July 6, 2006

Mongolia’s “manly” wrestlers ready for a fight

By Lindsay Beck

SUUJ, Mongolia (Reuters) - Grand Champion Bat-Erdene wipes
his brow and surveys the scene before him.

It's hot on the Mongolian steppe, but it would take more
than the beating sun to stop the pairs of wrestlers grunting
and sweating in head-to-head combat as they prepare to compete
at the Naadam Festival.

The annual pageant of horsemanship, wrestling and archery
-- considered Mongolia's three manly sports -- opens next week,
and the wrestlers at the training camp in the grasslands have
only a few more days to prepare.

For centuries, wrestlers have been the people you looked up
to and respected, says Bat-Erdene. When a boy is born in a
family, the hope is one day he will become a wrestler, not an
official or a rich man.

Bat-Erdene is a combination of both. As well as winning 12
years in a row at the national Naadam in the capital Ulan
Bator, he is a member of parliament.

The 42-year-old hails from the north of the vast country of
less than 3 million, the birthplace of Genghis Khan, who is
being honored with a year-long series of festivities to mark
the 800 years since he united several warring tribes to form
the state of Mongolia.

More than 1,000 wrestlers will compete at the Naadam
Festival this year, double the usual number, in honor of the

All of the heroes from a very ancient time, starting from
Genghis Khan, were wrestlers, says Narmandakh Terbish, the
coach at the training camp high in a valley filled with
traditional round ger tents and herds of cattle and yak.

On the grasslands training field, pairs of men fight, the
loser retreating to the sidelines until eventually there are
only two wrestlers left. The final couple are locked together,
demonstrating the patience that champions say is necessary to


They are all in traditional dress -- fur boots, bright blue
briefs, and a red embroidered top that covers the arms and back
but leaves the chest bare.

The costume shows off the beauty of the body, Bat-Erdene

Legend has it that in ancient times a group of men were
beaten by women wrestlers. Humiliated by their defeat at the
hands of women, they decreed fighting must be done bare-chested
to be sure they were competing against other men.

Grass matted on his back and legs and a bloody scratch
across his chest, 29-year-old Ulambayar Shukher sinks into a

All the wrestlers have one goal to compete in the Naadam
Festival, he says.

He himself has competed in five, attaining the title of
State Nachin, which means falcon.

There is no other prize than the title.

It's not about being rewarded or winning, says Bat-Erdene.
It's about the prestige.

The patience and discipline honed over centuries have also
served Mongolians well in other forms of wrestling.

One of their number, born Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, now stands
at the very pinnacle of the ancient Japanese sport of sumo.
Better known by his ring name, Asashoryu, he holds the coveted
top rank of "yokozuna," and made history last year by becoming
the first wrestler to win seven consecutive Emperor's Cups.

A second Mongolian, whose sumo name is Hakuho, recently
rose to the second-highest rank of "ozeki." He won the latest
Emperor's Cup tournament in May.