One of the oldest sports in the world…

 

OIL WRESTLING, the unusual national sport of Turkey, is one of the oldest sports in the world, dating back almost 5,000 years to ancient Egypt and Assyria. This raw competition of strength, skill, and stamina has neither technology nor equipment. Wrestlers simply wear leather trousers made of the hide of water buffalo or calf (the “kispet”) and douse themselves in olive oil, to make the struggle a little bit more difficult and dangerous.

Since 1346, the tournament of Kirkpinar has been held every year in the town of Edirne, making it the longest-running sports competition in the world.  Every summer for over 650 years, thousands of wrestlers do battle in this massive three-day tournament to determine who will be Turkey’s baspehlivan ("chief wrestler"), to be called the best of the best.  The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival begins with a ceremony featuring forty different bands of musicians and drummers. The Golden Belt is carried through the city in a procession followed by prayers recited in the Selimiye Mosque, and culminating with everyone meeting in the stadium where the wrestling bouts take place.

ORIGINS and tradition

 

Legend has it that Turkish Oil Wrestling began during a military campaign by the Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi. One night at camp, two warriors covered in olive oil (for insect repellent) were wrestling for pleasure, and after a day-long stalemate, both died of exhaustion. When their friends returned to the site years later, they were amazed to see that forty springs had arisen there where the two wrestlers died, so they named it Kirkpinar (forty springs).

Oil wrestling comes with a rich local tradition of camaraderie, ritual and music. Most oil wrestlers (“pehlivans”) begin their training at a very young age and are born into families where wrestling is a way of life. Once a wrestler reaches the top weight category, he is given an apprentice, who continues his tradition and upholds his mentor’s name once the master quits the "hero's field."

 

an incredibly exciting battle

 

There's nothing comparable to watching waves of wrestlers enter the field to do battle. Officials pour buckets of olive oil all over the athletes, and wrestlers assist each other in spreading it evenly and in wiping it out of each other's eyes. There are many kinds of tactics wrestlers employ to wear down their opponents, including an open-handed slap to the back of the neck, pushing the opponent's nose in the grass as a way to limit oxygen, and even reaching down each other's trousers to gain leverage and impinge breathing. The match is won when one wrestler pins the other, tears his kispet, or lifts his opponent entirely off the ground and carry him five paces in any direction.