Ssireum (also called Sirum or Sireum) is a Korean wrestling style. Ssireum is the oldest of traditional Korean sports and is depicted in wall paintings in the royal tombs of the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 BC to 660 AD).
In traditional life, Ssireum was a popular activity on the Korean holiday of Dano (Spring Holiday), the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and tournaments were held on other days, especially in the summer and autumn. The townspeople would gather sharing in their joy and release mental and physical tensions resulting from the strenuous work that lasted from spring to fall. In the past, the traditional prize for winning a tournament was an oxen, which represented the strength of a contestant and was also valuable in the agricultural society.
According to literature, Ssireum has been referred to by various names such as gakjo, gakhi, sangbak, jaenggyo, gakgii, with each name explaining how the methods of Ssireum have been developed. Gak, a commonly used prefix seems to have originated from the combative act performed by male horned animals such as oxen when competing against one another for the superiority of physical strength or over a female. Chinese people used to call the Korean combat style Koryogi, but since 1920 Koreans have been calling the traditional sport Ssireum. In modern Korea, the term has been shortened to just sirum.
Modern Ssireum is a form of belt wrestling rather resembling Swiss wrestling Schwingen. Each contestant wears two pieces of a cotton belt satba that wraps around the waist and the thigh.
Ssireum is conducted within a circular ring, measuring approximately 7 meters in diameter, which is covered with thick sand. Two contestants begin a Ssireum match by kneeling on the sand in a grappling position (baro japki); each grips the opponent's satba at the waist with the right hand and at the thigh with the left hand. The wrestlers then stand up, locked in this position until the referee gives the signal to begin. Once the competition is under way, the wrestlers have three minutes to score a fall. The first to cause the other to fall is declared the winner and the match is over. If a fall is not scored in 3 minutes, 3 minute overtime is played. If a fall is still not scored, the lighter wrestler is awarded the victory. There are four judges – a chief referee and three sub referees. Normally, professional Ssireum is contested in a best-out-of-three style match.
A fall is defined as the event in which any part of the wrestler's body above the knee touches the ground. Falls can be as simple as causing the other wrestler to fall backwards and sit down or as stunning as one wrestler lifting another and throwing him/her clear over his head while arching and spinning his/her body to avoid hitting the ground first.
To preserve the pure throwing nature of the art, techniques that involve striking, kicking and butting are prohibited. Wrestlers may not apply pressure against a joint, such as a finger lock or arm bar, to cause a fall. They are permitted to use their hands, legs, arms and torso to jockey for position and attempt to unbalance each other. Ground struggling is not used in Ssireum. Tactics to avoid fighting such as stalling, avoiding contact or deliberately going out of bounds are prohibited. These rules keep the competition active and prevent the match from becoming a boring stalemate.
Some experts consider Japanese wrestling Sumo as a successor of Ssireum. However, ssireum does not have the global popularity that sumo has - it has remained largely a national/traditional sport. Although both sports are quite similar, they differ in characteristics as well as values. Unlike sumo, pushing your opponent outside of the ring does not warrant a win, just a restart. Besides, pushing an opponent is not permitted in Ssireum, though it is in Sumo. In both sports, the competitors are quite large, though Korean wrestlers tend to be leaner. However, size does not guarantee success in either sport but it is more important in sumo.
Ssireum is one of the most attractive combat forms for women (comparable just with Schwingen). It is a peaceful competition focusing on harmony and unison. The victory is sought through a series of techniques, which inflict little harm or injury to the opponent. Many combative sports alienate women from practicing them because many women dislike striking and tight squeezing on the ground. There is no strikes and ground struggling in Ssireum, which attracts women to the sport even though there are no known official competitions for women yet.
World ‘ssireum’ championship at Seokchon Lake Park in Seoul, June 2011.
Two 'foreign women' engage in the traditional Korean wrestling.
Web site Korea Times
Two US female soldiers engage in Korean wrestling 'ssireum'
at the compound of the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. April 2008
Web site MilitaryPhotos
Old Ssireum depiction
Girls in the start Ssireum position