Classic Gi Ge wrestling
Men and women compete
Men and women wrestling matches at the festival "Stone Forest" in Yunnan in 2012
Photo from the page Cina
Women's matches at the Torch festival in 2009
Photos by Fujian Zhou, ресурс Guizhou News
Wresting at the festival "Stone Long Lake" in 2015
Photo from the resource Nercsc
The Yi (Yí Zú) or Lô Lô people are an ethnic group in China, Vietnam, and Thailand. Numbering 8 million (small fraction of the China population); they are among the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the Chinese government. They live primarily in rural areas of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, usually in mountainous regions. Some Lô Lô people live in Hà Giang, Cao Bàng, and Lào Cai provinces in northeastern Vietnam and also in the northeastern Thailand.
According to a Yi legend, in the days of old there lived three brothers-shepherds who mastered their martial arts imitated the way animals fight each other. So, the tradition considers animals as teachers of wrestling and martial arts. That is why during the ancient ritual of animal sacrifice to the gods, they hold wrestling tournaments. Yi people pretend to be like a tiger: strong and brave. The ability for fighting is the national common psychological characteristics. In the long process of social history, Yi people have created rich and colorful traditional sports culture, especially set strength, wisdom and skill of wrestling.
Relatively small people Yi have become internationally famous by their "Torch Festival" which is grandest traditional festival of the Yi people. It is celebrated on the 24th or 25th day of the sixth month of the Yi calendar, corresponding to August in the Gregorian calendar. (Different Yi ethnic groups set the festival at different time). It commemorates the legendary wrestler Atilaba, who drove away a plague of locusts using torches made from pine trees. The celebration includes various traditional Yi entertaining shows, games and sport competitions including torch rally, dancing, singing, beauty contest, wrestling, tug-of-war, horse race and archery as well as bull and cock fighting. Recently, local governments began sponsoring and organizing modernized celebrations of the festival, featuring some traditional show and contest, including extremely popular wrestling tournaments in which both - men and women participate. However, as it often happens, indigenous traditions are modernized in order to attract more foreign tourists by making them closer to so-called "popular culture". AS it will be mentioned below, this tendency also affects wrestling contests.
People come to the Torch Festivals, which lasts three days from every village round dressed in their best traditional costumes. Young men put on new jackets, trousers and head coverings decorated with a hero knot or cock's comb. Young women wear embroidered jackets, long trousers or long skirts with numerous pleats. They use various exotic headgears and turbans to cover their heads.
The Torch Festival is a good chance for young men and women to get to know each other and select their lovers and future mates. On the second and third days people gather on the vast meadow (or stadium) and hold various traditional Yi entertaining shows and sport competitions including dancing, singing, torch rally, wrestling, tug-of-war, horse race and archery as well as bull and cock fighting. Traditionally, these sports are mostly practiced by young men but in some highland areas girls and young women also participate in them including wrestling matches. While male winners of the wrestling competitions often become the top choice for the young women, female wrestlers also attract young men; along with singing and dancing proficiency, girls’ wrestling skills are highly valued by highlanders once they assert their health, strength, flexibility and agility – very useful qualities in severe natural conditions. The scene of the contest attracts crowds of spectators who surround the venue cheering the athletes. Young male spectators carry their tri-string instruments and flutes while females carry embroidered bags. The music and dance put the contest in a great animation.
Grand annual national Yi wrestling tournament in Shilin Autonomous County Stadium is one of the most known during Yi Torch festivals. More than 400 best wrestlers of both sexes come together from many neighboring areas to test their strength and skills. The scene is very exciting to compete fiercely to attract over 20,000 foreign tourists come to watch the games.
The classic wrestling style practiced by the Yi people represents a standing belt wrestling style and called “Gi Ge” which literally means "holding waist". Bright wide colored girdles are usually used as belts. The traditional Gi Ge rules do not allow wresters to release the opponent's belt; at least one hand must hold the belt until the end of the match. In order to win, a wrestler has to throw the opponent onto the ground, usually making the opponent touch the ground by his back or shoulders. Once one or both wrestlers fall, the match is held up. Before a match the contestants embrace each other to show good will and kindness. At the order of the referee, they hold each other’s waist belts and start wrestling; each of them tries to unbalance the opponent.
The classic Gi Ge is based on three main rules:
- No tripping using the legs;
- No grabbing the jacket or pants;
- No pushing or striking.
There are no weight classes and time limit in the classic Gi Ge – wrestlers fight until the victory of one of them.
Since Yi people are dispersed oved a large mountainous area, wrestling rules and terns vary from place to place. Although contemporary wrestling rules vary notably from the classic traditional ones (it is done in order to attract more foreign tourists), the main standing principle remains unchanged.
In various contemporary ethnic forms of Yi wrestling, arm holds above and below the waist are allowed as well as attacks by legs and against legs. One of the favorite techniques is a hold a leg by an arm as leverage for a throw. There are several different conditions for winning the match. The simplest one is to force the opponent to touch the ground by any body part except feet. According some local rules, you must throw the opponent down on his back or shoulders; in some other cases, you have to force the opponent to touch the ground by "three points". Despite Yi wrestlers traditionally do not fight on the ground, sometimes wrestlers fallen onto the ground continue fighting for several seconds trying to demonstrate dominance.
Recently, in order to make wrestling events more exciting, some tournaments (including Shiln's one) include female wrestling contests on wet red soil in which contestants are allowed to fight on the ground. In other words, it is an odd combination of Gi Ge with mud wrestling.
Until recently, male and female wrestlers competed wearing their festive costumes being girdled on with colored sashes. Women even did not take off their indispensable headgears, turbans or kerchiefs – depending on the region. However, nowadays, the wrestler's uniform has been substantially simplified – up to T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. Nowadays, many male contestants wrestle barebacked wearing short pants only. Girls and women also compete in casual attire and bareheaded. Need I say a word or two about the convenience of not having long skirt or big hats when wrestling?
In fact, many Gi Ge techniques are utilized into the practice of the Yi traditional Wushu style "Yi Quan" (The fist of Yi).
Final moments of female matches at the Torch festival in 2009
Photos by Fujian Zhou, source Guizhou News
Folk Torch Festival "Stone Forest" in Yunnan, 2015.
Forty female wrestlers gathered from the neighboring counties to participate in the wrestling tournament.
Фото со странички Cina
Episodes of modern forms of Yi wrestling at Torch festivals
Female wrestling on the red soil
at the festival "Stone Forest" in Yunnan
Photo from the resource Sohu News
Final moment of a wrestling match at the Shilin festival
Photo from teh resource Yunnan Network