Who can resist marveling at weird and unconventional martial arts from around the world? I know I can’t. Turkish oil wrestling is a perfect example – so don’t look away.
MMA fighters and wrestlers are known for getting up close and personal with their opponents, but even they might wince at how ‘familiar’ turkish wrestlers can get. This is an oiled down, slicked up grab fest where someone ends up with a face full of dirt.
Discovering Yagli Gures
Turkish wrestling, known as Yagli Gures (yaw-luh gresh), first came to my attention while watching an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Worlds. Some of you may know him from his main program Bizarre Foods, but this is an offshoot. Andrew was travelling to Turkey to experience some of the amazing geology and natural wonders of the area, not to mention some of the truly remarkable underground cities. But before going off on any excursions, Zimmern had a date with tight greasy pants.
What is Yagli Gures Exactly?
I had to do some digging, but I found a few interesting tidbits about the history of turkish wrestling. Here is an excerpt from the premier(?) website for Yagli Gures:
“Every year since 1640 Turkey’s best wrestlers – men and boys – have gathered for their national championships on a grassy field near the capitol of the old Ottoman Empire (Edirne). The tournament is called Kirkpinar, or “Forty Springs,” in honor of a 17th Century wrestling legend.
About 1,000 barefoot grapplers compete, oiled up and stripped to the waist. The anything-goes style and the oiled leather trunks originated with the world-renowned Janissaries, an elite fraternity of body guards to the imperial Sultans. The modern stadium is located on the former site of the Sultan’s palace, and Turkey’s president crowns the champions on the final day.
For three days the field is crowded with simultaneous matches in eleven divisions, ranging from school kids to forty-year-old masters. The sun is hot and the fights are long. Only if there is no winner after a half-hour is the mach decided with a sudden death overtime. There are few forbidden holds, and grabbing of trunks is not off limits.
Despite the fierce aggressiveness, however, and the obvious opportunities for fouling, these Turks behave like blood brothers despite their hunger for victory. If one is injured, or gets grass in his eye, for example, it is his opponent who comes to his aid.” – http://www.turkishwrestling.com/
And here is a little bit about the garb and rules of winning:
“The wrestlers, known as pehlivan (from Persian pahlavan, meaning “hero” or “champion”) wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosen called kisbet (sometimes kispet), which were traditionally made of water buffalo hide, but now also of calf leather. They also douse themselves in olive oil.
Unlike Olympic wrestling, oil wrestling matches may be won by achieving an effective hold of the kisbet. Thus, the pehlivan aims to control his opponent by putting his arm through the latter’s kisbet. To win by this move is called paca kazik. Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for one or two days, until one man was able to establish superiority, but in 1975 the duration was capped at 40 minutes for the baspehlivan and 30 minutes for the pehlivan category. If no winner is determined, another 15 minutes—10 minutes for the pehlivan category—of wrestling ensues, wherein scores are kept to determine the victor.” – Wikipedia
Hold on to your kisbet – here is some video footage of Yagli Gures.
So What Happened to Poor Andrew Zimmern?
Unfortunately I don’t have access to any video clips of Andrew participating in the event. You’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was messy.
First, Zimmern had a heck of a time putting the ‘pants’ on. He had two or three helpers trying to squeeze him in but it was still rough going. When he finally got onto the field, his opponents were gentle but firm in their victories. Judging from Andrew’s reactions, the whole experience must have been difficult and exhausting.
For anyone who has grappled before, you know how quickly the body can get fatiqued from all the pushing, pulling ,and tension. Just imagine that with the added grief of not being able to grip anywhere. Keeping stable and in a dominant position must amount to a ton of used energy.
Sport or Martial Art?
This is always an interesting question. Clearly, Yagli Dures is played like a sport. There are rules, regulations, penalties, and judges. However, there is also a significant amount of historical pedigree here. As stated in the above information, this wrestling is descended from the military gaurd of various sultans. Furthermore, the techniques applied in Yagli Dures have distinct combat applications (especially in the historical sense). All of that leads me to state comfortably that turkish wrestling could be considered a martial art…an unusual one. I don’t think i’ll be trying it though.
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This week I am guest posting over at Black Belt Mama. She has a great March event where she invites talented martial artists to do guest posts…and for some reason she invites me too. Don’t know why. For my post I talk about the importance of control in the martial arts and how it can actually lead to deeper understanding and skill.
For anyone coming from BBM, thanks for stopping by (sorry, no refunds for reading my article). Please browse below for anything else that might interest you or try out the different categories to the left.
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I recently returned from a six day trip to Denver, Colorado. Although I suspect my old routine will be unchanged from when I left, I hope I’m not.
Colorado is a state of big things. Big houses, big sky, and (very) big mountains. Having never traveled so far west before, I knew what to expect in theory but didn’t have any real experience. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Although I’m not a practitioner of the Shinto belief system, I appreciate the importance they place on nature. Colorado is the kind of place Shintoists long to see. The surroundings are a constant reminder of our individual smallness, and the power of the Earth. In the Rockies specifically, there have been tectonic events so massive that spires of rock jute out of the ground at improbable angles.
It’s extraordinarily humbling, but at the same time, very empowering and soothing. We live in a society that is fraught with internal and external conflict. Virtually every one of us has a list of worries much longer than it should be, filled with many things that make us seethingly angry. Looking out over the mountain ranges reminded me that almost all of our problems are constructs, and, at the core of things, the world is still what it’s always been.
I don’t intend to run around with my head in the clouds from now on, but it feels good reminding myself that my opinion is worth…roughly…a grain of salt.
Although I tried my best to let go of my predispositions, one thing I can never purge from my mind is martial arts. As I traveled from town to town in Colorado I couldn’t help but crane my neck at every martial arts school I saw. What did they teach? What was their style? What’s in their facility? I’m hopelessly curious when it comes to these things.
I noticed, interestingly, that Brazilian Jujitsu and Kung Fu seemed to have a stronger showing than Karate or Tae Kwon Do (which, on the east coast, are most prevalent).
I only got a chance to walk past one karate school while I was there, but I gawked inside as best I could without being obnoxious. It was a strip mall school with a glass product counter near the door, and I was able to spot multiple patches and nunchaku with crazy designs on them. I couldn’t locate any information about style or lineage. A mystery that would go unsolved.
I also had the privilege of visiting the Chapel at the Colorado Air Force Academy – an amazing building that held some fantastic surprises.
As you can tell, this place represents the grandeur of its surroundings. The main hall is used non-denominationally. However, underneath are specific areas designed for different religions. One beautiful and peaceful room was dedicated to Buddhism and a sect known as ‘Friends of Zen’ (I don’t know anything about them, but they sound nice).
After visiting the Chapel I did what any good sinner does – I drank. Colorado is renowned for its microbreweries and we (myself, my girlfriend, and her family) made sure to check some of them out. Filled with really friendly people, companies like Odell and New Belgium welcomed us with a great selection of drinks. We also visited Tipsy’s, the largest liquor store west of the Mississippi. It was there that I obtained two very interesting beers, one from Japan and one from China.
The left bottle is Kirin Ichiban and the right is Tsingtao. Both were delicious (hence the bottles being empty).
The interesting thing about this trip is that it never served as an escape. One might think that indulging in beautiful scenery and alcoholic beverages would be the perfect recipe to forget about things for awhile (and certainly it could), but for me it provided detachment so that I could observe myself. I enjoyed the company of good people, good food, and good festivities, but at the same time stripped everything away for just a short time. In the Rockies I was nobody; there briefly and forgotten. That detachment showed me what I brought with me from Pennsylvania and what was left behind. From there I was able to figure out what I wanted to bring back, and what needed discarding once I returned.
Of course, all of these little observations were subtle. It was more like a chipping away at the edges, rather than broad sledgehammer strokes. If I became too introverted and focused on myself, than I would once again be missing the big picture. The picture that was much more significant.
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