single combat



Smaller peoples and their traditional and ritual combat sports

Celtic folk wrestling "Gouren"

Photo from the site Festival Interceltique Lorient

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Gouren wrestling

Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling

Celtic Wrestling is a standing only form of wrestling (i.e. there is no grappling on the ground, as seen in many popular forms of competitive wrestling). There are several styles of Celtic wrestling but the three ones are the most prominent now - "Gouren" (which means "wrestling" in Breton language) exceptionally popular in Brittany (Bretagne), France, "Cornish style" (Cornwell, England) and Scottish "Backhold" (wrestle until the ground touch). Basically, the difference between styles comes down to clothing. The modern gouren uniform consists of a "roched" (special wrestling "shirt") and "bragoЫ " ("trousers" that tie below the knee). The Gouren roched has an internal belt that feeds through the shirt so waist grips can securely accomplished. Wrestlers in the Cornish form of Celtic wrestling also wear jackets, but they have an open front with two ropes horizontally across the opening. Scottish wrestlers compete in skirts (both male and female). No grips are permitted in Celtic wrestling below the waist (e.g. on the legs or feet). Celtic Wrestling consists of a wide variety of lifting, tripping, sweeping, and throwing techniques - most of which are done using the feet and legs.

The most widespread form of Celtic wrestling is Gouren. In fact, gouren is overwhelmingly leaves the other styles behind with respect of women participation.

The main goal in Celtic Wrestling is to throw the opponent to the ground and achieve "back-fall". In Gouren the perfect throw is called lamm (i.e. perfect "back-fall" consisting of both shoulders touching the ground simultaneously), in which the bout formally ends. Traditionally, only the scoring of a lamm would achieve victory in a Gouren contest. This meant that wrestling matches could literally go on for hours, until that perfect result was achieved. Today the rules of Gouren have been codified and modernized, so the point system and the time limits have been introduced. In Cornish Wrestling, the wrestlers aim is also to achieve the winning throw known as the "back fall", but unlike Gouren a Cornish back fall is counted when two shoulders and two upper buttocks simultaneously hit the ground. If a wrestler manages to accomplish three of four such back falls, he or she is declared the winner and the bout stops. Actually, a gouren wrestling match looks pretty similar to Judo one in the starting position. But it's really much less violent sport than Judo: no chokes, pain holds, locks and any ground struggling. In warm seasons Gouren wrestling matches are running on sawdust beddings; in winter the are held indoor on special mats "palenn".

Gouren is a traditional and very popular wrestling style in Brittany. It was imported in Armorica (ancient name for the western-northern part of contemporary France) in 4th century by tribes of Bretons, which came there being hunted by Nordic tribes in Britain. The gouren became a much-honored sport, which was practiced by noble people. The legend tells that King Arthur and famous knights Lancelot and Perceval were excellent wrestlers in Celtic style. In 1520, Francois I, the King of France, challenged the King of England Henri VIII to a wrestle, and it was reported that t Francois, who was a good solid wrestler, gave him a thrashing (he and accomplished a magnificent lamm, i.e. threw the king down).

After having been spread among noble people gouren became a very popular sport in the country. Peasants wrestled in the fields after their working days. Then Gouren spread into other countries where force and skillfulness were held in high esteem. The Gouren allowed the peasants to relax after hard work. Tournaments were organized at the time of celebrations. Local wrestlers had opportunities to meet wrestlers from neighboring towns and villages and to demonstrate honor of his own and of his community. In those tournaments prizes were awarded such as embroidered handkerchief, sheep or even bulls. Wrestlers tried to keep their special techniques in secret.

Since the XIII century, various texts, engravings and statues confirm popularity of wrestling in the Celtic countries and regions.

Until with the Great French Revolution in 1789, Gouren continued to entertain the crowds. Since the 19th century (post Revolution) the sport was restricted to the rural areas of Low-Brittany.

Doctor Cotonnec rejuvenated the sport in 1930, since when it has become popular among young people in Brittany and beyond. In Brittany Gouren is nowadays even more popular than judo, karate, etc. Each year Europe championships in Celtic wrestling are organized. Wrestlers from 11 countries and regions participate in the tournaments: England, Scotland, Ireland, Austria, Brittany, southern France, Canaries, Iceland, Spanish Leon, Sardinia and Sweden. Those regions are members of the FILC (French abbreviation for International Federation of Celtic Wrestling). The participants compete in two official FILC wrestling styles - Gouren and Back Hold (Scottish Wrestling).

The contemporary gouren wrestling seems to be the most democratic and the less violent combative sport. Various categories of people practice it - boys and girls, children, adolescents and adults, men and women, heavy and light people - they compete with partners of their weight or age. Gouren is a sport accessible to people of all ages and of either gender. Practicing in gouren activates all muscles of the body and contributes to development of such physical qualities as balance, flexibility, vivacity, and strength. Gouren calls upon intelligence, the decision spirit. This is a true gymnastics of the spirit. Gouren is good for any kind of personality: an aggressive person will learn to calm his or her impulses, while a shy one will elaborate confidence.

This wrestling style especially matches women's striving for being athletic, supple, slender, gracious and beautiful and also for having self-defense skills. Girls and women test and develop their wrestling skills without painful violent holds and grips and without tight body interlacing on the ground. People enjoy outdoor wrestling on the picturesque Brittany coastal sands famous by their fresh ocean air, fragrant pines and spectacular dunes. Little boys and girls gather in forest meadows and train in gouren with trainers while their parents have fun watching their enthusiastic children playing no gender apartheid games. Gouren is a celebration for both, participants and spectators.

The following sources have been used for assembling this material:

Le Gouren

Commission Feminine de la Federacion de Gouren

Skol Gouren (Gouren School)

Skol Gouren Kemper (Gouren school camper)

Breton Wrestling (Gouren)

Scottish Style

"GNO Celtic Wrestling Club"


Children wrestle

Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling
Gouren wrestling

Массовая тренировка детей. Участники и победители соревнований

Mass children training Mass children training Mass children training WInners WInners and participants WInners and participants

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