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24.09.09 22:40 Age: 9 yrs

Crash! Kurash!

By: Roger and Megan

Uzbek traditional wrestling for young and old alike

Kurash (wrestling) is a popular Uzbek and Tajik national sport. There are two main varieties; one where you have to hold your opponents belt at all time with both hands, and the other where you don't have to. Hundreds of years ago this sport was played frequently, but nowadays it is only played at special occasions such as weddings and other celebrations.

Kurash is played between two men, and the aim is to throw your opponent to the ground. However, it is not just a big macho sport; there is much tradition, respect, and religion all throw into it, from the clothing worn, to the ceremonious nature of each contest. The experts of Kurash are held in very high regard, with winners of the matches often being given livestock or other precious items. It is said that it is not a test of strength but a test of patience and character of a man, ideals which the Uzbek people hold very highly, and as such Kurash is an important tradition to them (albeit being very rapidly lost) to promote and inculcate such ideals.

During our visit to the Uzbek village of Halmion in Kyrgyzstan, we were treated to a demonstration Kurash competition (20/09). Our friend Shair collected about 20 young men from around the village and brought them to a small field where we had our cameras set up. First, Shair explained a few of the rules of the competition, and that for this demonstration we would be seeing the version that requires the opponents to hold each others' belts at all times.

For the contest, the opponents are required to remove their doppra (skull cap), put on a Chappon (a long padded cotton jacket, Ubzek national dress), tie a Charsay (bandanna-style cloth belt) around their waists, and remove their shoes. For the first round, two teenage boys (of similar weight) were selected to compete. Following the instruction of the referee, the boys wrapped their arms around the waist of their opponent and grabbed the belt firmly with both hands. The contest itself saw the two boys spending a lot of time locked together and stationary, waiting for the other to make a false move or lose balance, with the occasional flail and twirl where they nearly tumbled into the trees or the nearby audience. After several minutes, one of the boys emerged the winner - lifting his opponent high into the air before dumping him on the ground.

After this, there were several more contests between men of increasing size and skill, with an elimination-style progression. After half a dozen contests, the ultimate champion was decided, and he was congratulated by each man in the audience. Unfortunately with such short notice, prizes could not be arranged for the winner on this occasion.

But just when we thought that all was over, another contender presented himself. An older man (in early 60's) who was one of the most respected in the village, came forth to challenge the ultimate champion (this man was our host, and one of the most respected men in the whole village). The challenge was accepted and the men began their match. From the start, it was clear that the younger man should win the match, but he kept giving the older man opportunities. After a few minutes of grappling, where the older man was trying with all his might to throw his opponent, the younger man gave in and fell to the ground, making the older man the winner. To a naive onlooker (and to the older man himself) it appeared that the older man had won fair and square.

For the rest of that night after the competition was over, our host kept gleefully telling us and everyone he met, how age and experience had overcome youth and strength, a testament to the huge respect placed on the elders of the village in Uzbek culture.