When you hear the story of a high school athlete who shattered his spine wrestling, you don’t expect his following chapters to include being recruited to wrestle at a Division I university or preparing to wrestle at his second Maccabiah Games. But the best stories are the surprising ones.
Moshe Binyamin Klyman, known as MB, was paralyzed in a full body brace for a month followed by two months of little to no movement. Unable to wrestle during his senior year, was recruited to the Rutgers University wrestling team after he approached and successfully auditioned.
Klyman is Shabbat observant and all Rutgers wrestling matches were held on Shabbat. Causing his coach to force him to choose between wrestling or Shabbat. Klyman chose Shabbat. Undeterred, Klyman recruited 25 wrestlers to start a Rutgers club wrestling team. Rutgers provided them with practice space and a small budget but everything else was organized by Klyman, enabling him to choose to participate only in the competitions not held on Shabbat. The team was so successful, that by the end of its first year, the club team graduated to NCAA Division II status. Klyman’s dedication to the team and his numerous victories during his four years at Rutgers earned him the prestigious Rutgers University Division II Athlete of the Year Award.
Following college, Klyman, having dual citizenship with Canada, became recognized as an international wrestler in Canada and wrestled for Canada in the 2017 Maccabiah Games where he won a bronze medal.
Klyman will be wrestling for Team USA for this summer’s Maccabiah Games. At 35 years old he is the oldest wrestler in his 97-kilogram weight class. To prepare to wrestle younger athletes he has been training with Olympic-level coaches at the U.S. Wrestling Regional Training Centers reserved only for internationally ranked wrestlers to train.
“My style of wrestling tends to be very aggressive, heavy-handed and very physical up front because if I don’t get in their face right away, the younger guys will come after me with their speed,” Klyman said. While younger wrestlers use speed as their weapon of choice, Klyman’s technique utilizes both his strength and speed combined with the “flow-oriented” approach. This approach teaches wrestlers to understand the fight as it is happening, to respond on instinct instead of a predetermined plan of attack and, following the match, to analyze it for how to better respond in the future. It is with this approach that Kylman coaches the Frisch wrestling team.
“One mistake I made as a younger coach was assuming that everyone had a similar foundation. But each athlete could be missing something so I need to break it down and bring them back to the basic foundations,” Klyman said. He does this through developing their strength, teaching wrestling mechanics and then watching practice and competition videos with the wrestlers to understand which moves they made, why those moves were made and how to improve those moves or respond differently in the future.
Klyman also provides his athletes free access to his gym, Underground Training, in Tenafly, New Jersey. For all of his clients, Klyman and his team create personalized strength and conditioning programs to meet their personal health and fitness goals.
When competing in international tournaments, Klyman proudly declares his Jewish identity with a Star of David on his singlet and shoes, hoping to inspire others to be proud of their Jewish identity. Klyman shared the story of being approached by a fellow competitor’s parent who was afraid to wear his Star of David necklace until he saw Klyman’s uniform. “I’m a big believer that we need stronger Jews to stand up and be proud of who they are,” Klyman said.
While at a tournament in Norway, he went to shul and partook in the community Shabbat dinner. Everyone was amazed to hear that Klyman, a religious Jew, was there to wrestle. At the tournament on Sunday, he was honored and surprised that people from Shabbat dinner had come to support him. “This is who we are as a people. They didn’t know me and they all came to support another Jew who is proud to stand up. This is what makes us strong,” Klyman said.
Using sport to strengthen one’s pride in their Jewish identity is Klyman’s favorite feature of the Maccabiah Games. “Sports gives us the self-confidence to look inward, to build up that strength, and to prop ourselves up so when the world is knocking us down, we can stand back up showing that they can’t break us down,” Klyman said.
Klyman intends to win a gold medal at this year’s Maccabiah Games. Medaling at the Maccabiah game would assign him an international ranking and seed for the upcoming wrestling competitions in Spain and Canada all leading up to the United World Wrestling competition in Bulgaria this October, a competition he intends to win to become the first Jewish world wrestling champion.
But above all, Kylman is excited to share this Maccabiah experience with his family. He will be traveling with his wife and three sons to the games. His brother, sister and grandmother will also be there cheering him on.
Klyman’s love for wrestling blossomed after walking on to TABC’s wrestling team because he couldn’t play any other sport. Unbeknownst to him, wrestling would empower him to stand up proudly for his Judaism, represent Team Canada and Team USA at the Maccabiah Games and hopefully become the first Jewish world wrestling champion.
Danielle grew up in Teaneck, and made aliyah to Jerusalem following her graduation from Rutgers University. Danielle teaches English at colleges in Jerusalem and has been involved in both formal and informal education for a variety of organizations. Danielle believes that important life skills and lessons are often not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.
By Danielle Barta