its past duty-loving self. The lion symbolizes courage, tenacity, anger, and because of this transformation, the lion is able to give the dragon a “sacred ‘No.’”
By saying “No” to the dragon, the lion is completely rejecting any external control and values.
After delivering the “Sacred ‘No,’” the lion must metamorphosize once more. The last transformation is a surprise: the lion becomes a baby. The lion becomes a child because it has no self-consciousness or doubts, has no worries about the past or the future, is completely immersed in the moment. Embracing his own will and virtue, the baby gives a “Sacred ‘Yes.’” The baby chooses to live a spontaneous, “yes-sayer” lifestyle. Thus, by giving a “sacred ‘yes’” “the spirit now wills his own will,” which enables him to conquer his own world.
Rotatori, certainly in the wrestling room, has taken on the traits of Nietzsche’s liberated ‘spirit-baby.’ In this years annual inter-squad meet, freshman heavyweight Xavier Deloney-Phillips’ name was lined up to none other than Rotatori himself. After about ten matches of South on South wrestling, it’s Deloney-Phillips’ time to wrestle coach. As he suits up we realize Coach must have slipped out of the room … Just as we start to look around, he explodes into the wrestling room, stomping onto the mat with the new final-match only singlets.
Most of the team could not take him seriously. The singlet is determined to expose the vulnerable. People filmed the match of Deloney-Phillips and Rotatori, but it was over quickly. Rotatori pinned Xavier in the first period.
Rotatori here acts like the ‘spirit-baby.’ Rotatori suited up for the intersquad meet, singlet and all, because he wanted to. No one made him. No one wanted him to and probably no one was happy that he did. Certainly not Xavier. And Rotatori knows this. I’m sure he sometimes hears people call him “hardooo” behind his back or how they think it’s weird just how many shirts he goes through a day, but he doesn’t care. Our superficial opinion on Rotatori doesn’t affect him. He doesn’t even care. Rotatori acts as the baby; he has created his own laws and rules and is controlled by no other. Immersed in a state of play, and in a state of wonder and virtue, Rotatori conquers his own world as he pleases.