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What Is Mongolian Wrestling?

Last Updated: 04.07.22


If you are searching for more information on this interesting topic, you may find the following article to be of great use to you. Mongolian wrestling represents a unique traditional sport in Mongolia, that has been around for centuries.

In traditional Mongolian society, wrestlers practicing this sport have an important cultural status, because they are perceived as a symbol representing ancient ideals of strength, outstanding sportsmanship, and nobility.

The rituals associated with Mongolian wrestling have not changed over the centuries, which comes to prove how strong the relationship between Mongolian tradition and Mongolian wrestling is. This unique sport is also the highlight of Naadam, which is a traditional outdoor festival that is held every summer in the capital of Mongolia. The event starts on the 11th of July and lasts for two days.

As opposed to Japanese Sumo, there is no wrestling ring in Mongolian wrestling. The matches take place outdoors, on a grassy field or on bare dirt areas. There is also no weight category for this sport, as the main goal of the wrestlers is to make their opponent touch the ground with either their back, their knee, or their elbow. To do so, Mongolian wrestlers use a wide variety of lifts, trips, and throws.

An interesting fact is that Mongolian wrestlers can only attain ranks during the Naadam festival by counting the rounds each individual wrestler won during the competition. There are two different Mongolian wrestling versions: Mongolian and Inner Mongolian. The first one is spread throughout the country of Mongolia, whereas the second one is mostly found in the northern part of China.


Historical and cultural background

Mongolian wrestling originated approximately seven thousand years ago, historians claim, and has been around ever since, in one form or another. In the past, some army leaders used this sport to keep their soldiers in excellent physical condition.

In some cases, Mongolian wrestling was even used to get rid of political rivals, arranging to have them killed during wrestling matches. The Manchu dynasty Imperial court held regular wrestling matches, records show.

Mongolian wrestling is considered to be one of “Three Manly Skills”, together with archery and horsemanship. These three sports are actually the ones that make most of the Naadam festival’s competitions. Although the main Naadam festival is held in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, there are other cities that hold such Naadam festivals, but at a much smaller scale.

The festival originates from military parades, competition archery, wrestling, horse riding and other such activities that used to mark the celebration of an important military achievement. These parades and competitions also followed other celebrations on various occasions. Nowadays, the Naadam festival commemorates the 1921 revolution. It was a result of this revolution that Mongolia proclaimed its independence, becoming a free country.

The name of the festival comes from the word “Naadakh” which means “to have fun”. The Naadam celebration begins with a ceremony that has strong spiritual roots and that has remained unchanged over many centuries. This ceremony includes horse riding, dancers, music, and athletes. Is it only after the introductory ceremony ends that actual competitions may begin.

Matches and ranks

Mongolian wrestling matches are held on the open field, whether it is a grassy field, a bare dirt area or the ground is covered in gravel. Another interesting fact about this sport is that only men can compete in Mongolian wrestling. And also, there is no weight category, therefore a smaller wrestler could come against a wrestler twice his size.

Usually, during the Naadam festival, a large number of wrestlers coming from different cities of Mongolia will enter the competition. There are up to 512 wrestlers entering the competition. The final eliminations are decided after a number of nine rounds. The wrestler having the most previous victories gets to choose who will be his opponents.

For a long time, the person deciding who the wrestling opponents were was the host of the Naadam celebration. However, the harsh disputes between hosts and visiting wrestlers, that resulted from their choice of opponents based on personal preferences, led to the creation of the modern wrestling code. It was instituted in 1980 and it states that opponents are to be selected by drawing lots. This was only valid for large, national Naadams, though.

The number of wrestlers in any given competition must be a power of two. Since rank can only be attained during the Naadam festival competitions, the number of rounds each individual wrestler wins determines the wrestler’s rank.

There are a number of four possible ranks. They are Falcon (fifth round), Elephant (seventh round), Lion (ninth round), and Titan (the winner of the Lion rank). In 2003, the Mongolian parliament added two more ranks to the ranking system. They are Hawk (sixth round) and Garuda (eighth round).   


General combat rules

When Mongolian wrestlers are ready to begin the match, they slap their thighs, as a sign of being ready. They have a wide range of techniques they use, based on the assessment each wrestler makes of his opponent. Since there is no weight category, each wrestler will be looking to spot the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, thus being able to choose the appropriate techniques to use.

There is no time limit in Mongolian wrestling. Each wrestler will fight one round, then moving on to the next opponent. The wrestler that lost the round will pass under the arm of the winning wrestler, as a symbolic sign of respect. In case a sacrifice throw is in order, the first wrestler to touch the ground loses the round.

Each wrestler has a coach, that will also act as his herald. The coach in Mongolian wrestling is called a zazul. The zazul will be there for the wrestler throughout the competition, guiding him, encouraging him and also praising him before the third, fifth and seventh rounds. Having this type of encouragement and guidance is of utmost importance to most Mongolian wrestlers.

The object of any Mongolian wrestling match is to get the opponent to touch the ground with either his knee, elbow or his back. In Inner Mongolian wrestling, however, any body part touching the ground means the round is lost. Also, grabbing the opponent’s legs is allowed in Mongolian wrestling, whereas in the case of Inner Mongolian wrestling it is completely forbidden.

Mongolian wrestling etiquette

Mongolian wrestling has a very strict etiquette code. For instance, when a wrestler’s clothes become entangled or loose, his opponent is expected to stop the match and help him rearrange his clothing. This may mean the opponent misses out on a very good opportunity of throwing the wrestler to the ground, but he is expected to do so.  

Also, when one of the two contestants throws the other one to the floor, he is expected to later help him get back on his feet. He ought to do so before celebrating his victory, dancing his way out of the field. A strong proof of sportsmanship is very important to Mongolian wrestling, as it teaches the right set of moral values to the younger generations.

Good manners also dictate that the two opposing wrestlers shake hands both before and after the match, regardless of who won and who lost that particular round. They are also supposed to salute each other and the audience before and after the match. Teaching good manners helps us all live in a friendlier environment.

Mongolian wrestlers have standard costumes, which include jodag, shuudag, and gutal. Jodag is a short-sleeved jacket, that is supposed to be tight, collarless and either blue or red in color. Shuudag indicates a pair of small, tight briefs that should also be red or blue in color. Gutal means boots, that can either be traditional style ones, or wrestlers may prefer more modern, western style boots.




1) Mongolian wrestling known as Bökh

2) A traditional sport

3) Mongol Bokh the traditional Mongolian wrestling

4) Bokh training for Mongolian wrestlers



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