Mongolian tour guide

Mongolia national wrestling

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

The most popular sport in Mongolia since the 12th century, Mongolian wrestling is based on distinctive rules. Stories of champion wrestlers (Middle Mongolian, böke, modern, bökh), including CHINGGIS KHAN’s halfbrother Belgütei, show that wrestling was popular throughout the empire period.

Mongolian khans took pride in the strength of their wrestlers and set them fighting against those from subjugated countries. QAIDU KHAN’s daughter Qutulun (d. 1306) became famous as a wrestler.

Little, however, is known of the clothing or style of Mongolian wrestling then. All rounds in modern Mongolian wrestling begin in a standing position. Whoever lets any part of his trunk, knees, or elbow touch the ground loses. The palms may touch the ground legally, allowing a wrestler on his hands and feet to stay in the match. Mongolian wrestling always

takes place in the open on grassy ground, and the wrestlers do not need to stay within a defined ring. The feet can be used to trip the opponent, but kicking and punching are not allowed.

Wrestlers’ clothing varies but includes a tight-fitting zodog (Inner Mongolian, jodog), or cut-away shirt, which

gives a standard grip for the wrestlers. Inner Mongolian wrestlers wear a short-sleeved jodog of brass-studded leather, belted over the lower belly but cut away to leave the upper belly, chest, and shoulders bare. Baggy pantaloons (shuudag), mostly white and covered with traditional appliqué patterns and designs, are tucked into traditional upturned leather Mongolian boots, also decorated with appliqué. Inner Mongolian wrestlers frequently wear ropes of twisted KHADAG scarves around their necks.

Mongolian wrestler's hat

Wrestlers in independent Mongolia wear an even shorter cloth zodog with sleeves, which is tied in front with a rope. Rather than pantaloons, they wear cloth briefs, also called shuudag and made of the same material as the zodog. Upturned Mongolian boots complete the costume. KHALKHA Mongolian wrestlers enter the field with a conical hat to which is tied a khadag (ceremonial scarf) that they give to the care of their coach during the actual bout. Buriat and Kalmyk wrestlers in Russia today compete in boxer shorts and athletic shoes.

Wrestling matches occur during NAADAM, or games held in conjunction with summertime religious ceremonies or national holidays. The wrestlers first perform a clockwise circumambulation of the field and traditionally make a libation of mare’s milk to the gods.

Before each match the wrestler’s coach chants a magtaal, or praise for the wrestler (see YÖRÖÖL AND MAGTAAL). The wrestler then gives the coach his hat and performs a dance called “the flapping of the Garuda” (the mythic Indian king of birds) around the banner standard or national flag before touching the ground with his hands. During the bout the competitors’ coaches stand next to them shouting advice in a ritualized language and sometimes slapping the wrestlers’ buttocks or thighs if the contest seems slow.

After one wins the loser passes under the winner’s arm and is slapped on the buttocks, and the winner performs the Garuda dance again. The winner then takes from his coach a handful of crumbly Mongolian cheeses, which he tosses in offering to the local deities and/or the spectators. Young wrestlers eagerly vie to catch and eat these cheeses.

Mongolian wrestlers compete in single-elimination tournaments. Champions are matched with weak contenders in the early rounds so that the final rounds pit major champions against each other. Traditionally, there was no time limit on the rounds, but in the 1960s time limits were introduced, only to be eliminated again in 1996, when a final bout lasted four hours. During the National Holiday Naadam (Ulsynikh Bayar Naadam) in Mongolia’s capital, 512 wrestlers compete.

Winners receive prizes supplied by the organizer of the occasion. The titles of champions include, in ascending order, falcon (nachin), elephant (zaan), lion (arslan), and titan (awarga), which can be given at the provincial or national levels.

The ulsyn awarga (titan of the state) is thus the current national champion in Mongolia. Wrestlers are Mongolia’s most popular sports heroes, and their posters adorn shops, yurts, and rooms throughout Mongolia.

In Inner Mongolia wrestling has less media presence, yet it is still the most popular and widely practiced sport. Wrestling is the only one of the “three manly sports” from which women are, in fact, generally excluded. Indeed, legends in Khalkha speak of the current skimpy zodog and shuudag being adopted deliberately to exclude women. (This perhaps recalls the example of Qaidu’s daughter Qutulun.) In Inner Mongolia women wrestlers, wearing T-shirts under their jodogs, have been included in recent years.

Source: Encyclopedia of mongolia and the mongol empire, Christopher P. Atwood, Indiana University, Bloomington

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