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Yagli güres (In English pronounced [‘j??l? ‘gure?] in Turkish pronounced [‘j??l? ‘?yre?]) is the Turkish national sport. It is commonly known as oil wrestling (sometimes as grease wrestling) because the wrestlers douse themselves with olive oil. It is related to Uzbek Kurash, Tuvan Khuresh and to Tatar Köräs. The wrestlers, known as pehlivan (from Persian ?????? or pahlavan, meaning “hero” or “champion”) wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosen called kisbet (sometimes kispet), which were traditionally made of water buffalo hide, but now also of calf leather.
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 kazik. Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for one or two days, until one man was able to establish superiority, but in 1975 the duration was capped at 40 minutes for the baspehlivan and 30 minutes for the pehlivan category. If no winner is determined, another 15 minutes—10 minutes for the pehlivan category—of wrestling ensues, wherein scores are kept to determine the victor.
The annual Kirkpinar tournament, held in Edirne in Turkish Thrace since 1362, is the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world. In recent years this style of wrestling has also become popular in other countries, most notably the Netherlands and Japan.
The earliest depictions of wrestling are found in the Beni Hasan Temple in Egypt. The sport of oil wrestling dates back to 2650 BC in Egypt and Assyria. Turkish wrestlers had started covering themselves according to the Islamic law (between the navel and the knees) after the 10th century. When the ancient Turkish freestyle wrestling met the ancient Greco-Roman olympic oil wrestling, a new wrestling style was born: Traditional Turkish Oil Wrestling. Freestyle and the leather clothing came from traditional Turkish wrestling called “karakucak” (literally means black hug), olive oil came from the ancient olympic wrestling and most of the wrestling terms from Persian. In the Ottoman Empire, wrestlers learned the art in special schools called ???? tekke, which were not merely athletic centres, but also spiritual centres, similar to those attended by the Japanese Sumo wrestlers, where it was taught that man is not just matter, but also spirit. These centers bear a striking resemblance to the Zurkhanes of Iran. This could explain the abundance of Persian terms in oil wrestling. Since competition without the harmony of matter and spirit would be detrimental to the development of good character, wrestlers oil one another prior to matches as a demonstration of balance and mutual respect. Equally, if a younger man should defeat an older man, he kisses the latter’s hand (A sign of respect for elders in Turkey, similar to a Japanese bow).
Matches are held all over Turkey throughout the year, but in early summer the wrestlers gather in Kirkpinar for the annual three-day wrestling tournament to determine who will be the baspehlivan (chief hero) of Turkey. Every year, around 1000 wrestlers attend the tournament. Ottoman chroniclers and writers attest that the Kirkpinar Games have been held every year since 1362, making them the world’s oldest continually sanctioned sporting competition. Only about 70 times were the Games cancelled. The matches have been held there since 1924, where they were moved after the Balkan War. The original site had been some 35 kilometres distant.
Kirkpinar, on the outskirts of Edirne (the second capital of the Ottoman Empire until the fall of Constantinople in 1453), was once the site of the summer hunting palace of the Ottoman Sultan.
There are some organized competitions outside Turkey, prominent among which is the Royal Dutch Power Sport Federation (KNKF Koninklijke Nederlandse Krachtsport en Fitnessfederatie) in the Netherlands.
After oilwrestling-fame of being Champion at the Edirne Kirkpinar he went to Paris where he stood undefeated after 27 wrestling matches. His fame spread around the World and Kizilcikli Mahmut won all the wrestling matches he fought in the USA in the years 1908, 1909, 1919 and 1922. His legendary strength is still remembered in Romania.
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