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Where Does Wrestling Come From?

Last Updated: 16.05.22


While reading detailed reviews of wrestling shoes from Adidas, you might wonder where this interesting sport came from. Well, research has shown that wrestling dates back as far as ancient history. Wrestling is a combat sport and it has been depicted in Egyptian and Babylonian drawings. It has been referenced in the Iliad.

Since it was very popular in ancient Greece, wrestling held an important place in the Olympic Games. Wrestling was first developed by the Greeks as a training method meant to prepare soldiers for hand-to-hand combat. When the Greeks were defeated by the Romans, they too borrowed the combat techniques Greek people had previously developed.

Greeks feared this combat training system and history behind it would disappear soon after the Romans took over, especially since the Romans eliminated most of the brutality associated with wrestling. This is how Greco-Roman wrestling was born. During the middle ages, wrestling was very popular, including in France, Japan and the Royal House of England.

Amateur wrestling was very popular in the early years of America’s development. One could see it performed at every significant event, such as carnivals, county fairs, military exercises, and holiday celebrations. Out of the many wrestling styles practiced back then, only catch wrestling survived and it developed into today’s collegiate level.


How did the Greeks develop wrestling?

For the Greeks, wrestling represented the most important training for every young man since it was considered both science and an art form. Research has shown that young Greek men used to wrestle naked and having their bodies covered in olive oil and a thin layer of sand. The sand was meant to protect their skin from sunburn during the hot summer days.

As inscriptions and drawings from that period show, wrestling back then resembled freestyle wrestling a lot. The rule was that the first competitor to bring his opponent down was declared the winner. It made no difference whether the opponent was thrown on his back, chest, elbows or any other body part. The first competitor to go down lost the competition.

In 708 B.C., during the Ancient Olympic Games, wrestling was declared the Pentathlon decisive discipline. The best wrestler of those times in Greece was Milon of Croton. He was a student of the philosopher Pythagoras and he won the Olympic championship six times. He also won numerous other wrestling competitions across the country.

After the Roman Empire conquered Greece, the Romans started using this training system as well, but they never loved it as much as the Greeks did, and so wrestling lost popularity fast. After the fall of the Roman Empire, any evidence of wrestling being used or further developed, disappeared in Europe, until around 800 C.E.

Wrestling history in other countries

Wrestling was also popular across Asia, mostly as a form of martial arts. Shuai Jiao is a wrestling style that originated in China some 4,000 years ago and it is still practiced by a number of people today. While mastering traditional martial arts, some Asian combat styles have combined the two techniques, developing modern combat styles.

In Europe, wrestling was also very popular. Some wrestling styles that were developed by the Irish and Scottish people are still being used as combat methods today. Even royal people enjoyed wrestling performances. Back in 1520, King Francis I of France beat King Henry VIII of England in a wrestling match, according to historical evidence.

Africa was one of the areas that were the least influenced by wrestling, throughout history. This is because of their unique culture and because there are many areas where tribes have very little or no contact at all with the outside world. The African culture and very well established habits left very little room for wrestling to develop in this part of the world.

Some Persian rulers decided to hire Turkic mercenaries and they brought with them their own wrestling style. Soon enough Turks had taken over the entire muslim region thus their wrestling style spread. Mongolian invasions in the 13th century made it possible for the Mongolian wrestling style to receive royal patronage. Wrestling became the national sport of modern Iran.


Professional wrestling

Professional wrestling has its origins in France. It began in the 1830s, as wrestlers that had no access to the wrestling elite began forming wrestling troops. These new wrestling troops started traveling across France showing off their talent in performances that they were setting out themselves. In 1848, the rule of no hits below the waist was introduced, by a French showman.

The French wrestling influence spread all the way to Russia, to Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the wrestling style circulated under the name of classical wrestling or French wrestling. In 1898, Paul Pons, a French man, was the first wrestling world champion. He was also known as “le Colosse”.

By the end of the 19th century, Europe was enjoying this very much in vogue sport to the fullest. However, from the beginning of the 1900s, wrestling started to lose some of its audience because of pre-arranged matches, false victories and forgery. Many years later, wrestling came back, being considered a training model by young men.

Professional wrestling will always remain in history as an important part of the development of wrestling styles around the world. Professional wrestlers were the people setting the ground foundation of everything that this sport represents today. And, given the major impact this sport has had throughout history, it would be best to honor it accordingly.  

Modern-day wrestling

There are two main wrestling styles nowadays, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. The first one’s name suggests this style has kept elements from wrestling techniques used by ancient inhabitants of the Mediterranean region. Greco-Roman wrestling is practiced worldwide and it first became a part of the Olympic Games in 1896.

In Greco-Roman wrestling, competitors should only hold their opponent above the waist and the wrapping of the legs around the opponent when the wrestlers go down is forbidden. Originally, this style was professional and quite popular at the international shows held in Paris. After it was included in the revived Olympic Games, in 1896, wrestling events were held there.

Freestyle wrestling is also practiced worldwide, being more of a grappling wrestling style. This style is linked to the wrestling styles the Irish practiced in the beginning, and it involves using any technique to throw down and pinpoint your opponent in order to win. This wrestling style brings together elements from the sambo and the judo wrestling styles.

It was first introduced in 1904 during the St. Louis Games and all the wrestling competitors were Americans. It was only after 1914 that freestyle wrestling became a part of the Olympic Games and started being practiced by competitors from many more countries.

Northern Europe countries maintained the monopole over the Greco-Roman style for a long time, whereas the English and the American competitors dominated the freestyle wrestling competitions. Nowadays, wrestling is a popular part of the Olympic Games, multiple champions being role models to thousands of young men.

Close to 100 years after the freestyle wrestling was first introduced in the Olympic Games program, worldwide wrestling entered a new era once female wrestling was acknowledged as an Olympic discipline. This event took place during the 2004 Olympic Games that were held in Athens. This decision is part of a sustained effort of establishing equality in sports.





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