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Smaller peoples and their traditional and ritual combat sports

Backhold - Scottish Wrestling

Backhold wrestling match at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games

Русская версия

Old Backhold
Backhold wrestling. Old Scottish print

Backhold wrestling is thought to be one of the earliest and most basic martial art and is depicted on crosses and standing stones dating from the 7th and 8th centuries.

As the name "backhold" suggests the wrestlers grip each other around the waist at the back, the right hand goes under the opponent's left arm and the chin rests on the opposite right shoulder. The first wrestler to touch the ground or break the hold gets a fall while the other one gets a winning point. The winner is the one who first gets three points. A referee and two assistants control the match. Cruel techniques and moves are prohibited. Wrestlers may not push opponents out of the ring. There is no ground work.

Trying to unbalance an opponent and drop him/her down, backhold wrestlers rapidly spin, so a wrestling match often reminds a dance; the impression is intensified by fluttering of Scottish skirts – backhold wrestlers wear traditional Scottish attire - white vests and kilts. Perhaps, the backhold style is the most refined wrestling style, which among with other factors (ban for cruel techniques and no ground wrestling) makes it attractive to women while they make it even more elegant.

At present, both men and women compete in senior and junior events, which are held by the Celtic Wrestling Bond. Backhold Wrestling can be seen all over Scotland and the north of England from May to October, at Highland and Border Games.

The Scottish Highland games are annual festivals held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries (including Australia and New Zealand) as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. The games are centered on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics (backhold wrestling, caber toss, stone put, hammer throw, weight throw , weight over the bar, sheaf toss). Women participate in every single competition (in women’s divisions or with lighter weights). There are women who are capable to wrestle against men on equal footing (like the lady whose matches against men are video recorded - see below)

Many highland games were founded in the early 19th Century, but the oldest have been going on for hundreds of years. Ceres Games was founded in 1314 to celebrate the victory of Robert the Bruce over the English at Bannockburn.

Variations of Backhold exist in at least ten other European countries, including Iceland, Albania and Sardinia. Today the sport is organized into district, national and European Championships. The English Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling Association has since 1900 insisted that their competitions in backhold, open to any wrestler, are the World Championships. (Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling forms are backhold versions practiced in Northern England.)

Backhold techniques retain their robust early English names and there are many variations of the most important of them which are: hypes, buttocks, twists, hanks, backheels, strokes and inner-hooks.

The Rules

Every fall is decided by two judges and a referee, who makes the final decision if the judges disagree. On taking hold the wrestlers stand up chest to chest, each placing their chin on their opponent's right shoulder and grasping them around the body, each placing their left arm above the right arm of their opponent.

When both wrestlers have got hold, the referee calls "hold" and the wrestlers start grappling. With the exemption of kicking, they are allowed to use every legitimate means to throw the other.

If either party breaks their hold, they shall be declared the loser, if the other retains their grip.

If both fall to the ground, the first person down loses.

A fall is defined as touching the ground with any part of the person, the feet excepted.


Highland games

Celtic Wrestling Bond

Backhold Cumberland wrestling
Backhold wrestling. Start position
Photo by Stewart Lamour from "Flickr"

Backhold Cumberland wrestling
Backhold wrestling. Throw
Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association

Young girls are taught how to wrestle


Michelle Carrol in actions



Virginie Kerjean in Backhold
Our friend, Celtic wrestler, Virginie Kerjean
attacks an opponent in a backhold wrestling match

Backhold Cumberland wrestling
Backhold wrestling
Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association

Videoclips from Youtube. Please click at the image

Bridge-of-Allan Highland Games
A female wrestler successfully competes against men in backhold wrestling

Luss Highland games
Several rounds of a stubborn wrestling match between a girl and a boy. Girls win

Final of Ladies 10 Stone at Grasmere Sports August 28th 2011

Girl wrestling at Grasmere Sports August 28th 2011. Under 15 years and under 18 years

Backhold wrestling matches at the 'Bridge of Allan Highland Games' in England
A strong girl managed to defeat a smaller guy three times but was unable to resist a bigger girl in the final match on the clip.

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