Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival – Turkey

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Oil Wrestling now holds a Guinness World Record for the longest running sports competition in the world!


The history of oil-wrestling links back to 2650 BC with evidence being discovered in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, and other regions in the Middle East. But the history of the oil-wrestling tournaments as they are known today links back to the Persian Mythical Era, believed to have begun around 1065 BC. 

Before 1582, all wrestlers were obtained from prisoners of war, the Devşirme, or other slave sources. But beginning with the Devşirme system, healthy and strong young men began to be recruited and trained from various provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Wrestling championships were constantly held throughout the Ottoman Empire, with every city and village having their own annual events. But since 1924, bouts have been held on the Sarayiçi island near Edirne. It is said that about 300 different oil-wrestling games are held in Turkey each year and they host an average of ten million spectators.


The Match:

The ceremonial start of oil-wrestling, Peshrev, has roots in historic rituals of the Iranian training Zurkhaneh (house of strength) training (Very cool! Read more here). This “warming up” is a ceremony to greet or entertain the assembled crowd. There are numerous rhythms, movements, exercises and even acrobatics exhibited, which may also include displays of strength such as lifting heavy objects such as weights or chains.

The matches take place in an open, grassy field, with the contestants only clothed in leather pants that extend to just below the knee. Prior to each bout, the wrestlers must douse their entire body in olive oil. After which, the matches soon begin, and victory is achieved when one wrestler either pins the other to the ground like the wrestling we know today, or lifts his opponent above his shoulders, the like display of brute strength we know from our past.

Fun fact:

Until 1975, there was no time limit for wrestling in Kırkpınar. Beginning at 9am and ending at dusk, the participants would sometimes wrestle for up to one or two days, until they could clearly establish superiority over one another. 

After 1975, wrestling was limited to 40 minutes in the başpehlivan category and 30 minutes in other categories. If there is no winner within this initial time period, 15 (başpehlivan) or 10 minutes (other categories) of now scored wrestling will follow and a victor will be declared based on the points from this extra period.


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