The Ancient Greek Art of Pankration
Pankration is deeply rooted in the ancient Olympic Games. The modern sport of Neo-Pankration pays homage to the original Greek combat style.
In 648 BC, a submission combat sport with very few rules was introduced to the Olympic Games. With legends crediting mythical heroes Heracles and Theseus with its creation, Pankration was the original MMA. Pronounced PAN – KRA – TEE – ON, meaning “All Powers”, only biting and gouging were specifically barred. Competitions pitted boxers against Wrestlers, much like in 19th century Rough and Tumble bouts, with different athletes specialising in striking of grappling. Specialist Pankratiasts, much like modern MMA athletes, combined the best of both boxing (pygmachia) and wrestling (pale) with kicks and holds, locks and chokes on the ground.
Featured at all four of the Panhellenic Games (Olympic, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian), Pankration produced legendary fighters whose names live on more than two thousand years later.
Theagenes of Thasos won the Olympic crown in 476 BC and was worshipped as a god in his homeland. Dioxippus won the 336 BC Olympics by default because his reputation was so strong that nobody dared to fight him. Arrhichion of Phigalia, considered the greatest of all time, won the 572, 568 and 564 BC Olympics, the last one posthumously. His opponent was “hugging him with his legs” at the same time as strangling him. Arrhichion dislocated his opponents toe, who gave in due to the pain, but just before his opponent conceded the fight, Arrhichion died from suffocation. His corpse was still declared the victor.
Techniques that would be familiar today, such as punching, kicking, arm bars, shoulder locks and the rear naked choke were employed in Pankration. Some techniques that would never be permitted in modern MMA were also used, like the tracheal grip choke, where the thumb and four fingers were used to grab the windpipe and squeeze it.
The sport disappeared when the Olympic Games were abolished by the Christian emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD. After over a thousand years of Olympic glory, Pankration faded into obscurity. Revivalists have worked hard to bring the sport back, including the “Father of Modern Pankration”, Jim Arvanitis, and Revgear Sports’ very own Dan Kanagie.
While many think of MMA as a totally modern invention, “there’s nothing new under the sun” in combat sports. The ancient Greek Pankratiasts were doing what MMA athletes do today, but over 2500 years ago.