BOHK: A SHOWCASE OF STRENGTH
Wrestling, the dominant sport among the ethnic Mongols, is an indispensable part of the Naadam Festival.
Bohk, the Mongolian word for wrestling, has a history of more than 2,000 years. It is a rugged hand-to-hand sport, relying more on raw physical power than a wide variety of techniques, loved by Mongolian athletes, scholars and statesmen for its unique combination of athleticism and aesthetics.
The basic premise behind Bohk is to force an opponent to touch any part of their body other than the feet to the ground, placing them in a position of inferiority. This kind of training served the Mongol hordes well in their conquests, earning them a reputation as fierce soldiers on foot and on horseback.
It was this type of military might that allowed Genghis Khan to conquer China at the end of the Song Dynasty in 1127. Genghis Khan considered wrestling to be an important way to keep his army in good physical and combat shape. Bohk was also used occasionally as a way of eliminating political rivals.
The Inner Mongolian way of wrestling is different from both Chinese wrestling and sumo wrestling in Japan.
There is no time limit, and the opponents can use any method or moves they want, such as pulling, kicking, tripping, pushing, holding, or lifting. However, holding your opponent's legs, arbitrarily kicking, pulling down his trousers, hitting the face, kicking the belly, or any body part above the knees is not allowed. In Mongolian wrestling whoever touches the ground with any part of his body above the knees loses.
There is neither separation of grade (no age or weight distinction) nor a fixed number - as long as the match has an even number of participants, as half of the people are eliminated with each round (for instance two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, etc.). The game is single-elimination - the loser is not allowed to compete again.
All the wrestlers are matched by arrangement or by drawing straws. The judges enjoy high prestige and command universal respect.
The wrestlers must wear standard gear including “zodog” and “gutal.” The waistcoat part of a zodog is usually made of cowhide, buckskin or camel skin fixed with bronze or silver, which makes it easier to be grasped by opponents.
Gutal is a leather boot mostly in traditional Mongolian style where the toe part is slightly upturned. Various auspicious patterns such as a dragon, peacock, flower, and fire decorate the jacket-like costume and the boots.
Renowned participants will wear “jangga,” an awarded necklace with colorful silk ribbons to mark if the wrestlers have won considerable contests.
After singing the songs of wrestlers three times, the competitors dance onto the field, waving their arms in the air like eagle wings. The gestures are inspired by the eagles flying in the sky, which is a symbol of courage for many Mongols.
The first place in bohk is an achievement the Mongolians don't take lightly. Not only will they weigh him down with prizes like golden cups, scarves and other artistic works - but he'll receive a live camel as well. In addition, the champion will greatly increase his chances of getting married. After all, a Mongol isn't considered a real man unless he wrestles.