Mongolian Wrestling

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Mongolia  , Dzavhan,
Thursday, June 14, 2007

On our third day in Mongolia our guide Vanya challenged me to a wrestling match on the following night to demonstrate Mongolian wrestling to the group, one of Mongolia's big three manly sports along with horse racing and archery.  I'm not really sure why Vanya chose me as his victim, but I guess he likes to pick the biggest guy in the group to demonstrate his wrestling skills.  In any event, though, I agreed and naively even thought my size and weight advantage of about 90 pounds and many years of pumping iron at the gym might give me a chance against a little guy who actually knows something about wrestling.

Then I started having some second thoughts and worrying about what I got myself into.  "I haven't wrestled since I was a kid", I thought.  What if he tosses me over his shoulder and I actually get hurt?  Is Mongolian wresting one of those adventure sports that's excluded from my travel medical insurance coverage?

Our match begins after dinner at our campsite in one of the world's most remote spots in a broad grassy valley between sand dunes in the distance in one direction and low forested mountains on the other side.  We first both don our caps, as tradition dictates.  We then each pick our own referee, our man to argue our side for us if there's some kind of dispute.  I pick Tamir, the other guide, and Stuart eagerly volunteers to be Vanya's ref.  People start betting beers on us, and I'm surpised to see a few betting on me because of my size advantage.  But before we start we must each do the "falcon dance", flapping our arms like wings and circling our respective referees while holding their shoulders.  OK, enough of all this ceremonial stuff - let's take off our hats and start wrestling!

There don't seem to be a lot of rules in Mongolian wrestling other than no punching, biting, kicking, or pinching and there are also no weight classes in the sport.  One wins the match when any part of one's opponent's body other than his feet or hands touches the ground.

The match begins and we approach each other as everyone else forms a loose circle around us.  Vanya quickly grabs onto me and I him, both of us trying to push each other down, grab each others leg to knock over, or trip backwards.  This continues for what seems like an eternity but probably lasted only 5 to 6 minutes, I unable to knock Vanya down because I don't know the techniques and Vanya's superior experience unable to overcome my size advantage

Vanya calls a timeout, at which point I'm feeling more exhausted than I have for many years, as if I've been deadlifting heavy weight for the last six minutes.  Before I know it, the refs call an end to the time out and we're at it again but not for long.  Less than a minute after the timeout Vanya manages to trip me and I fall over.  Tamir instructs us in a short traditional ceremony of victor over vanquished, but my head was spinning and I can't recall it. 

Vanya later consoled me by telling me he's never lost a wrestling match to a foreigner on any of his tours and that I lasted longer than most.  We continue roughhousing away for the next two weeks and Vanya teaches me a few wrestling techniques.  Now I can't wait to get home to test what I've learned on my friends!
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