Two Kyrgyz women in horseback wrestling in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the western China, 1983
Illustration from "The World Encyclopedia of Wrestling" by A.C.Mandzyak and O.L.Artemenko (in Russian).
The Kyrgyz (also spelled Kirgiz, Kirghiz) are a Turkic people living primarily in Kyrgyzstan (3,800 thousand) constituting a minority in Uzbekistan, Russia, Tajukistan and China. Ancestors of the Kyrgyz were nomadic tribes (according to the Kyrgyz epos “Manas”, 40 tribes) which inhabited in the vast territory in the Central Asia and upper reaches of the Enisey from of old. The Kyrgyz in China are one of 56 officially recognized ethnic groups with the population of about 143 thousand; they are mostly live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the western China, next to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Er Oodarysh is a traditional Kyrgyz on horseback. (“Er” – [strong, courage] man, “Oodarysh” – taking down). In Oodarysh, two horse riders pit themselves against each other, trying to take the opponent off his horse or to force him to jump down off his horse. The most impressive victory is achieved if a contestant manages to drag the opponent to his horseback.
Kyrgyz traditional games and athletic contests were held during parties and celebrations on the occasions of victories in wars or some other big events in the life of Batyrs, Khans and bais. Kyrgyz traditional games are well described in the big Kyrgyz epos “Manas” as well as in smaller eposes (Er Tabyldy, Ko-Zhozhash, Zhanyl Myrza). They tell about rules, terms and traditions of the games, about horses and horse riders. Every year strongmen competitions were held: horse races, archery, foot and horseback wrestling, spear fights, etc.
Women also participated in Kyrgyz traditional contests, particularly in archery, wrestling, and horse race. The principal female character in Epic of Manas, Kys Saikal was one of such women; she had a knack for several combat arts – both mounted and unmounted. In a Manas’ plot, mounted Kyz Saikal disguised herself as a young man and successfully fought against best male fighters and strongmen who did not dare to engage in fight with her. She almost took the greatest hero Manas off his horse.
Horseback wrestling is very popular in Central Asia and Bashkortostan. It is considered as a game of strongmen (even though women also participated). A participant in this combat game must possess outstanding strength and also great endurance, ability to control a horse and balance skills to hold on the horseback. And, of course, they need to be courageous to get into this hard battle.
In this game, the challenge for the horse riders is to take his opponent off his horse. Two contestants on horseback maneuver with their horses in attempts to grasp the opponent by the arm or the body – in order to take him down or force to jump down from the horse. If horse riders happen to be tightly close they are able to grab each other by torso like classic wrestlers. Whoever touches the ground by any part of the body is considered as a loser. As per traditions, the most honorable victory is when a wrestler managed to pull the opponent to his horse and place him aslant. The contest is held on a on a level surface playground or on a stadium track, the playground size should be 50m X 25m. Each match is limited by fifteen minutes.
The participants (men aged 19 years and older) divided by weight categories:
Light weight - up to 65 kg; middle weight - up to 80 kg; heavy weight - above 80 kg.
If neither of the contestants has won outright after 15 minutes, additional 5 minutes are given after a 3-minute break to determine the winner. The competitions may be individual or team. Results of the competition were determined as follows: for a outright victory - 3 points; for a victory on active methods - 2 points; for a passive struggle - 1 penalty point. Players are not allowed to strike the opponent and his horse, to grab his by the head, hair or horse harness, to twist his arms, or to throw a bridle on the opponent. There are a senior referee overseeing the game and a referee for each pair of fighters and a timekeeper. If at the end of time no one has managed to achieve an outright victory, a contestant having less faults is announced a winner.
Another traditional Kyrgyz horse rider game obviously requiring a woman to participate is the game “Run down the girl” ("Kyz kuumai). This is a contest between a young man and a young woman, both on horseback. The goal of the game for the guy is to overtake the woman and kiss or touch her. For the woman the goal is not to allow him to overtake her. The woman is given a faster horse and a head start of 20 meters. After that, the young man starts his pursuit. He wins if he manages to touch her, then he might be allowed to kiss her. If he does not catch up with her, the contestants swap the roles and the girl chases the guy in attempts to lash him with a whip. This game is also popular in other Central Asian countries.
Video and slide show
Theresa Wendland and Julia Thut of the International Mounted Combat Alliance demonstrate various wrestling techniques on horseback from Fiore, Kal, and Talhoffer.
Balban Kurosh, or Boko Kurosh (wrestling of strongmen) is a traditional Kyrgyz wrestling style or hand-to-hand combat. Since ancient times, the Kyrgyz practiced to traditional martial arts – Northern and Southern ones.
In both variations, wrestlers compete only in the standing position grasping each other by the belt (girdle or sash) – at list by one hand which is mandatory). The other arm may be used for grabbing the opponent above the belt. So, these styles belong to the “belt wrestling” group of wrestling styles. In the southern areas of Kyrgyzstan, wrestling style more relied on strength – trips and other techniques involving legs were not allowed. In the northern part of the country, techniques involving legs were welcomed and widely used.
Various hip throws – “zhambashka salmay” (lying on the ground by hip) are very popular techniques in the Kyrgyz wrestling. Wrestlers having particularly strong arms often used a move “Kol-nolgoo” also used in mounted wrestling. It means ‘to seize someone’s legs’; actually, it is seizing by “otuk”, the end of wide trouser legs (bagalek). In fact, the Kyrgyz wrestling didn’t seem to be famous by its diversity – for wrestlers most important were strength and endurance. A match was run until the outright victory, draws were rarities. There were no weight categories and matches quite often finished with traumas. Training in Balban Kurosh was usually performed in a family circle – the skills and knowledge were passed from father to son.
As a matter of fact, Balban Kurosh was not a men only sport for the Kyrgyz – not just boys and men practiced it but also women who wrestled each other. Female wrestlers were called Balban Kyz or Balban Kelin (strong young woman). Some women even challenged men. Female wrestlers wore leather pants “otuk”, exactly as men did. They also tucked cloth into pants like male soldiers did. Women competed in mounted wrestling by the same rules as men did. Unmounted female wrestling was also held by men’s rule except that women used less trips and throws. Sometimes, as the match progressed, women inflamed by the contest, grabbed each other by hair and rolled over the ground yelling and screaming. Same “techniques” sometimes was used in the mounted wrestling as well.
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