The Rich History and Meaning of Mongolian Wrestling

Jan 21, 2023Martial Arts

The Ancient Origins of Mongolian Wrestling

Mongolian wrestling has thousands of years of history. The earliest known findings of Mongolian wrestling, a rock carving in Olsit Som Dumgovi province, dates back to the Bronze Age, which means Mongolians have been wrestling for at least 7000 years. Historical documents show that wrestling provided strength, stamina, and skill training to Mongolian soldiers as early as the Han dynasty.

The man who first recognized the benefits of wrestling for soldiers is none other than the great Genghis Khan. Wrestling was also used as a way of eliminating political rivals in ancient Mongolia. The Secret History of the Mongols recounts one of such incidents in which Genghis Khan arranged to have his political enemy Buriboch killed during a wrestling match.

Wrestling as a Symbol of Mongolian Culture

Over the years and centuries, Mongolian men no longer needed to be battle ready and combat-prepared all the time. But wrestling remained a national obsession. Instead of military training, it became one of the three manly games of Mongolia and a symbol of the strength, courage, intellect and skill of Mongolian men.

Today, from ovoo worship ceremonies to the anniversaries of countries and provinces, no Mongolian festival is without wrestling. In a country of 3 million people, some 30,000 of them are active wrestlers, competing against each other in year-round indoor and outdoor competitions.

The Cultural Significance of Mongolian Wrestling

Wrestlers have always been treated with respect and dignity in Mongolia as they are seen as the epitome of Mongolian masculinity. They represent the ideal Mongolian man – honest, humble, kind, brave and patient. It is said that every Mongolian family wants their baby boy to become a wrestler. Like any other Mongolian father, they want to see their sons competing on the green field of Naadam one day.

But acquiring a rank isn’t the most important thing. Raising their children with good manners and strong principles through wrestling is what Mongolian parents are looking for. Wrestling teaches important cultural values like discipline, hard work, and humility.

The Connection Between Wrestling and Nomadic Lifestyles

There are many connections between the nomadic lifestyle and wrestling in Mongolia. Living and working in the countryside as herders affects wrestling in many ways. The daily physical labour of herding livestock develops the strength and stamina needed for wrestling success. Living outdoors toughens the body to withstand the rigours of training and competition.

Nomadic life also instils values like toughness, resilience, and determination that serve wrestlers well. Additionally, nomads are deeply tied to their land and animals. This connection to nature gives wrestlers calmness and focus. Overall, the nomadic lifestyle aligns well with wrestling training and competition demands.

Training and Techniques

Serious wrestlers in Mongolia train at camps for a month or more leading up to major competitions like Naadam. A typical daily training regimen involves many hours of strenuous practice. Wrestlers must maintain top physical conditioning and hone their skills and techniques.

There are about 600 different techniques used in Mongolian wrestling. These include basic techniques, double techniques, combinations, and counter techniques. Wrestlers must master techniques like lifting, throwing, tripping, hooking, scissoring, and more. They also learn the distinctive eagle dance performed before matches. Developing mastery of techniques through intense training is essential for wrestling success.

The Meaning of Wrestling Success

For Mongolian wrestlers, success in competitions represents more than just athletic achievement. It is a tremendous source of national and personal pride. For the nation, wrestling prowess demonstrates the strength and honor of Mongolian people. For individuals, wrestling success fulfils a cultural expectation of Mongolian masculinity.

Champions are revered as icons of Mongolian values and identity. Their exploits contribute to folklore and inspire future generations. Mongolian wrestlers carry the weight of cultural meaning and history in all of their training and competitions. Bringing pride to their countrymen is as important as physical dominance over opponents.

Wrestling Competitions and Festivals

The biggest stage for Mongolian wrestling is Naadam, a centuries-old festival celebrating national identity and values. The opening ceremonies reenact the ancient summoning of warriors. Then during the multi-day event, wrestlers face off in elimination tournaments, with winners being awarded titles.

Naadam draws massive crowds as well as TV and online audiences. Wrestling champions gain national fame and become role models. Other festivals and yearly competitions also allow wrestlers to showcase their talents. For fans, these events provide exhilarating displays of athleticism and sportsmanship.

The Enduring Popularity of Mongolian Wrestling

Mongolian wrestling has stood the test of time for thousands of years, and will likely remain popular for thousands more. Wrestling is deeply ingrained in Mongolian culture and identity, an inseparable part of being Mongolian. Parents will continue to encourage their children to take up wrestling. Fans will keep flocking to Naadam and other tournaments.

Wrestling will remain a celebrated tradition as long as prideful, tough, resilient Mongolian nomads inhabit their majestic homeland. Mongolians are said to be born in the saddle and start wrestling as soon as they can walk. Wherever Mongolians ride, wrestle, work and live in coming eras, their beloved wrestling will thrive along with their cultural spirit.

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