Ancient Greek Wrestling – Original Grappling

While it is not the very oldest civilisation to codify grappling, Ancient Greek wrestling had a powerful influence on all subsequent wrestling in Europe.

Known as “Pale” (pal-eh), Ancient Greek wrestling was a cornerstone of the Olympic Games, being one of the earliest sports practiced in the ancient world. Before Pankration and even boxing, wrestling was a part of ancient culture, seen as a true test of strength and skill in an arena where death did not come into play.

There were several forms of Ancient Greek wrestling, with both upright and ground wrestling in practice. Ground wrestling was a submission style, that was won by submitting your opponent. This was indicated by the wrestler pointing to the referee to acknowledge defeat. This was never an olympic sport, but more of a military practice and folk-style of wrestling.

Ancient Greek Wrestling

Upright wrestling was included in the ancient olympics in 708 BC, 20 years before boxing was added in 688 BC. A match was won with three falls. The first wrestler to put their opponent on their back three times was declared the winner. This was the reason that the Spartans took part in only wrestling, as it was a martial skill that did not require an acknowledgement of defeat in order to win. The three falls were decisive.

The rules of the game prohibited any striking, grabbing of the genitals, biting and fighting out of the sandpit, an infraction that cost you a fall. Wrestlers covered themselves in oil and then dust, so that they were not too slippery for their opponent. This is still seen today in Kushti wrestling in India, where they cover each other in the dirt of the wrestling pit, as well as in Turkish Oil Wrestling, where they use the oil, but not the dust. These styles do not directly draw their heritage from Ancient Greek Wrestling, but have similar elements.

A modern spectator would be able to appreciate Ancient Greek Wrestling. When Greco-Roman Wrestling was created in the 19th century, it was an attempt to resurrect the upright sport of the ancient olympics. While it is ultimately different in several aspects, the principle of one athlete, using only their own skill and strength, has to put the other on their back (shoulders) remains to this day.

Tom Billinge Tom is the Editor of Revgear Sports. He has been training in Muay Thai gyms in Thailand and around the world for 20 years and is a fully-qualified instructor. Tom is a Jiu Jitsu blue belt in the Kore gi and 10th Planet no gi systems. He has trained Lethwei in Myanmar, Kushti wrestling in India, boxing throughout Europe, and catch wrestling in the USA. Tom has spent several years reconstructing the techniques of traditional British bareknuckle pugilism from archaic manuals.


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