Galicia (Galega) is an autonomous community in northwest Spain, with the official status of a nationality. The Galicians are one of Spain's most unique communities, and claim to be of an entirely separate ethnic, genetic/racial, and cultural heritage than the Castilians, Basques, and Catalans. Although their language (in reality a dialect of Portuguese) has almost no Celtic influence and is closely related to Spanish and Portuguese, they consider themselves to be Celtic, that is, related to the Irish, Bretons, Scots, Cornish, and Welsh. The very name of "Galicia" derives from the early Roman word for the "Gauls" of France and Spain, and is sometimes postulated to be related to the word "Gaelic."
Loita Galega (Galician wrestling) is the name became official in 1986 when a team of enthusiasts decided to revive the old wrestling traditions of Galicia. In rural areas this wrestling was called differently - "Tumbadela", "Grave", "Chimpa", "Caiados”, etc.
In October 2008, the Galician parliament decided by a unanimous declaration to rename Loita Galega into “Loita Celta” (Celtic wrestling), even though there was no indication that it had originated from any Celtic wrestling styles. This name has been invented and promoted by local politicians who want to emphasize their Celtic origin.
Loita Galega contains techniques of both freestyle and submission wrestling styles. A wrestler can grab an opponent arbitrarily by the cloth or by the body – above or below the waist. Unlike Celtic forms of wrestling (Gouren, Backhold), a match continues on the ground until long last pin or submission. Some painful and choke techniques are also allowed. Usually wrestlers compete barefoot and wear pants made of dense material.
According to the rules and terms of Loita Galega, women can compete side by side with men. As early as the 19th century, Galician women had a reputation for their excellent wrestling skills. As to the wrestling skills, women were not inferior to men. Women were among historical Galician wrestlers and champions like famous Gloria Bermudez Burela. Ethnographers testified that there were inter-gender wrestling tournaments holding in Galicia. Young boys and girls as well as mature men and women, competed each other. Popular in the 19th century and before, Loita Galega was almost forgotten in the twentieth until it was revived in 1986.
There are several sources of information about practicing Loita Galega in the 19th century. In 1885, Martial Valladares Nunez mentioned Galician loita in his dictionary:
“Wrestling involved sophisticated techniques without wishing to offend in which young girls also participate”. Famous Galician writer, Rosalia de Castro, described Loita Galega in verse in her poems.
It can be concluded from her poems that wrestling skills were as much important as strength: a wrestler had to take an opponent down without hitting - by tripping him/her off balance, and then to force him/her to surrender of exhaust. She considered wrestling matches between girls and guys as a form of flirtation. In the poem “Follas novas” (New Leaves) (1880) Rosalia wrote:
Under the cover of night
Youths wrestle with gals,
Test compliance and might,
Hardly roll over the grass.
Girls displayed persistence,
Boys enjoyed resistance.
Another remarkable Galician female writer Emilia Pardo Bazán described in detail a wrestling match in a mill between a guy and a girl in her story “El Molino” (1900): “The fighting tradition, which is now disappearing, still exists in some areas in Galicia; this is probably a rare occasion of a bellicose social status women retain as long as they fought side by side with men. The girls are still fighting each other, and challenging boys, then the wrestling match developing into a delightful game…
Santiago knelt before Mariniña who was already kneeling. His blood-boiling tumultuous heart burned, he instinctively realized that this fight would not be like others he has experienced before. He is aware that the girl is ready for action and the pride is sparkled in her eyes. The rigidity of her figure and the hard bars of her brows indicate that the fight will be for real. He anticipated that the girl will use all her physical strength and the entire resolution of her soul… Santiago hasn’t noticed the moment they rushed at each other; he struggles at full capacity; sometimes he feels he dominates the fight. His face becomes red; his body perspires profusely while the Amazon, firm and strong, was holding her push to gain ground. Having the determined girl so close, Santiago starts losing heart and gets disturbed while indifferent Mariniña persistently strives for victory taking advantage of her opponent’s confusion; her pressure is increased. Finally, she manages to twist his right arm while using her left arm to press him down. Santiago finds himself prone with his face deep in the floor’s loose stuff. The triumphant wrestler is merciless; she looks down on the vanquished opponent, keeping crushing down any sign of resistance from him. Holding his arm twisted, she sets her hand against his neck and rubs his face into the bran and flour that covered the floor, not letting him get up until he rendered up, ready to accept peace under any condition offered him."
Today Loita Galega wrestling is a traditional sport in the process of recovery. The rules do not allow striking, pinching, grasping fingers or generally making any movement that might endanger any of the contenders. The wrestlers wear resistant pants, knee-guards and a band around the waist. You can not grab the clothes, except the pants and belt. The objectives of the fight are taking the opponent down on the back followed by immobilizing him/her on the ground or pushing the opponent out of the circle. The referee assesses each move according to the established scoring system. In order to win one of the following must be achieved:
- Immobilizing the opponent on the ground for fifteen seconds.
- Reaching the maximum score.
- Taking the opponent outside the circle and getting back into the standing position in the circle while the opponent is beyond it.
- For manifested technical superiority.
- Scoring more points at the end of the combat time.
Nowadays, when women actively participated in any single forms of combat sports, practicing Loita Galega by women is by no means a surprise to anyone. “Now, the traditional Galician wrestling became a game and a sport again", says a trainer in the gym. “With its traditional rules, equipment (blue or black pants rolled up and bare chest in the case of men) and a roster of bands of colors the same meaning as the martial arts belts.
Old Loita Galega
Illustration to "El Molino"
"Holding his arm twisted, she sets her hand against his neck and rubs his face into the bran and flour that covered the floor"
Kids practicing Loita Galega