Canary wrestling (Lucha canaria - Spanish) is an ancient and still very popular form of wrestling practiced throughout the Canary Islands (Spain territory located off West Africa). Lucha canaria is a highly popular sport (individual and team) for both men and women. Each team consists of twelve wrestlers that fight individual bouts in a sand covered circular ring. The basic principle of the contest is to upset the balance of the opponent making him/her touch the ground first with any part of his/her body aside from the feet.
The first indication of the existence of Canarian Wrestling was found in the Cronica from Alvar Garcia de Santa Maria from 1420, many years before the Spaniards conquered the archipelago. The "Poema de Viana" from 1604 mentioned some details about the Lucha Canaria of that time – like grab-techniques and the presence of referees.
Lucha Canaria seems to be the oldest combative sport in which women actively participated.
Only standing grappling is allowed in this sport – a match is interrupted or finished if one of the contestants (or both) falls – no ground struggle. The most important skill is agility and even good manners! That’s why women and kids willingly practice the sport ennobling it. There are many clubs and teams in the islands including a women's category. Just as in Sumo, heavyweights of both genders stand high in Luca Canaria.
The wrestling-arena made of sand usually has a diameter of 17 meters. The whole Lucha canaria stadium is also called Terrero which you can find in nearly every town of the islands (in all 122 on the Canary Islands). These arenas fill up with up to 4000 spectators in important competitions.
Wrestlers start in the middle of a sand circle, called "terrero". The object is to make their opponent touch the sand with any part of their body, except the feet. To accomplish this, they use different techniques called "mañas" to throw their opponent off balance. Two falls are required to win a bout. A match ends when all the members of one team have been defeated.
Lucha Canaria wrestlers wear loose T-shirts and shorts covering their thighs but these are then rolled further up the leg. When two wrestlers meet in the center of the terrero, they shake hands as a sign of friendship, nobility and tradition. They initiate the grip by placing themselves face to face and each wrestler grasps the opponents right rolled-up pant leg by his/her left hand. They bend their bodies forward until their shoulders are straight together, at the same height. Placing the right arms upright, join the palms of the hands and lower them until touching the ground with the tips of the fingers. Once this sequence is validated by the referee, the referee will signal the beginning of the catch by sounding a whistle.
There are several theories about the history of this sport, but all of them agree, that the origin of the Lucha Canaria lies in pre-Spanish epoch of the Canary Islands. It is an original sport of Guanches, old settlers of the Canary Islands - they are thought to share common origins with North African Berbers.
There are three groups of Canary wrestling techniques ("mannas") – grasp, block and deflect.
Lucha Canaria has a lot in common with some other European wrestling styles - Swiss Schwingen and Celtic styles - Backhold and Gouren.
As in Schwingen, wrestlers wear short pants made of jute over their clothes. The pants are used to grasp opponents during wrestling.
Grasp. A wrestler grasps any part of the opponent's body to try to unbalance and knock down the opponent. Usually, that’s achieved by lifting and dropping an opponent taken by waist, arms, thighs or feet.
Block. A wrestler blocks the movement of any part of the opponent's body using his/her own body to unbalance the opponent.
Deflect. A wrestler moves his body to deflect any technique from the opponent using the opponent's strength and movement to unbalance him/her.
Illegal Moves. Punching, hitting and strangling are not permitted.
Recently, Lucha Canaria became exceptionally popular sport and entertainment among Canarian girls, even in continental Spain. There are several terms of competitions: by teams, all against all, by weight category, individual contests, by weight categories or by challenge. The most common form, especiall in women's contests is team competitions - every team member wrestles sequentially against every memeber of an opposite team. Normally, the number of wrestlers in a team varies from eight to twelve wrestlers and there is no weight categories. As in any combat sport, heavyweights have some advantage, particularly in keeping balance, that's why there are seen many big wrestlers, especially plump girls in the teams. However, a skillful wrestler tries using opponent's momentun to help him/her to fall. As other 'standing' wrestling styles, Lucha Canaria attracts women as a sport and an entertainment - much more that the wrestling styles requiring par terre struggle.
There is another ancient combative sport in Canaries - Juego del Palo - stick fencing, in which women actively participate.
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