Cornish wrestling

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Cornish wrestling is a form of wrestling similar to judo, which has been established in Cornwall (South West of the UK) for several centuries. The referee is known as a ‘stickler’, and it is claimed that the popular meaning of the word as a ‘pedant’ originates from this usage. It is colloquially known as “wrasslin” in Cornish dialect.

The wrestlers in the Cornish style both wear tough jackets enabling them to gain better grip on their opponent. All holds are taken upon the wrestlers jacket, grabbing of the wrists or fingers is forbidden as well as any holding below the waist. Although all holds are to be taken upon the jacket the flat of the hand is allowed to be used to push or deflect an opponent.

The objective of Cornish Wrestling is to throw your opponent and make him land as flat as possible on his back. Three Sticklers (referees) watch and control each bout whilst also recording down the score of points achieved in play. Four Pins are located on the back of a wrestler, two at the back of each shoulder and two either side just above the buttocks. If a wrestler manages to throw his opponent flat onto his back, simultaneously scoring with all 4 pins they score four points in that single throw and this is called a “Back” to which the bout is then finished and the throwing wrestler is the winner. The Sticklers will each raise their sticks when they perceive a Back has been achieved. If two sticklers raise their sticks but one does not a back is still awarded.

The Cornish Wrestling Association was formed in 1923 to standardise the rules and to promote Cornish Wrestling throughout Cornwall and indeed Worldwide.

Cornish wrestling has a long history, and Geoffrey of Monmouth suggests Historia Regum Britanniae, of c. 1139 that Corineus wrestled a Cornish giant, Gogmagog.

The earliest written evidence for wrestling in the West Country comes from a 1590 poem entitled “Poly-Olbion” by Michael Drayton, concerning the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It states that the Cornish men who accompanied Henry V into battle held a banner of two Cornish Wraslters in a hitch.

Cornish and Breton wrestlers have long taken part in inter-Celtic matches since at least 1402 and these still occasionally continue.

17th century, historian Richard Carew wrote of Cornish wrestling…

“Wrastling is as full of manliness, more delightful and less dangerous (than hurling)…. for you shall hardly find an assembly of boyes in Devon and Cornwall, where the most untowardly amongst them will not as readily give you a muster of this exercise as you are prone to require it.”[1]

The Cornish Wrestling Association was formed in 1923.

Ashley Cawley (son of Gerry Cawley, a well known Champion Cornish Wrestler) is the current (2005) Heavy Weight Champion of Cornwall.

Ashley Cawley defended his title (Heavy-weight Champion of Cornwall) for the first time in 2006. The tournament was hosted at Lostwithiel on the 16th of July and the final of the tournament was a monumental bout between Ashley and Darrin Richardson lasting an hour long; Ashley finally beat Darrin on “first one to touch ground”.

The following Sunday (23rd July) an Interceltic Tournament took place at Wadebrige, where a team of wrestlers from Brittany came over to Cornwall to challenge the Cornish Champions in relevant classes. Just a week on Ashley Cawley, still bearing injuries from the Heavyweight Tournament, took on his opponent from Brittany and won, becoming the Interceltic and Heavyweight Champion 2006.

The Cornish Wrestling Association (CWA) still feature annually at the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Show. The Cornish Wrestling tent can be found in the Countryside area very near to the west entrance. In the Cornish Wrestling tent you will find an impressive display of Cornish Wrestling Trophies, belts, history, photos, books and DVDs. The Wrestlers perform demonstrations of their style in the Countryside ring, usually twice a day for each of the three days of the show. The demonstrations feature most of the throws and moves of the Cornish style and also feature demonstration bouts usually with a variety of wrestlers from youngsters, girls, lightweights and heavyweights.