Donate Armed Forces of Ukraine
vocabulary Bruce Lee: "Among other things, don't try to cheat yourself in any exercise: work only with the weight you will handle without undue strain."
A Brief History of Belt Wrestling in Kievan Rus and Ukraine

A Brief History of Belt Wrestling in Kievan Rus and Ukraine


Ancient Custom among Slavic Peoples

   Testing one's strength - an ancient cultural phenomenon, which nowadays is an entire industry, involving billions of dollars, and moreover, there are no people who would not be interested in various types of competitions. However, for the Slavs, since ancient times - both a method to earn respect in an honest fight and amusement for the crowd at fairs - there was belt wrestling (having in its historical time more exotic names, but more on that below), and in old times, it sometimes even served as a method to prove one's righteousness in legal disputes.

  Among the many types of martial arts that existed among the Slavs, belt wrestling stood out (also called "in the belts", "on the sashes", "on the straps", "on the loops" - depending on the location). Scientists cite a number of reasons for the popularity of belt wrestling.

Reasons for the Popularity of Belt Wrestling

fragment of the southern facade of the Cathedral of St. Dmitry of Thessaloniki in the city of Vladimir (1193-1197) - image of belt wrestlers

  One of the main reasons for its popularity, is the naturalness, instinctiveness of the grip (embrace) of the opponent's body from the front with both hands - quite simple, comfortable, strong and effective for taking the opponent off balance. As well as performing a wide range of various throws. A significant role was also played by the widespread availability of the commonly accepted attribute of Slavic clothing, necessary for this type of wrestling - the belt.

  Most scholars tend to believe that belt wrestling was borrowed by the Slavs from Turkic peoples. For example, speaking about the practical significance of belt wrestling in the Middle Ages for nomads, Hungarian historian L. Kun notes: "During belt wrestling competitions, they learned how to firmly pull an escaping opponent off the saddle if necessary." However, there is no doubt that in Kievan Rus, belt wrestling has its own rich history of development.

First mention of wrestling

   The first mention of wrestling in Kievan Rus dates back to 993 AD (Yan Usmar (Usmoshvetz, Usmovich), also known as Kirill Kozhemjaka,  the legendary Kievan chronicler-hero), and the first well-known depiction, a white stone carving, - 1197 AD (the year of the completion of the construction of the Dmitrovsky Cathedral in the capital of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, the city of Vladimir, on the banks of the Klyazma River).

Wrestling. Oil painting by I.S.Shchedrovsky

Wrestling. Oil painting by I.S.Shchedrovsky
(State Russian Museum, 1837.).

   Belt wrestling is also mentioned in the memoirs of the Orlov landowner N.I. Tolubeyev (late 18th century). In the same century, British artist John Augustin Atkinson, who visited Russia, and in the 19th - his Russian colleague I.S. Shchedrovsky, captured on canvas peasants wrestling according to the same rules as the wrestlers from the bas-relief of the Dmitrovsky Cathedral.

Literary mention

   Here is how Aleksey Maksimovich Gorky describes belt wrestling in the famous novel "The Artamonov Affair":

  "Having grabbed each other by the belts, they pushed against each other for a long time. Ilya looked over Vyalyov's shoulder at the women, shamelessly winking at them. He was taller than the digger but thinner and somewhat more flexible. Vyalyov, pressing his shoulder against Ilya's chest, tried to lift his opponent and throw him over himself. Ilya, understanding this, cried out:
   - You're not cunning, brother, not cunning!
And suddenly, with a grunt, he threw Tikhon over his head with such force that the latter, hitting the ground, knocked his legs out from under himself. Sitting on the grass, wiping sweat from his face, the digger confusedly declared:
   - Strong."

February 21, 1913. Bashkirs. Belt wrestling
February 21, 1913. Bashkirs. Belt wrestling.

   Belt wrestling was widespread in Ukraine, especially in the eastern and southern parts of the country. In the southern part of the country, belt wrestling spread thanks to the proximity of Tatars and Turks, and in the eastern part - due to the Ukrainian Zaporozhian Cossacks. For both, belt wrestling was one of the applied disciplines of military arts. Among the people, belt wrestling was a popular entertainment, which justified its popularity.

Special thanks, for assistance in preparing the article,
are expressed to the Honored Coach of Ukraine Lakhno D.N.
President of the All-Ukrainian Federation of Belt Wrestling Sports
Based on materials from:

vocabulary Bruce Lee: "Among other things, don't try to cheat yourself in any exercise: work only with the weight you will handle without undue strain."

Read also