Oil wrestling – a national Turkish sport

The Turkish Yağlı güreş means ” fighting with oil”. it is a long standing tradition in Turkey, in fact it is a national Turkish sport.  There is a big three day tournament in Kirkpinar Stadium in Edirne every year. Oil wrestlers are highly respected in Turkey, similar to Sumo wrestlers in Japan. The wrestlers are called  pehlivan which comes from Persian meaning “hero”. 

Wrestling with cooking oil and leather pants

Wrestlers coat themselves with cooking oil, mainly olive oil or sunflower oil.  Oil is essential to the sport as it makes wrestling more technical. It makes it also more difficult to seize the opponent when he is moving. The oil is poured over the bodies and the pants.  The wrestlers wear very sturdy leather pants called kispet (or kisbet). These pants are traditionally made of water buffalo hide, and more recently have been made of calfskin.  Leather pants are, when oiled like the body, very difficult to grip. 

If your “belly sees the sun”, you have lost

Opponents grab each other in any way they can. However, the movements in oil wrestling should cause no harm to the wrestlers. In other forms of wrestling you grab your opponent’s limbs but in oil wrestling you wrestle with the kispet, the leather pants and not with the body.

Originally wrestling matches had no time limit and could go on for one or two days. However in 1975 the match was capped at 40 minutes, with extensions of 15 minutes if there is no winner. Scores are kept to determine the winner. However, a wrestler has lost the fight when “his belly sees the sun.”


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