The Mongols came from the plains of the north and northwest of China. In 1206 this nomadic group united around a tribal prince named Temujin who took the name Genghis Khan which means "universal ruler". The Mongols had no settled homes and did not grow any crops. Their families lived in portable felt dwellings, called yurts or gers, which were made of thick woolen cloth stretched over a wooden frame. These nomad warriors moved from place to place, hunting wild animals for food and seeking fresh grass for their horses, sheep and cows. Everyone travelled on horseback – Mongol children were taught to ride by the time they were five years old. Mongol men and women valued warrior skills, such as toughness, bravery and strength.
During long military campaigns when men were out women took care of homes and land, so they had to know how to fight, with weapon or without it. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo describes a Mongol princess named Ai-Yaruk, or "Bright Moon," (she is known as Khutulun*) who refused to get married until she met a man that could throw her. It is likely that during his travels Polo really did see some Mongol women wrestling. Mongol wrestling is jacket wrestling and the ulterior motive is to gain reputation and/or property. Princess Ai-Yaruk, for instance, reportedly won thousands of horses during her bouts with luckless suitors.
Wrestling in the modern Inner Mongolia territory has a history of nearly 2,000 years. On the bronze plates unearthed from the ruins of the Hun of the early Han Dynasty, there are even motifs featuring wrestling. Originally, Mongolian wrestling Bokh was very much focused on its nature as a military sport, mainly for strength, stamina and skills training. The Yuan-Dynasty Emperors were keen supporters of the wrestling sport. Whenever there were important feasts, wrestlers were invited to add to the fun. And wrestling was a key item for deciding the candidate rankings in imperial martial exams. Outstanding wrestlers were entitled to high distinctions.
In old times, any wresting event included a female round. Till the 14th century there were also Mongol women warrior wrestlers such as Khutulun. Ancient Mongols thought that strong, healthy, fully productive and developed women are essential to maintain the nation. Then this practice ceased, probably due to Buddhism influence. While in Mongolia women stopped wrestling long ago, in Chinese Inner Mongolia they managed to preserve the sport. Currently, the biggest wrestling events in Inner Mongolia occur during the Naadam Fair (“Game Fair”), a festival of Mongolian ethnic group. Naadam Fair is the most important holiday of Mongolians. Nowadays, hundreds of female wrestlers come together at this annual folk festival held on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia - to pit their skills and strength against each other and to amuse numerous spectators.
Mongolian wrestling style Bokh (“strength, solidarity and durability” in Mongolian), which remains extremely popular until now, was born in the 11th centuryю This style consists of two sub-styles: Khalkas style Bohiin Barildaan, popular in the state of Mongolia and Bukh Barildah popular in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.
In fact, Bukh Barildah is a form of the traditional Mongolian wrestling Bokh (Bukh), extremely popular across Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China, among local ethnic groups – Mongols and Buryats. Some other ethnic groups call this wrestling style differently: Validi, Tali, etc.
The technical rules in the Mongolian version and what is found in Inner Mongolia have some divergence. In both versions a variety of throws, trips and lifts are employed to topple the opponent. Wrestlers use specific technique – grabbing by a jacket ("jodag") which is mandatory for wrestlers. The Inner Mongolians may not touch their opponent's legs with their hands, whereas, in Mongolia, grabbing your opponent's legs is legal. In addition, striking, strangling or locking is illegal in both varieties.
The wrestler’s outfit is also different in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia itself. Wrestlers of the state of Mongolia wear a tight heavy-duty short-sleeved jacket “jodag" of red or blue color. Traditionally made of wool, modern wrestlers have changed to looser materials such as cotton and silk. Wrestlers in Mongolia must have the front open, but tied at the back with a simple string knot, thus exposing the wrestler's chest. According to a legend, on one occasion a wrestler defeated all other combatants and ripped open the jodag to reveal her breasts, showing to all she was a woman. From that day, the jodag had to reveal the wrestler's chest. In the state of Mongolia, wrestlers wear small tight-fitting briefs made of red and blue colored cotton cloth (“shuudag”) covering thighs and exposing the belly. In Inner Mongolia exposing chest is not mandatory (which suits women); wrestler’s attire consists of leather jacket (“tseezhne”) lined with silver or copper circular plates, multicolored belts and loose trousers (“shalbyr”). Wrestlers of both styles wear leather boots with slightly upturned toes (“gutal”). Wrestlers who have gained considerable renown through contests may also wear a jangga, a necklace decorated with strands of colorful silk ribbons. Depending on the numbers of victories, wrestlers are awarded lifelong titles: Avraga (Giant), Arslan (Lion), Zaan (Elephant), etc.
Nowadays, wrestling is very popular in Inner Mongolia – among both men and women. Competitions are held in a simple and solemn manner. The number of participants in a wrestling match must be the power of 2, such as 32, 64, 128, etc. When the match begins, wrestlers wave their strong arms and dance into the site by imitating the movements of lions, deer and eagles. While women in the state of Mongolia do not participate in wrestling contests unless for tourist amusement, in Inner Mongolia their participation is on a large scale.
Bukh Barildah matches are typically conducted outdoors, except during extremely cold winters, when it is held indoors. Mongolian wrestlers are not paired by size or weight, and there’s no time limit for the match. A wrestler loses if and when he touches the ground with any part above his knees. The sport of wrestling requires good coordination between waist and leg movements. A wrestler is expected to fully display his strength and skills in the match.
The legendary grappling skills of Mongolian wrestlers have influenced Chinese Kung Fu practitioners and Russian Sambo.
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