ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Sports and Recreation»
  • Individual Sports

History of Wrestling

Updated on October 8, 2010

Wrestling is one of the oldest and most universal of sports, in which two unarmed contestants engage in hand-to-hand combat to throw each other. It has been popular among both civilized and uncivilized peoples throughout the world. Hundreds of holds are depicted in the murals at Beni Hasan, Egypt, dating from before 2000 B.C., and a bronze figurine of two wrestlers cast about the same period was found at Khafajah near Baghdad. The Greeks regarded wrestling as an art and a science, with strict rules which they set forth in textbooks. About 708 B.C., wrestling was introduced into the Olympic Games as part of the pentathlon, the wrestler trying to throw his opponent while remaining on his own feet. The pancratium (pankration), introduced in 648 B.C., was a rough and tumble fight, with only biting and gouging forbidden, lasting until one contestant acknowledged defeat. During the Middle Ages, wrestling was considered an essential knightly skill. The sport reached a pinnacle at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, when King Henry VIII of England challenged Francis I of France to a bout and was thrown by him.

Several types of wrestling developed in England. In the Cumberland and Westmorland style the hands were clasped around the opponent's body, and a wrestler was defeated when any part of his body other than his feet touched the ground or if he was forced to break his hold. Under the Devonshire and Cornwall rules, contestants wore jackets on which holds were taken, the object being to throw an opponent to the ground so that he landed on both shoulders and a hip, or on both hips and a shoulder. The Lancashire style was the direct ancestor of the catch-as-catch-can or "all-in" style of wrestling which is most popular in the United States and the Commonwealth countries.

Modern Wrestling

Modern Olympic and world amateur championships are conducted in two separate styles-free style and Graeco-Roman, The weight classes in Olympic competition are 114.5, 125.5, 138.5, 154.0, 171.5, 191.5, 213.5 pounds, and heavyweight.

Free Style

A fall is scored whenever a wrestler's shoulders touch the mat simultaneously. If no fall is obtained, the winner is selected on the basis of a system in which various numbers of points are awarded for placing an opponent "in danger" or obtaining a "correct hold." Use of the head scissors, strangleholds, and various bonebreaking holds is forbidden.

Graeco-Roman Style

All holds below the hips are banned, and it is illegal to use the legs to lift, push, turn, or apply the scissors to an opponent. A fall is scored when a wrestler's shoulders are brought into contact with the mat simultaneously. If there is no fall, the match is decided on points. This style, which has nothing to do with the Greeks or Romans and is primarily a codification by the French, is very popular in Europe. Successful Graeco-Roman wrestlers are usually men of great strength above the waist.

Wrestling in the United States

The Amateur Athletic Union, which conducts annual national championships in the United States in both the styles described, operates under rules identical with those of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, but intercollegiate and interscholastic rules incorporate certain differences. A wrestler's shoulders must be in contact with the mat for two counts (one second) to constitute a fall. Points are awarded for takedowns (taking an opponent to the mat and gaining control of him), escapes, reversals (coming from underneath and gaining control of an opponent), near-falls (control of an opponent in a pinning situation), predicaments (controlling an opponent with a fall or near-fall imminent), and time advantage (controlling an opponent). The head scissors, stranglehold, full nelson, toehold, and any other potentially dangerous holds are illegal.

For many years professional wrestling was popular in the United States, reaching its peak in the 1920's and 1930's. Notable wrestlers in the 20th century included George Hacken-schmidt, Frank Gotch, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, Earl Caddock, Jim Londos, Joe Stecher, Stanislaus Zybysko, and John Pesek. Professional wrestling in the United States has now largely degenerated into a prearranged display of rough and tumble acting.


Japanese Styles

Two distinctive styles of wrestling developed in Japan- sumo and judo.


These contests are held in a ring slightly over 15 feet in diameter. A wrestler is defeated when any part of his body except his feet touches the ground, or when he is forced out of the ring. Weight is extremely advantageous, and the professionals are usually huge men, occasionally over 6 feet tall and weighing more than 300 pounds. Traditionally, the first sumo match was held on July 7, 22 B.C. Originally, the object was to kill the opponent or force his surrender, but the more dangerous holds were eliminated in the 8th century A.D. In 858 the two sons of the emperor wrestled for the Japanese throne.


During the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the elements of jujitsu (jiujitsu; Jap. fufutsu) were imported to Japan from China. Forbidden to defile their swords on commoners, the samurai (feudal warriors) developed it as a means of defense against their inferiors or when they were unarmed. So deadly did this art become that a contestant never could be sure of returning home alive, and jujitsu fell into disrepute. In 1882 Jigoro Kano founded the Kodo-kan School at Mito, introducing the study of judo, which refined or eliminated the objectionable features of jujitsu, with the idea of making it a popular sport. He defined judo as the art "of first giving way in order to gain victory." Great stress is placed on the emotional, intellectual, and moral development attributed to the sport.

Since World War II, judo has had a phenomenal growth. United States championships are governed by the Amateur Athletic Union; world championships are sponsored by the International Judo Federation. Contestants wear the costumes (judogi) of the early Japanese: jacket, short trousers, and belt. The wrestlers (judoka) are classified according to skill and weight. Bouts are won by scoring one point (ippon) by throwing an opponent so that he strikes the mat (tatami) on his back or by holding him on the mat under complete control for 30 seconds. Half points (wazari) may be awarded if the throw is not in good form or if control is maintained for a lesser period, and a bout may be won by scoring two half points. The scissors, full nelson, toehold, hammerlock, tackling, and certain other grips are illegal. The techniques of judo are said to be quite similar to those of the Devonshire and Cornwall style of wrestling.

Soldiers, police officers, and others are frequently taught techniques of hand-to-hand combat called "combat judo," "police judo," "super judo," and the like. These methods, drawn principally from the techniques of "dirty fighting," have little relation to the sport of judo and should not be confused with it


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • seebasic profile image

      seebasic 7 years ago from Germany

      Very interesting hub. Never understood this kind of sport. But now I know more. Thank you.