The wrestlers, known as pehlivan (from Persian
پهلوان 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 calfskin.
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 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 minutes10 minutes for the pehlivan
categoryof wrestling ensues, wherein scores are kept to determine the
The annual Kırkpınar tournament, held in
Edirne in Turkish Thrace since 1362, is the oldest continuously running,
sanctioned sporting competition in the world.
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 تکیه 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 Kırkpınar 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 Kırkpınar 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.
Kırkpınar, 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.