Yakuts (Saxa) are a Turkic people associated with the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. There are about 478,100 ethnic Yakuts (Russian census, 2010). The Yakuts are divided into two basic groups based on geography and economics. Yakuts in the north are historically semi-nomadic hunters, fishermen, reindeer breeders, while southern Yakuts engage in animal husbandry focusing on horses and cattle.
Mas-kyrsy or mas-wrestling of (“mas” - a stick, “kyrsy” - wrestling) is a national Yakut sport of stick pulling. Mas is a small stick half a meter long which is the tool using by the contenders to over wrestle each other. Mas-kyrsy is a contemporary form of the traditional sport of “Muse-Byldyasyyta”. Two players tug a stick sitting against each other and resting the feet against a special support (board). Each player grasps the stick with two hands; one of them is allowed to choose the initial position of the stick by casting lots – the initial position must be horizontal. At the referee signal, contenders attempt to snatch the stick out of the opponent’s hands (or to pull the opponent to your side) using variety of techniques – jerks, spurts, twists. At that, legs are not used for attacking against opponent’s legs. In the past, the rule could be complicated, for instance the stick might be ice-coated.
In the past, the “weaker sex” also participated in the wrestling on horseback: “Yakut girls arrange horse races competing in dragging each other down of horses; then guys join the game… Women and particularly girls, dressed up in colored jackets, also demonstrate skills in horse riding; mounted girls engage in the game and throw each other off the horses; sometimes they expose themselves to young horsemen attacking them and successfully drag the guys off the saddles as well.”
Keeping balance while upsetting the opponent balance is guarantee of success in mas-wrestling. For this purpose feet movements along the board are used (athletes name it "to run on a board"), as well as body and hand movements in order to twist the stick off (the rules restrict the turn angle by 90 degrees). In order to prevent the opponent from snatching the stick out of your hands just after the referee signal, the player must stretch his/her arms as much as possible. Taking the opponent to your side is one of the most impressive moves in mas-wrestling – it might be achieved by lifting your body additional leverage.
Mas-Kyrsy is very popular among women who actively participate in it on a mass scale – from young girls to elderly women.
The physical exercises developed throughout centuries and the traditions of power games of the indigenous peoples of the Siberian north are protected and used important elements of physical education and training. People living in stern natural conditions of the Far North are sparing with these traditions helping to develop strength, quickness of mind and dexterity – qualities especially important to survive in those harsh environment.
Similar stick pulling games are popular among other ethnic groups in the Russian Far North. For instance, the Khanty people inhabiting Northeast Ural and Northwest Siberia practice several forms of stick pulling games. Like Yakut women, Khanty girls and women are fond of these games and willingly practice them.
Mas-wrestling is also a popular amusement in Tatar summer festival Sabantuy in which both sexes participate. Unlike mas-Kyrsy, a participant rests his/her feet against opponent’s feet.
As a matter of fact, it is Yakut Mas-Kyrsy which under the name Mas-wrestling became extremely popular sport all over Russia and beyond. Mas-wrestling tournaments are held literally in every corner of Russia. Moreover, in July 2012 the first World Mass-wrestling championship was held in Yakutsk.
Women in a Mas-Kyrsy contest in 1944
Photo from the resource SakhaSport
Hapsagay (“Game of deft people”) or Tustuu (wrestling) is a wrestling style of the Yakuts. It is a freestyle wrestling accomplishing in the standing position and ending after a fall. Grips to any part of the body and cloth are allowed. Leg techniques play very important role in Hapsagay. The most known techniques to take an opponent down are “Tyurgen” - hold the head and the leg (similar to the “cradle”) and “Halbaryian Tebii” - throw by the front trip. Many techniques are combined into multistep combinations. Wrestling contest were held during traditional festivals like “Ysyah” – spring-summer koumiss celebration.
Women participate in Hapsagay competitions. In 1944, women’s competitions were included into Yakut republican sport contest “Spartakiada”. For instance, in Churancha, Hapsagay was almost exclusively female sport: twelve female pairs could compete simultaneously in wrestling competitions.
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