Mongolian wrestling is a traditional Mongolian sport that has existed in Mongolia for centuries.
Böke is Mongol for "wrestling", and is one of Mongolia’s age-old "Three Manly Skills" (along with horsemanship and archery).
Genghis Khan considered wrestling to be an important way to keep his army in good physical and combat shape. Böke was also used occasionally as a way of eliminating political rivals. Mongol history records incidents of the Khan arranging to have political enemies killed via a wrestling match.
The Manchu dynasty (1646-1911) Imperial court held regular wrestling events, mainly between Manchu and Mongol wrestlers.
Rules & combat
The object of a match is to get your opponent to touch his back, knee or elbow to the ground. In the Inner Mongolian version, any body part other than the feet touching the ground signals defeat. There are no weight classes or time limits in a match. Each wrestler must wrestle once per round, the winners moving on to the next round.
The technical rules between 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. The Inner Mongolians may not touch their opponent's legs with their hands, whereas, in Mongolia, grabbing your opponent's legs is completely legal. In addition, striking, strangling or locking is illegal in both varieties.
In the case of a sacrifice throw, the first wrestler to touch the ground, regardless of who threw whom, is the loser.
Ranks & matches
Böke events traditionally take place in the end of July or early August, during a festival called Naadam (Play). A Nadaam is time for some fun and relaxation- a combined event of entertainment, sports, and commerce.
Böke matches are held in the open on a grassy field, or bare dirt ground not too hard or littered with gravel. There are no weight classes. A small wrestler can end up wrestling someone twice his size.
Traditionally, match-ups were not based on an equal chance. The host of a naadam had the privilege to arrange matches- often, in ways that lent their favorites the upper hand. Sometimes such arrangement results in serious disputes between hosts and visiting wrestlers.
The modern böke codes (since 1980) stipulate that a lot drawing method be used-only at major cross-regionally naadams and specialized böke championship matches; at the grassroots level the traditional system still holds sway.
Rank can only be attained during the Naadam festival. The number of rounds won by each wrestler determines rank. In ascending order, the ranks are: unranked, bird(eagle), elephant(camel), lion(wolf) and titan(Knight, great warrior).
Oirad: Resembles Freestyle wrestling.
The Ujumchin and Hulunbuir styles permit no moves between the legs and hands, whereas the Halh variant not only allows but requires grabbing the opponent’s legs.
A Hulunbuir wrestler may kick his opponent directly in the leg(s)-- a technique not sanctioned by the other styles and banned in the official code.
Finally, Ordos, Alagshaa/shalbur and Oirad wrestlers begin a match with the two opponents locked together, while the Ujumchin, Khalkha and Hulunbuir styles start a bout without physical contact.
Böke's definition of a fall varies from region to region:
The Oirad in Xingjiang (Eastern Turkestan) defines a fall as being when the shoulder blades touch the ground, which is similarly to the Turkic and international free style wrestling.
The Inner Mongol style, however, considers a fall to have occurred as soon as any part of the body above the knee (or ankle) touches the ground.
In Inner Mongolia this rule is shared by Hulunbuir, Ordos and Alagshaa/shalbur styles. The Halh variant, on the other hand, allows a hand to touch the ground without losing a bout.
Mongolian wrestling also has certain codes of conduct that concern more with proper etiquette. For example, when a wrestler's clothes get loose or entangled, his opponent is expected to stop attacking and help the former to re-arrange them-even though it might mean giving up a good winning opportunity.
Also, when one contestant throws the other to the ground, he is supposed to help the latter get back on his feet, before he dances his way out of the field.
Whether winning or losing, good manners dictate that the two opponents shake hands and salute each other and the audience, both prior to and after a bout.
The outfit of the wrestler has been developed over the ages to reflect simplicity and mobility. The standard gear of a wrestler includes:
Jodag: A tight, collarless, heavy-duty short-sleeved jacket of red or blue color. Traditionally made of wool, modern wrestlers have changed to looser materials such as cotton and silk. The front is open, but tied at the back with a simple string knot, thus exposing the wrestler’s chest. According to 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.
Shuudag: Small, tight-fitting briefs made of red or blue colored cotton cloth. These make the wrestler more moblile. Also, they prevent one's rival from easily taking advantage of long pants or to avoid material to trip upon.
Gutal: Leather boots, either in traditional style (with slightly upturned toes), or commercial, Western style. The traditional style gutal are often reinforced around the sides with leather strings for the purpose of wrestling.
One of the defining features of bökh is a dance wrestlers perform as they enter the contest field and exiting at the end.
Different locales have different dancing styles. In Mongolia the wrestler imitates falcons or “phoenix” taking off (debeh). In Inner Mongolia, the dance is supposed to be a mimicking of lions or tigers prancing (magshih)--as represented by the Üjümchin version.
Another major variation, popular among Mongols of Inner Mongolia's northeastern Hülünbüir region, resembles deer bounding (harailta). All considered, the Üjümchin "magshih" dance seems more strikingly robust-looking, partly due to the wrestler’s dazzling apparel and partly the style of the dance itself. In contrast, the phoenix style of Mongolia appears to exhibit a greater degree of elegance.
Mongol wrestling dance has its original forms in shamanistic rituals where people imitated movements of various animals. Today, apart from its aesthetic value, the dance is also regarded as a warm-up and cool-down procedure before and after an intense fight. Good wrestlers treat the dance with great earnest and are often better dancers.
Thanks to böke activists' tireless and ingenious efforts, this unique dance has become one of the integral and indispensable aspect of the böke tradition as a whole. In Inner Mongolia it has been, together with uriya, the costume, and the various rules, codified in the first Böke Competitions Rules finalized in the late 1980s.
The Boke dance is depicted in the movie "Close to Eden".
- 23 October 1999. The First "Beijing Chinese Wrestling Open Championship Match" (shoujie beijing zhongguoshi shuaijiao leitai dasai) took place in Beijing. Three Mongol wrestlers took part in the competition and took away with them two championships out of the three available weight categories. The heavy weight champion title went to Temur and the medium weight championship was taken by Su. Soyol, both being well-known böke wrestlers from East Ujumchin Banner of Inner Mongolia.