by Jeff Meszaros
So, we’ve finished the first leg of your around-the-world grappling tour and it’s been a blast (click here to read Asian Grappling Styles, the previous article).
In the previous part of the journey we started in Japan, where you got thrown flat on your back by judo champions and slapped around by sumo wrestlers. Then, in Korea, you did ssireum, which was kind of like sumo but in a pit full of sand. In China, you did a kind of grappling called shuai jiao and then you did Mongolian wrestling, complete with a little bird dance.
Then we went through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and India before hitting Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, each of which had their own kind of wrestling. My favorite was India where they threw dirt at you. Turns out, that’s a way they bless their opponent. Go figure.
Finally, you tried Turkish oil wrestling which involved you putting on a special pair of leather shorts filled with oil and then, because you were so slippery, really muscular men jammed their fists into your pants to heft you into the air and slam you down on the grass.
It was all wildly entertaining for me as I accompanied you and tried the local cuisine. Did I do any grappling? No! I’m just coming along to journal your trip and needlessly rack up your travel expenses.
I’ll continue with that as we head from one side of Europe to the other….
You can’t do an around-the-world grappling tour without stopping in Russia to do some sambo, right? Of course not. Now, you just have to decide what kind of sambo you’d like to do because, as with the other countries, there are a few kinds. With sambo, it boils down to basically three kinds. All of them are really rough, though.
The first is a lot like judo, but with no chokes allowed and, instead, leg locks are totally ok. They like leg locks more than chokes because a choke only takes one guy out of a fight but a broken leg takes three people out: One with a broken leg and two more who have to carry him to the medic. Pretty awesome, eh? So, that’s called sport sambo. For that, people wear a jacket with cool shoulder-handles, plus shorts and leather-shoes that, really, everyone who grapples should wear to avoid toe-injuries but only these guys have figured that out.
There’s another kind called combat sambo, and this the kind that Fedor Emelianenko and Oleg Taktarov do. This one is a lot like mixed martial arts since striking is allowed, along with all the throwing, leg-locks and other nastiness of sport sambo. Again, people wear a jacket and shorts, but also open-finger gloves, headgear and shin-guards. Think of it as a combination of judo, wrestling and kickboxing, plus leglocks. Sounds crazy? It should, as it was made to be Russia’s answer to all other fighting arts. They did a pretty good job, I must say.
Finally, there’s a third version which is taught to the Russian military and police. This one is more of a self-defense style of sambo that teaches how to wrench a gun out of someone’s hands or what to do when surrounded by knife-wielding lunatics. This style doesn’t have so much sparring. It’s more like really rough aikido with the occasional jumping armlock thrown in to impress girls.
So, which one will it be? Choose wisely, my friend. Let me know how it goes. I’ll wait for you in the jet. Pick me up a pair of those cool sambo boots if you get the chance, will you? I wish they sold those back home.
Now that you’ve survived the leg-lock capital of the world, let’s take a trip to a place not known for making your ankles explode. In fact, let’s check out a place that’s hardly even known for grappling, but has its own obscure style. At least, obscure to us until now. I’m talking about Lithuania, where the word “ristynes” means “roll and wrestle” and that sounds like fun doesn’t it? Of course.
There does seem to be a bit of inconsistency, though. Sometimes, the people seem to be wearing very loose judo-style jackets but sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they’re wearing belts but sometimes it’s rope. Regardless, they all do seem to seriously favor getting the over-under grip from the front and throwing from there and you need to throw your opponent three times to win.
Ancient Greek Pankration
We can’t go through Europe without checking out the first grappling styles in recorded history. Pankration means “all powers” in Greek and was part of the first Olympic Games, along with sports like running, wrestling, pole vaulting and boxing.
Pankration was actually a lot like modern mixed martial arts or so it seems from the pictures of it we see painted on old pots. It’s hard to say for sure since it’s not like the ancient Greeks shot instructional DVDs and, when the ancient Olympics got shut down, pankration went the way of the dodo bird into the land of extinct things gone forever.
Still, we know a few things about pankration and how it looked. Two men fought unarmed and, apparently, were nude. They were allowed to punch, kick, choke and twist one another’s limbs, but they weren’t allowed to bite, gouge the eyes or strike the groin. If they did, the referee would hit them with a stick to make them stop.
So, how does that sound? Terrible and scary? Well, don’t worry. Nobody does that style of pankration anymore. There are some clubs around the world where teach a modern version of pankration but people wear pants and nobody hits you with a stick so it’s not the “traditional” style that is, sadly, no longer around.
Oh, well. Let’s hop back on our private jet and see what’s next. Hopefully, whatever it is, it still exists.
I’ve heard that Albania has its own style of grappling, entirely unique to the country. It’s called pelivan and … wait a second … this is just more Turkish oil wrestling. Alright, put on your shorts, fill them with oil and get in there. I’ll go get the camera and make sure we get this on film this time.
Welcome to Serbia, where people have a grappling style called rvanje. It’s a lot like wresting. You get a grip on your opponent and try to throw him onto his back. Wait a second … this is wrestling!
Alright, let’s see if we can find something new for you to try. Because those stops in Albania and Serbia gave me a serious case of deja vu, which I never thought I’d say after a visit to Albania or Serbia, but there you go.
So, here in Romania, people have a grappling style called tranta and … wait a second, this is just more wrestling! Get back in the jet.
Coming from the meaning “to wrangle” in German, the grappling art of ranggeln is most popular in Austria. People wear white shirts and pants that can best be described as “business casual” clothing. Consequently, it looks like a struggle between two guys who got in a fight at work and went to throw down out on the lawn behind the building. That, and the wild accordion music, make this enormously entertaining and a refreshing departure from those last few copy-cat countries.
Do you know why we’ve come to Italy? No, it’s not for the pasta. Nope, it’s not to see the coliseum. You guessed it! It’s to try out the local grappling art called strumpa!
Wait, this is just more wrestling. Damn it! Well, I’m going to go have some pizza. I hear it’s nothing like what we get back home.
Here’s another grappling art with a German name that has become popular in a country that isn’t Germany. Apparently “schwingen” means “to swing” in German, so I’m hoping this one is awesome. And it is!
You put on tiny burlap pants over your regular pants and then you get on a giant pile of sawdust and try to throw one another onto your backs. There are no weight classes, so most of the people who do this are really, really big.
After you’ve thrown your opponent, it is considered polite to brush the sawdust off their back. That is pretty cool. It’s nice to see that show of courtesy. Plus, they’re having a sausage festival! I mean they are serving delicious sausages. This is fantastic.
Welcome to France! Internationally-known for the Eiffel Tower and crepes. Plus, in the part of the country known as Brittany, the exciting grappling art of gouren.
What’s it like? Imagine judo but without the jacket so everyone is really, really obsessed with grabbing the belt. Why are they wearing a belt when they aren’t wearing a jacket? How am I supposed to know?
Anyway, the idea is to throw the other person on their back so you go and do that while I go practice my French with the locals. I hear they are very friendly with tourists.
Spanish Lucha Leonesa
Do you know what fighting art Spain is famous for? Neither do I. But in one part of the country, Leon, people do something called lucha leonesa!
What’s it like? Well, it looks a lot like Gouren from France because people are wearing a thick belt over their shirt and shorts and grabbing one another’s belt like it belongs to them and they’re trying to get it back. Apparently the rules are a lot like sumo wrestling and you lose if anything touches the ground aside from the bottom of your feet.
Give it a try and let me know how you like it. I’m going to do the same, but with paella.
Alright, let’s wrap up the second leg of our tour with a trip to Iceland! Do you know what Iceland is famous for? Well, yes, musician Bjork, but also something else. Yes, they have a specific breed of horse as well, which I’m surprised you’ve heard of, but there’s a third thing. Geothermal energy? Yes, that too but that’s not why we are here. Go on and guess. That’s right! We’re here to try glima.
What is glima? Well, imagine wearing a belt around your waist and then a second much smaller belt around one of your thighs. Then, someone grabs onto both of them and tries to throw you as high in the air as they can, and given the grips they can get on your belts, that is spectacularly high.
But wait, there’s more. You each begin with a grip on one another and you take three steps in a semi-circle, kind of like waltzing, before you begin to throw one another. You aren’t allowed to bend over, and you have to look over the shoulder of your opponent, almost like you are dancing to a romantic song with your high-school sweetheart, but also trying to throw them onto their back. It gives the whole thing a majestic quality.
I hope you enjoyed this part of your trip around the grappling world. In the next instalment we’ll travel to the United Kingdom to partake in all the crazy wrestling systems they have on that relatively small island!
Other Articles in This Series
This is the second of five articles in our Grappling Around the World Series. Here are the other articles in the series that you may have missed…
- Grappling Styles of Asia
- Grappling Styles of the United Kingdom
- Grappling Styles of Africa, and North and South America
- Grappling Styles of the Pacific
About the Author: Jeff Meszaros is a blackbelt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also has black belts in taekwondo and hapkido as well as a brown belt in judo. He is also a frequent contributor to Grapplearts.com
- A Tour of the Grappling Systems of Asia
- Top 10 Throws and Takedowns for BJJ
- Is This the Best Takedown vs Bigger Opponents?
- How to Learn BJJ as Fast as Possible (free book download)