Traditional Naadam festival in Mongolia, near Ulan Bator
|Also known as||bökh, Khapsagay|
|Country of origin||Mongolia|
Mongolian wrestling (Mongolian: бөх, Bökh meaning strength, solidarity and durability), or Khapsagay, is a martial art and a traditional style of Folk wrestling that has been practiced in Mongolia for nearly 7,000 years. Wrestling is the most important of the Mongolian culture's historic "Three Manly Skills", that also include horsemanship and archery, and plays a key role in their sacrificial rituals and festivals. Genghis Khan considered wrestling to be an important way to keep his army in good physical shape and combat ready. The Manchu dynasty (1646–1911) Imperial court held regular wrestling events, mainly between Manchu and Mongol wrestlers. There are several different versions, Mongolian (in the country of Mongolia and in Tuva of Russia), Buryatian (in the Buryatia of Russia) and Inner Mongolian (in northern China).
Cave paintings in the Bayankhongor Province of Mongolia dating back to Neolithic age of 7000 B.C. show grappling of two naked men and surrounded by crowds. The art of Bökh appears on bronze plates discovered in the ruins of the Xiongnu empire (206 BC–220 AD). Originally, Bökh was a military sport intended to provide mainly strength, stamina and skills training to troops. Genghis Khan (1206–1227) and the all later Emperors of the Mongol Empire (1206–1368) and also the Emperors of later Khanates were keen to support the sport for this reason so wrestling events were included in local festivals, or Naadam. Wrestling became a key factor when deciding the candidate rankings in imperial martial exams plus outstanding wrestlers were entitled to high distinctions.
A. Heikel of the Finnish expedition to Mongolia wrote about a wrestling competition the expedition witnessed during their ten-day stay in Urga (now Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia) from 27 July till 7 August 1891: "Now there took place an entire week of wrestling between Mongolian athletes. The location was an open public square in front of a temple in the middle of the city. Thousands of spectators had gathered all around. These were kept in order by police agents. Ladies of high rank were jostling their way through the midst of the crowd. Only one side of the square was reserved for the lamas, who were dressed in shiny robes of red and yellow and sat with their legs crossed in long rows on both sides of a baldachin, under which was enthroned on an altar the "Gegen", that is to say, the "God-Man" sent from Tibet. In front of the throne stood two attendants with ceremonial tiger-skins slung over their shoulders. The champions advanced two at a time, coming out from opposite sides of the square, accompanied by their seconds. They had their chests, legs and arms exposed and advanced doing most comic dances, certainly to ensure the elasticity of their muscles during the last minute. As soon as one of the wrestlers touched the ground, no matter how lightly, he was judged the loser of the bout. Then the victor proceeded to leap his way forward and prostrated himself before the god, offering his thanks for the victory. After that he went to the judges to have his name written down, in order to fight the next day with another opponent who had equally brought down his own opponent that same day. The prizes given to the final "invincibles" consisted of goats and sheep etc. Ten days later there was to take place a horse race in a steppe close to Urga, wherein a thousand racers would participate, but we couldn't wait until then. These kinds of national festivals, which one could call the Mongolian Olympics, take place every year, but the ones which take place every three years seem to be the most impressive."
As can be seen from this text the Urga games (1778–1924) took place at the old central square which would have been located just to the north of present-day Sukhbaatar Square. The square can be seen on pre-revolutionary paintings of Urga. A 1967 Mongolian painting shows an old Urga wrestling match in detail, with the wrestlers wearing the same "Zodog" and "Shuudag" as they do in the present-day games (1924–present). The avarga (Titan) Jambyn Sharavjamts (born 1876) was a famous champion who gained recognition starting from when he was 18 years old and continued to compete with extraordinary success in state Naadams during the Qing dynasty period (until 1911), the Bogd Khan period (1911–1924) and the People's Republic of Mongolia (1924–1990). Sharavjamts was invited to take part in the state Naadam of 1945 (footage still exists) and succeeded in defeating three wrestlers at the age of nearly 70. He retired from wrestling in 1951, during the 30th anniversary of the People's Revolution with many decorations and medals including the Labor Achievement medal.
Mongolian wrestling is the most popular national sport and a vital cultural piece for all Mongols around the world. When a male child is born in a family, Mongols wish him to become a wrestler. There are many competitions take place each year in Mongolia, west and south-eastern Russia and northern China. The biggest one is the National Naadam festival, takes place in Mongolia between up to 1024 wrestlers.
In Mongolia, the Naadam ("Play" in English) take place in 11,12,13 July (Ulaanbaatar) and later July or early August (other regions). The biggest competition takes place each year in Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, with 1024 or 512 best wrestlers from the country. Then each of 21 provinces (aimaks) of Mongolia will hold its own competition with 256 or 128 wrestlers. Many of the 318 soums of different aimaks will hold their local competitions with 32 or 64 wrestlers.
For the Naadam of Ulaanbaatar, the matches are held in a big stadium, while in countryside for smaller scale Naadams the matches are generally held in a small stadium or on an open grassy field; however can also occur on a soft dirt area not littered with gravel. Since there are no weight classes in the Naadam of Mongolia, a small wrestler can compete against an opponent over twice his size. Smallest wrestlers usually weight around 70 kg, while the biggest are over 160 kg, the median weight of competitor's at the Naadam is around 115 kg.
Traditionally, wrestlers were not equal matched. The host of a Naadam had the privilege to arrange these matches and would often lend their favorites an advantage. Sometimes such arrangements would result in serious disputes between hosts and visiting wrestlers. Although the modern wrestling codes since 1980 stipulate that a lot drawing method be used this is usually only done at major cross-regionally Naadams and championship matches. At the grassroots level the traditional system is still used.
Rank can only be attained during the Naadam festival. The number of rounds won by each wrestler determines rank. The lowest rank is the Nachin of the soum, given to the top 8 or 16 at the soum level Naadam in any 318 soums of Mongolia. The top 4 of the soum level naadam get rank Zaan (Elephant) of the soum and the winner will get the rank of Arslan (Lion) of the soum. The next rank is the Nachin of the aimak (province), given to the top 16 or 32 at the aimak level Naadam in any 21 aimak provinces of Mongolia. Top 8 of the aimak would get Hartsag (Hawk) of the aimak and then top 4 of the aimak get the Elephant of the aimak, eventually the winner will get the Lion of the aimak. Next bigger rank is the Nachin of the nation, given to the wrestler after winning 5 rounds in the national Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar. After 6 rounds you get Hartsag (Hawk), after 7 rounds Zaan of the nation, after 8th round Garid (Holy Bird), after the last 9th round Arslan of the nation and Awraga (Titan) after winning Naadam with a Lion of the nation rank.
As of 2010, there are following number of Nationally Ranking active wrestlers younger than the age of 50, who are actively participating in Naadams:
If the wrestler get a rank twice in 2 years in a row the rank is decorated. For example, a second time winner of the aimak level Naadam in 2 years in a row would become a Hurts Arslan (Sharp Lion). For Titans, after each winning of the national level Naadam up to 5 times the rank is decorated.
Danshik Naadams are smaller scale tournaments than the National naadam, usually with 256 or 128 competitors, organized once in a year or so in countrysides to celebrate specific anniversaries of provinces or historic locations. It is unique, because, though its smaller scale than most provincial tournaments, the wrestler can also get provincial level ranks set by the round number. For instance after 5th round in any danshik naadam, the wrestler obtains the Nachin of the Province and after 6th round Hartsag of the Province etc.
Ethnic Buryat Mongols also celebrate their own Naadam each year, with a wrestling in Buryatian Style. Competitors come from regions of Mongolia with a significant Buryatian population (Dornod, Khentii, Selenge, Bulgan, Orkhon...), from Buryatia of Russia and from Inner Mongolia of China.
In 2010, the festival took place in late July in Ulaanbaatar of Mongolia. Wrestlers have competed in 2 weight divisions -75 kg and +75 kg. For the lighter weight, B.Batozhargal of Buryatia got the title out of 32 and for the heavier division D.Tsogzoldorj of Mongolia (who has the National Nachin rank) got his 3rd title in row for the past 3 years.
Since 2008, the associations of Mongol wrestling in Mongolia, Russia and China have started Mongol Wrestling Tournament between all ethnic Mongols. Participants come from Mongolia, Tuva of Russia, Buryatia of Russia, Kalmyk of Russia, Altai of Russia, Inner Mongolia of China and Xinjiang of China to compete with each other in Khalkha Wrestling style. The first ever championship was held in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia in 2008, where Chimedregzengiin Sanjaadamba, who has not gotten yet a national title, won the tournament. In 2009, it was held in Huhhot of Inner Mongolia and again Sanjaadamba won the championship, while still without a national title.
The 2010 competition took place in 15–17 July at Ulan-Ude of Buryatia, Russia. This time 2 weight categories have been created: -75 kg and +75 kg. In -75 kg division about 45 wrestlers have competed and at the 5th round top 4 were: Ivan Garmaev (Buryatia), Kh.Munkhbayar (Mongolia), M.Batmunkh (Mongolia), Seldys Mongush (Tuva). Eventually Seldys Mongush got the title on the 6th round through Kh.Munkhbayar. For the +75 kg division, there we're about the same number of competitors as in the lighter division. The top 2 where: Ch. Sanjaadamba (Lion of the Army) and D.Ragchaa (Elephant of the Nation). And again Sanjaadamba got the title, who lost in the 3rd round of this year's Naadam in Mongolia, where he failed to get a National level title.
Each year during the Lunar New year of Mongolia, 256 wrestlers compete during the winter at the Wrestling Palace in Ulaanbaatar. No rank is given at this competition, but it is considered the 2nd most important tournament after the Naadam of Mongolia. Winners of this New Year's tournament often end up winning the Naadam.
Best wrestlers from each 21 aimak provinces of Mongolia hold an annual team wrestling competition. Often teams from Khangai region and north western region (Arkhangai, Uwurkhangai and Uws) take the title, but for the 2010 competition the team from Govi-Altai aimak took the title.
There are also smaller scale tournaments throughout the year take place at the Wrestling Palace in Ulaanbaatar, usually in October, November, May and June with 64 or 128 wrestlers.
Government organizations or sometimes even big companies when they celebrate their anniversaries, often organize small scale tournaments with 32 or 64 wrestlers. This really shows how important wrestling is to Mongolian lifestyle.
The object of a match is to get your opponent to touch his upper body, knee or elbow to the ground. In the Inner Mongolian version, any body part other than the feet touching the ground signals defeat. There are no weight classes or time limits in a match. Each wrestler must wrestle once per round, the winners moving on to the next round.
The technical rules between the Mongolian version and what is found in Inner Mongolia have some divergence. In both versions a variety of throws, trips and lifts are employed to topple the opponent. The Inner Mongolians may not touch their opponent's legs with their hands, whereas, in Mongolia, grabbing your opponent's legs is legal. In addition, striking, strangling or locking is illegal in both varieties.
Starting The Match
The Ujumchin and Hulunbuir styles permit no moves between the legs and hands, whereas the Halh variant not only allows but requires grabbing the opponent's legs.
A Hulunbuir wrestler may kick his opponent directly in the legs but that technique is not sanctioned by the other styles and banned in the official code.
Definitions of a "fall" varies between regions:
The Oirad in Xinjiang defines a fall as being when the shoulder blades touch the ground, which is similarly to the Turkish and International freestyle wrestling rules. The Inner Mongol style, shared by Hulunbuir, Ordos and Alagshaa/Shalbur styles, considers a fall to have occurred as soon as any part of the body above the knee (or ankle) touches the ground. The Halh variant, however, allows a hand to touch the ground without losing a bout.
Mongolian wrestling also has certain codes of conduct that concern more with proper etiquette. For example, when a wrestler's clothes get loose or entangled, his opponent is expected to stop attacking and help the former to re-arrange them—even though it might mean giving up a good winning opportunity.
Also, when one contestant throws the other to the ground, he is supposed to help the latter get back on his feet, before he dances his way out of the field.
Whether winning or losing, good manners dictate that the two opponents shake hands and salute each other and the audience, both prior to and after a bout.
The outfit of the wrestler has been developed over the ages to reflect simplicity and mobility. The standard gear of a wrestler includes:
A tight, collarless, heavy-duty short-sleeved jacket of red or blue color. Traditionally made of wool, modern wrestlers have changed to looser materials such as cotton and silk. The front is open, but tied at the back with a simple string knot, thus exposing the wrestler's chest. According to legend, on one occasion a wrestler defeated all other combatants and ripped open the jodag to reveal her breasts, showing to all she was a woman. From that day, the jodag had to reveal the wrestler's chest.
Small, tight-fitting briefs made of red or blue colored cotton cloth. These make the wrestler more mobile. Also, they prevent one's rival from easily taking advantage of long pants or to avoid material to trip upon.
Leather boots, either in traditional style (with slightly upturned toes), or commercial, Western style. The traditional style gutal are often reinforced around the sides with leather strings for the purpose of wrestling.
Inner Mongolian wrestlers may also wear a jangga, a necklace decorated with strands of colorful silk ribbons. It is awarded to those who have gained considerable renown through contests.
One of the defining features of bökh is a dance wrestlers perform as they enter the contest field and exiting at the end.
Different locales have different dancing styles. In Mongolia the wrestler imitates falcons or phoenix taking off (devekh). In Inner Mongolia, the dance is supposed to be a mimicking of lions or tigers prancing (magshikh)--as represented by the Üjümchin version.
Another major variation, popular among Mongols of Inner Mongolia's northeastern Khülünbüir region, resembles deer bounding (kharailtaa). All considered, the Üjümchin "magshikh" dance seems more strikingly robust-looking, partly due to the wrestler's dazzling apparel and partly the style of the dance itself. In contrast, the phoenix style of Mongolia appears to exhibit a greater degree of elegance.
Mongol wrestling dance has its original forms in shamanistic rituals where people imitated movements of various animals. Today, apart from its aesthetic value, the dance is also regarded as a warm-up and cool-down procedure before and after an intense fight. Good wrestlers treat the dance with great earnest and are often better dancers.
Thanks to wrestling activists' tireless and ingenious efforts, this unique dance has become one of the integral and indispensable aspect of the wrestling tradition as a whole. In Inner Mongolia it has been, together with uriya, the costume, and the various rules, codified in the first wrestling Competitions Rules finalized in the late 1980s.
Historically the most successful wrestler is recorded as Namkhai who won the Naadam 19 times and 7 times finished second. He got his first Naadam win in 1895.
Bat-Erdene Badmaanyambuu is considered to be the most successful champion of Mongolian wrestling in modern era (since 1921) with 11 championship wins. He also won Naadam for the 750th anniversary of the Secret History of the Mongols in 1990. The other successful wrestlers are Khorloogiin Bayanmönkh - 10 championship wins, Badamdorigiin Tüvdendorj - 7 championship wins, Jigjidiin Mönkhbat - 6 championship wins and Dariin Damdin - 5 championship wins.