Collar-and-elbow wrestling (Irish: Coiléar agus Uille) is a style of jacket wrestling native to Ireland. Historically it has also been practiced in regions of the world with large Irish diaspora populations, such as the United States and Australia.
|Also known as||Coiléar agus Uille, Scuffling, Irish-Style Scuffling, Tripping, Square-Hold Wrestling|
|Country of origin||Ireland|
|Famous practitioners||John McMahon, Henry Moses Dufur, James H. McLaughlin, Homer Lane|
Origins in IrelandEdit
Wrestling as a competitive sport has been recorded in Ireland as far back as the second millennium BC, when it featured as one of the many athletic contests held during the annual Tailteann Games. The mythical hero Cúchulainn boasted of his prowess in both hurling and wrestling, and was on one occasion enraged by an undead spectre mockingly suggesting that his skill in the latter area had been highly exaggerated. Carved depictions of two figures in a recognisable wrestling clinch appear on the Market High Cross of Kells and the ruins of a church at Kilteel (both 9th century AD), and wrestling matches were common features of country fairs until at least the 18th century.
These wrestling contests were occasionally violent affairs. Participants could be and were frequently injured, sometimes fatally so, as in the case of a contest between one Thomas Costello (known locally as "Tumaus Loidher" - Thomas the Strong) and an unnamed champion in which Costello ostensibly squeezed on his opponent's harness so powerfully that it broke the man's spine. There appear to have been little or no attempts to moderate these violent aspects of wrestling from a legal point of view; as historian Edward MacLysaght noted in his account of the match, as the participant in a sporting contest Costello had little to fear in terms of official retribution.
These accounts of early Irish wrestling matches all describe participants taking a diverse range of grips on their opponents - from clutching at any available limb in the time of Cúchulainn, to a backhold-style clinch on the carvings at Kells and Kilteel, to both hands holding a belt in the match between Thomas Costello and his ill-fated opponent. However, by the 18th century a new form of grip had established itself as the favoured starting hold: right hand grabbing the opponent's collar, left hand grabbing the sleeve of their jacket at the elbow. This starting position, and all its associated techniques and strategies, was to quickly emerge as the dominant framework under which Irish wrestling matches were contested.
Collar and Elbow in IrelandEdit
In the 19th century, Collar and Elbow wrestling was one of the most widely practiced sporting activities in the country - "the chief physical sport of the male population from childhood to mature manhood". Bouts took place between local champions and challengers on a parish level, and those between the most well-known and skilled wrestlers could draw thousands of spectators from across neighbouring counties.
Victory was determined by a "fall", the definition of which differed from county to county. In Kildare a wrestler was deemed to have won if he made his opponent touch the ground with any single part of his body above the knees, whereas in Dublin he was required to make three points of his opponent's body touch the ground (usually both shoulders and a hip, or both hips and a shoulder). This is a notable difference from one of the prominent rulesets under which Collar and Elbow bouts were subsequently contested in the United States, in which a wrestler was specifically required to pin his opponent for several seconds in order to win. A further significant difference between Collar and Elbow as it was practiced in Ireland and the United States is that, in its Irish incarnation, shin-kicking was routinely permitted. This, coupled with the fact that many participants wore heavy work boots, resulted in a level of injury among Irish wrestlers not usually seen among their US counterparts. Shins were frequently "gored and/or bruised" after a match, and on rare occasions outright broken.
Admirers of the style nonetheless lauded its "eminently scientific and picturesque" virtues. In particular, they claimed that, since the opening stance prevented the "bull-like charges, flying tackles, or other onrushes" common in other wrestling styles, Collar and Elbow encouraged participants to develop "deftness, balance, and leverage allied with strength, [which permitted] a man to win by means of skill instead of sheer might and weight".
Collar and Elbow in the United StatesEdit
As levels of Irish emigration to the United States steadily increased throughout the 17th–19th centuries, so too did the presence of the Irish cultural traditions they brought with them - including their wrestling style. New England in general, and Vermont in particular, emerged as an early stronghold of Collar and Elbow after it had been introduced by immigrants largely from County Kildare. During the US Civil War, Vermont regiments introduced the style to other units in the Army of the Potomac, and in that way it acquired immense popularity among men from other regions of the United States who might otherwise never have encountered it. By the time the Civil War ended, Collar and Elbow had emerged as one of the most common rulesets under which wrestling bouts were contested nationwide.
Bouts drew large and enthusiastic crowds across the country, and purses of several hundred dollars were routinely offered for championship contests. Vermont continued to remain a significant force in the Collar and Elbow world throughout, with two of the style's most notable 19th-century practitioners, Henry Moses Dufur and John McMahon, hailing from Franklin County. Practitioners of Collar and Elbow in general were colloquially referred to as "scufflers" (occasionally "trippers" in reference to the leg-centric strategies they employed), and a Collar and Elbow bout itself as "scuffling" or a "scuffling bee".
Initially, Collar and Elbow bouts in both Ireland and the United States were governed by unwritten, often improvised codes of conduct rather than any kind of codified rules. An early attempt to standardise the competitive rules of the style was made in advance of a tournament that was scheduled to be held in St. Albans, Vermont in 1856. The tournament was ultimately cancelled due to "an epidemic of disease" in the region, however, and no record of the proposed ruleset exists. It was almost two decades later before the first widely accepted set of rules was published. These were compiled by legendary Collar and Elbow champion Henry Moses Dufur, and as such came to be colloquially known as the Dufur Rules. Among other things, they stated that wrestlers had to compete while wearing a suitably sturdy jacket, and banned the wearing of heavy footwear. They also specified the exact requirements for victory - pinning an opponent four points down (both shoulders and both hips) for a count of five seconds.
The Dufur rules were closely followed by the Ed James rules, published as part of a general manual of sporting rules and regulations in 1873. These were largely the same as the Dufur rules, with the notable exception of relaxing the requirements for victory. Instead of having to pin an opponent with four points to the ground (both shoulders and both hips), wrestlers could win by pinning three points (both shoulders and a hip, or both hips and a shoulder) or by throwing their opponent square on his back - similar to the concept of ippon in judo. The Ed James rules were to act as the agreed-upon standard for the majority of Collar and Elbow bouts held in the United States in the late 19th century:
- The men shall wear knit shirt and short coat or jacket, not extending below the hips, with strong collar and elbow for grasp of the opponent, and thin rubber sandals on the feet.
- Each man shall take hold of the collar of his opponent with his right hand, while with his left he must take hold of the elbow.
- Both men shall stand up breast to breast, with limber arms, and show fair play.
Even in so-called "mixed wrestling" bouts where men would compete against each other in consecutive rounds under different rulesets (e.g. Catch-as-Catch-Can, Greco-Roman, and Collar and Elbow), they would specifically be required to don jackets for the Collar and Elbow rounds.
Jackets and HarnessEdit
Although there are accounts of bouts being held in which the combatants were shirtless - particularly in rural areas during the summer months - in its standardised competitive form Collar and Elbow required both participants to wear jackets or heavy shirts that could be gripped and used to set up throwing techniques. A similar requirement exists in other Celtic styles like Cornish wrestling and Breton Gouren. At wrestling events in Dublin, a common method of issuing a challenge was to place a jacket in the centre of the ring and wait for a contender to step in and put it on. In Ireland - and in the early days in the United States - there were no standardised requirements for the durability or the length of the jacket. This occasionally led to disputes between prospective opponents when one party believed that the other's attire provided him with an unfair advantage, such as the one that occurred between Patrick Cullen and Paddy Dunne in which Dunne alleged that Cullen's long cavalry officer's coat would prevent him from seeing and defending against his leg techniques. Contests were occasionally even called off mid-bout when a jacket ripped or was otherwise unable to bear the rigours of a prolonged wrestling match. The Dufur rules of the 19th century were the first to specifically state that any jacket used for a Collar and Elbow bout had to be "tight-fitting, with strongly sewn seams". This prescription was mirrored in the Ed James rules, which also elaborated that the jacket should not reach below the wrestler's hips so that their leg attacks would be freely visible.
Subsequently, a dedicated leather harness was developed to act as a potential substitute for the jacket. The invention of the harness is attributed to Homer Lane, a three-time national Collar and Elbow champion of the United States. It saw somewhat frequent use in both the US and Canada, but in general the majority of Collar and Elbow bouts continued to be held using the requisite durable jackets.
Since both combatants' hands were fixed in place on each other's jackets, Collar and Elbow came to be distinguished by its volume and variety of leg techniques. Scufflers would circle each other throwing rapid-fire combinations of trips, taps, kicks, and sweeps in an attempt to off-balance their opponent and send him crashing to the ground - an extended exchange of attack and defense that one historian described as "footsparring". Observers of Collar and Elbow bouts frequently remarked upon this aspect of the style, with one journalist proposing that a Collar and Elbow match between two skilled participants was really "a fist fight with the feet".
Although wrestlers' grips were fixed in place, they were nonetheless free to push, pull, and twist their opponent using their arms, and ultimately any form of takedown was permitted as long as the person executing it maintained his collar-and-elbow grips while doing so. One of the more dramatic takedowns was the flying mare - described as an explosive, high-impact throw that would send the victim's feet flying up over his head. In catch wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling this is usually depicted as something akin to ippon seoi nage, but since the gripping requirements in Collar and Elbow would have rendered it impossible to grab an opponent's arm with both hands, it is more probable that, in its Collar and Elbow incarnation, the flying mare would have more closely resembled morote seoi nage instead.
By the early 20th century, Collar and Elbow had all but disappeared from Ireland. Writing in the Leinster Leader newspaper in 1907, local historian John Ennis directly attributed this to two significant factors - the Great Famine that resulted in the deaths of over 1 million people and the "unnatural exodus" of 1 million more seeking a better way of life, and the colonial-era Coercion Acts that limited any kind of gatherings in public space. The demographic and cultural devastation of the former coupled with the oppressive restrictions of the latter resulted in an environment in which Ireland's native wrestling style simply could not be practiced, ultimately leading to it fading from everyday life entirely.
An additional significant factor was the lack of any independent, centralised sporting organisation to promote the style. A book published in 1908 by An Chomhairle Náisiúnta (The National Council), referring to both wrestling and handball, noted that "although both these pastimes have been on the Gaelic programme since its first appearance, neither has ever received any official encouragement. Yet both are games in which Gaels have excelled[…] That such a wide area and so popular and meritorious a branch of athletics should have received only nominal recognition is only another instance of how partial and halting has been the management of Gaelic athletic affairs." Individual efforts were made to promote Collar and Elbow bouts in Dublin in 1906, but these were "spontaneous and isolated", and the sport was entirely omitted from the largest government-organised athletics event of the period - the short-lived modern revival of the Tailteann Games held after the Irish Civil War. No records exist of any Collar and Elbow bouts being held in Ireland after the early 20th century.
In the United States, the growing popularity of other grappling styles like catch wrestling and Greco-Roman resulted in Collar and Elbow being practiced less and less. The final contest for the Collar and Elbow championship of America - held between James H. McLoughlin and John McMahon - took place in 1878, with McMahon winning with two falls out of three. By 1890, Collar and Elbow was already being referred to as an "old time" sport, and by the early 20th century newspaper accounts of wrestling matches were referring to "the ancient days when collar-and-elbow was the rule".
Legacy in Collegiate WrestlingEdit
In his 1959 book Magnificent Scufflers, author Charles Morrow Wilson proposed that, even after Collar and Elbow had vanished as a standalone style, it continued to exert an influence on the strategies and techniques used in American collegiate wrestling. He specifically highlighted the "foot and leg plays, beginning with foot trips, the heel blocks, and the forward leg trips and working upwards to hip rolls" as "obvious but not deliberate borrowings from Collar and Elbow", and attributed them to the technical innovations introduced by Oklahoma coach Edward C. Gallagher. Neither of Gallagher's self-penned technique manuals, Amateur Wrestling (1925) and Wrestling (1939), mention Collar and Elbow in any way (apart from a lone reference where the term "collar and elbow" is used to describe a single collar tie), but it does mention "folk style", a common nickname for collar-and-elbow in the US at the time, as well as "Side-Hold", which collar-and-elbow was often misnamed as in that time period.
In August 2019, a series of Collar and Elbow bouts were held in Heidelberg, Germany. The ruleset for these bouts was based on the Dufur Rules and the Ed James rules, with several modifications made to ensure compatibility with a modern tournament format. Most notably, individual bouts were limited to a maximum of 5 minutes' duration, in contrast to historical Collar and Elbow bouts which were entirely open-ended and routinely lasted several hours. They also only had a two-shoulder pin requirement, whereas one of the more defining characteristics of Irish Collar and Elbow was having a 3 or 4 point pin requirement.
Subsequently, matches based on the same modern ruleset have been held in the United States.
- Ennis, John (16 March 1907). "Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal: Collar and Elbow Wrestling". www.kildare.ie. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
- Nally, T.H. (1922). The Aonach Tailteann and the Tailteann Games: Their Origin, History, and Ancient Associations. Dublin: Talbot Press.
- Sayers, William. "The Motif of Wrestling in Early Irish and Mongolian Epic". Mongolian Studies, vol. 13, 1990, pp. 153–168
- Allen, J. Romilly. Early Christian Symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland before the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, 2016, p. 235
- Moffet, William. Hesperi-Neso-Graphia: or, A description of the Western Isle in Eight Cantos. Carson and Smith, 1724, pp. 31–32
- Hyde, Douglas (1895). Abhráin Grádh Chúige Connacht or Love Songs of Connacht. Dublin: Gill & Son. p. 51.
Then the people came up and they loosed the hands of the champion from the belt where they were fastened, and on the spot the man fell back, and he cold dead; his back-bone had been broken with the first squeeze that Tumaus gave him.
- MacLysaght, Edward. Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century. Irish Academic Press, 1979. pp. 151-152. "The victor had, of course, no fear of immediate arrest to answer a charge of manslaughter, but found himself a popular hero."
- Hyde, Douglas (1895). Abhráin Grádh Chúige Connacht or Love Songs of Connacht. Dublin: Gill & Son. p. 49.
Now this was the way it was customary with them to make a wrestling at this time ; that was, to bind a girdle or belt of leather round about the body of the two men, and to give each man of them a hold on the other man's belt, and when they would be ready and the word would be given them they would begin wrestling.
- Gunning, Paul Ignatius. Hardy Fingallians, Kildare Trippers, and 'The Divil Ye'll Rise' Scufflers: Wrestling in Modern Ireland. A Social and Cultural History of Sport in Ireland, 2016, pp. 110–121.
- Charles Morrow Wilson (1959). "Magnificent Scufflers". Scribd.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 June 1878, p. 4. "The wrestling match for $500 and the championship of America, between Edward Cox of Fairfield, Vt., and Henry M. Dufur of Marlboro, the champion of New England, took place at Riverside Park."
- The Boston Globe, 12 June 1879, p. 4. "The long-anticipated struggle between James E. Owens of Vermont and H.M. Dufur of Marlboro at collar-and-elbow wrestling. Ed James' rules to govern, best two in three, fair falls, for $500 and the championship, drew an audience at the Howard Athenaeum, last evening, that packed the house."
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 23 November 1897, p. 5. "Two best falls out of three to decide the contest for the World's Championship and $1000, which is now in the hands of W.E. Stevens, proprietor of Hotel Stevens, Seattle."
- Beekman, Scott. Ringside: A History of Professional Wrestling in America. Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2006. p. 10
- James, Ed (1873). Manual of Sporting Rules: Comprising the Latest and Best Authenticated Revised Rules. New York: Ed James.
- The Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 March 1884, "Duncan Ross Again Defeats Colonel McLaughlin in a Mixed Wrestling Match in Cleveland", p. 2.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 1885, "Wrestling Championship" p. 5.
- "American Collar-and-Elbow title".
- The Times of Philadelphia, 28 November 1886. "How to Wrestle: Homer Lane Gives a Chapter from his Experience. The Styles of Wrestling - Collar and Elbow, Greco-Roman, and Catch-as-Catch-Can", p. 9
- The Northern Pacific Farmer (Wadena, Minnesota), 27 January 1881, p. 3. "The collar-and-elbow wrestle between two skilled contestants is really, so to speak, a fist fight with the feet. One would think in viewing the kicks of the mailed feet that shins would be broken like pipe-stems, but it is not often that one wrestler is permitted to get a square-toed kick upon the shins of the other, where there is science on both sides."
- Hitchcock, Edward. Wrestling; Catch-as-Catch-Can Style. New York: American Sports Publishing Company, 1854, p. 32
- Martell, William A. Greco-Roman Wrestling. Windsor: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1993, p. 60
- An Chomhairle Náisiúnta (1908). Leabhar na hÉireann (The Irish Yearbook). Dublin: James Duffy & Co.
- Swanton Courier (Swanton, Vermont), 1 August 1890, p. 3
- The Evening World (New York, New York), 20 June 1916, p. 14. "Steve O' Donnell is dead - not Australian Steve, the fighter, but Bowery Boy Steve, the wrestler. He was one of the best performers in the ancient days when collar-and-elbow was the rule, and although only a lightweight used to hold such men as Homer Lane, 170 pounds, and John McMahon, 180 pounds. That was in the 70s."
- Gallagher, E. C. (1925). Amateur Wrestling. Stillwater: Co-Operative Publishing Co.
- Magnificent Scuffling: The First Irish Collar and Elbow Matches in Over 100 Years – via YouTube.
- "Collar and Elbow Competition Ruleset" (PDF). August 2019.
- Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 June 1878, p4. "Finally, after an exciting struggle, Dufur succeeded in getting a fair fall on Cox, and was announced the winner amid loud cheering. The match lasted two hours and thirty-two minutes."
- The Sun (New York, New York), 19 April 1890, p. 4. "The Sweeney-Deso collar-and-elbow wrestling match was decided at the Globe Athletic Club, Sweeney winning two falls after three and one-half hours of scientific work."
- St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 27 March 1876, p. 1. "Time was called at 8:40pm when both wrestlers advanced to the center of the carpeted stage[...] At 10:25pm they resumed, and McLaughling went down[...] When they again grasped, the timer's watch pointed to 11:05pm[...] After a good deal of backing and filling, which continued up to one o'clock am, the disputants came to terms."
- Salvos Training Collar and Elbow 2019 Highlights – via YouTube.