Oil wrestling

Oil wrestling (Turkish: Yağlı güreş), also called grease wrestling, is a traditional Turkish sport. This is called oil wrestling because they wrestle with oil on their bodies. Competitions are held in "Proving Grounds." Since oiling the wrestlers' bodies make it harder to grab each other, this sport requires great strength and mastery.[1]

Kırkpınar oil wrestling festival
Yagli gures3.JPG
Oil wrestling tournament in Istanbul
Inscription history
Inscription2010 (5th session)

It is known that oil wrestling spread out from Thrace and the Balkans. However, it is said that oil wrestling was performed by ancient communities, 4,500 years ago. As Ottoman Empire crossed from Asia to Europe, oil wrestling competitions that reached our day began to be held.[2]

Unlike Olympic wrestling, oil wrestling matches may be won by achieving an effective hold of the kisbet. Thus, the pehlivan aims to control his opponent by putting his arm through the latter's kisbet. To win by this move is called paça kazık. Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for one or two days until one man was able to establish his superiority, but in 1975 the duration was capped at 40 minutes for the baspehlivan and 30 minutes for the pehlivan category. If there is no winner, play continues for another 15 minutes—10 minutes for the pehlivan category, wherein scores are kept to determine the victor.[3]

The annual Kırkpınar tournament, held in Edirne in Turkish Thrace since 1346, is the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world.[4] Oil wrestling festivals also take place in the Turkish-inhabited regions of Bulgaria[5] (Ludogorie and Rhodopes), as well as northern Greece in Eastern Macedonia (Serres region) and West Thrace (Rhodope Mountains).[6][7][8][9] In recent years, this style of wrestling has also become popular in other countries, particularly the Netherlands and Japan.


Cognate forms of folk wrestling practiced by Turkic-speakers are found throughout Western Eurasia (i.e. Europe and Central Asia) under the names Köraş, Khuresh, Kurash, etc.

A game of oil wrestling in the gardens of the Topkapi Palace

Oil wrestling can be traced back to the ancient Sumer and Babylon.[10] Greco-Roman traditions also point to the practice of oil wrestling.[11]

The Turkish word for wrestling can be traced back to the old Oghuz Turkic languages, which originate from the Eurasian steppes, where wrestling has also been practiced. After the conquest of Anatolia by Seljuk Turks, a form of traditional freestyle wrestling called Karakucak Güreşi (literally "Ground hug") was popularized, where special leather clothing was sanctioned and wrestlers commenced the activity by pouring olive oil on their bodies in order to make it harder for the wrestler to grip one's opponent. This form continued to what is today known as Yağlı Güreş or Turkish oil wrestling. In the Ottoman Empire, wrestlers learned the art in special schools called tekke (تکیه), which were not merely athletic centres, but also spiritual centres.

Oil wrestling in Alantepe

Wrestlers oil one another prior to matches as a demonstration of balance and mutual respect. If a man defeats an older opponent, he kisses the latter's hand (a sign of respect for elders in Turkey).

Matches are held all over Turkey throughout the year, but in early summer, around 1000 competitors gather in Kırkpınar for an annual three-day wrestling tournament to determine who will be the winner or baspehlivan ("chief wrestler") of Turkey. Ottoman chroniclers and writers[who?] attest that the Kırkpınar Games have been held every year since 1362, making them the world's oldest continually sanctioned sporting competition.[dubious ] The games have been cancelled only about 70 times. The original site was some 35 kilometres (22 mi) distant. In 1924, they were moved to the present location after the Balkan War.

There are some organized oil wrestling competitions outside Turkey, particularly by the Royal Dutch Power Sport Federation (KNKF Koninklijke Nederlandse Krachtsport en Fitnessfederatie) in the Netherlands.

Notable pehlivansEdit

Notable aghasEdit

  • Süleyman Şahin (1967–68)
  • Gazanfer Bilge (1969–70)
  • Alper Yazoğlu (1991–93)  •
  • Hüseyin Şahin (1995–98)  •
  • Seyfettin Selim (2009–13)  •

 • These aghas were awarded a golden belt.[12]


The most important of rituals is peşrev, a kind of theatrical introduction to wrestling, prayer and warm up at the same time. Rituals like peşrev also exist in the other kinds of Turkish traditional wrestling (karakucak, aba güreş), but they are much simpler and don’t have a developed symbolism. In the beginning of peşrev wrestlers line up in rows with the main pehlivan (başpehlivan, the winner of the previous competitions) at the right. Wrestlers are looking to the side of Kıbla; they took with the right hand a right hand of competitor, by left hand his left hand, and listen to cazgır prayer. Holding hands of each other means: “You are more than a brother for me; you are my comrade in a holy war, in struggle on the way of martyrdom (şehadet). We are like heroes Ali and Selim, who became founders of Kırkpınar, we are their representatives now”.[13]


Garment of wrestler consists of one thing: leather pants below the knee long called kıspet. Kıspet is an Arabic word meaning the garment from the belt to the place below the knee, i.e. covering shameful places of the men. The word came to the Ottoman language through Persian. Nowadays kıspets most often are sewn from calfskin. Up to the 1960th they were sewn from buffalo skin and their weight was minimum 12–13 kg. The modern kıspet weights about 1,8 kg, the oiled one 2,5 kg.

The rulesEdit

According to the rules of oil wrestling the loser is considered: the wrestler, whose back comes to the ground as a result of the opponent's actions (“showing belly to the stars”); sitting with support on two hands behind; touching the ground by two elbows or elbow and hand. The winner is considered the wrestler who raised the opponent and carried him three steps or turned him around the axis. The wrestler with kıspet down, showing shameful parts also loses (such cases are extremely rare).[14]

Before 1975 the time of wrestling was not limited, that was extremely inconvenient from competitions organization point of view. Any wrestling could drag out for hours. Nowadays wrestling in young categories is limited by 30 minutes, and 40 minutes for masters. The winner of a final tournament receives a title of “main pehlivan” (başpehlivan) and monetary award. Pehlivan, winning three years successively, is awarded by Golden belt. For the second and third places also awards are given, besides, to all participating pehlivans “trip money” are to be paid.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Oil Wrestling".
  2. ^ "Yağli Güreş Faali̇yet Takvi̇mi̇ | TGF".
  3. ^ "Edirne Kırkpınar".
  4. ^ "Oil Wrestling".
  5. ^ Doychinov, Nikolay. "Bulgarian oil wrestlers, known as pehlivans..." Vancouver Sun.
  6. ^ 28-Ιουλ-2005 Άρθρο στην Εφημερίδα ο Χρόνος Archived 2011-11-05 at the Wayback Machine: Στα «Χίλια» Δερίου το πρώτο επίσημο πρωτάθλημα πάλης με λάδι.
  7. ^ 7-Αυγ-2007 Άρθρο στην εφημερίδα Ο Χρόνος Archived 2011-11-05 at the Wayback Machine: Υποτονική η προσέλευση του κόσμου στα 'Χίλια' - Πανηγύρι πάλης και ελεύθερης διακίνησης ιδεών".
  8. ^ "Λαϊκός Πολιτισμός Νομού Σερρών". Ιστοσελίδα Νομαρχιακής Αυτοδιοίκησης Σερρών. Archived from the original on 2011-08-26. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
  9. ^ "09.09.2011: Πάλη με λάδι στο οροπέδιο του Αλάν Τεπέ". Archived from the original on 2016-09-20. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
  10. ^ Kirkpinar - All about Turkish Oilwrestling, Page 75
  11. ^ Kirkpinar - All about Turkish Oilwrestling, Page 88
  12. ^ (in Turkish).
  13. ^ http://ethnosport.org/files/q48vvc-ijetg-2-2019-2-bakhrevskiy-eng.pdf
  14. ^ http://ethnosport.org/files/q48vvc-ijetg-2-2019-2-bakhrevskiy-eng.pdf

External linksEdit