View Full Version : Ancient Cornish Wrestling

Friday, June 3rd, 2005, 02:17 AM
In the vein of unique traditions of the Britons, here's a little something else for the Celtic among us :) I know of it as there were quite a few Cornish immigrants to South Australia (for Tin Mining) and in Victoria as well, so I've heard it talked about. Here's a Victorian site about it

And a comprehensive site about it...

http://ashleycawley.mine.nu/webs/cornishwrestling/images/digital_gallery/Ash%20and%20Gerry%20wrestling3%20(Medium ).JPG
What is Cornish Wrestling?
Cornish Wrestling is a unique style of wrestling, different from today's modern styles.
Cornish Wrestling is Cornwall's traditional sport rich in both heritage and history, has been passed down through generations from farther to son, brother to brother or friend to friend.

How old is Cornish Wrestling?
The history of Cornish Wrestling goes back so far it is lost in the mists of time. The first mention of Celtic Wrestling appears in the ancient book of Leinster, referring to the sport being included in the Tailtin Games which date back to at least 1829 BC . We know wrestling was established in Cornwall before the Roman invasion and that the Cornish meetings on Halvager Moor were held during the Dark Ages.

The Cornish contingent with Henry V at Agincourt (1415) marched under a banner depicting two wrestlers “in a hitch”. The banner needed no words; the picture of the wrestlers was enough to let anyone know that the men of Cornwall was behind it.

The Cornish style of wrestling is a important part of Cornwall's history and heritage, and should not be lost.
Although their are only a handful of experienced Cornish wrestlers left, we work hard to practice and teach the style exactly as it would have been a hundred years ago. Unfortunately the sight of two boys Wrassling in a hitch on the village green would be a rare sight nowadays, although to our great great grandfathers of Cornwall this would have been a common event.

How is Cornish Wrestling different from other styles?

General Information
Cornish Wrestling is a unique style of wrestling that has many throws and moves that are not seen in other modern wrestling styles. Cornish Wrestling takes place on grass and usually no other surface, although it can be practiced in-doors on mats.Cornish Bouts take place in a large circle usually shown with sawdust, competitors stay within this ring along with three "sticklers" or known as referees.

The wrestlers wear a strong jackets (usually canvas) which have a open front with two ropes horizontally across the opening.

Rough diagram of a Cornish Wrestling Jacket above

These Strong jackets play an important role in all the moves/throws involved in Cornish Wrestling, the jacket provides crucial control of your opponent where you can utilise your hold upon the jacket to combine with a throw/move to defeat your opponent.
This Jacket is part of the tradition of our sport and will not change.

The pictures above show how Cornish style wrestlers hold and use their opponents jackets, for example a strong hold with your two hands either side of your opponents head (griping the collar) will provide good control of the head which when used properly can be used to move the opponent around the ring.

Good use of the jacket is a important skill that is nessarsy in Cornish Wrestling, use of the jacket is just as important as any of the throws, moves and leg work. And should be practiced and taught properly.

The Style
The Cornish style of wrestling is a important part of Cornwall's history and heritage, and should not be lost.
Although their are only a handful of experienced Cornish wrestlers left, we work hard to practice and teach the style exactly as it would have been a hundred years ago. Unfortunately the sight of two boys Wrassling in a hitch on the village green would be a rare sight nowadays, although to our great great grandfathers of Cornwall this would have been a common event.

The basics of the style consist of the two wrestlers wearing the jackets (shown above) attempting to take hold of their opponent and throw them onto their back. The Sticklers (referees) award points to the wrestlers for throwing their opponent onto their back and hitting one or more of their four pins, at the end of the bout the Sticklers will hand in their point cards and from this the final decision on the winning wrestler is made. The wrestlers aim is to achieve the winning throw known as the "back" where the three or four pins of his back (the two shoulders & upper buttocks) simultaneously hit the ground, this resulting in the standing wrestler declared the winner, and the bout stops.

Although a winning back is not how the majority of the bouts are won, and most bouts will go to the allocated time, where the sticklers points will be put together and the result decided.

Friday, June 3rd, 2005, 11:52 PM
Cornish Wrestling
By David Stone

Cornish wrestling originated, surprisingly enough in Cornwall, and is yet another regional variation of wrestling and should in no way be confused with Devonish, Lancaster or any of the other regional variations that exist in the UK.
There are NO ground techniques in Cornish Wrestling. In sport, holds can only be made on the jackets worn by the competitors. There are about 14 tradional techniques. Also, in sport, if a competitor places his hand or knee on the ground while executing a throw, the throw does not count, therefore all throws must be executed from a standing position. This is significant for the martial aspects of this style.
At the start of a match, the lapels of the jackets are twisted together and tucked under the left arm. the competitors then shake hands. This is the wrestlers' signal to each other that they are ready to start. As in Gouren the object is to "back" your opponent. In Cornish wrestling, "pins" refer to the shoulders and hips. A "back" is where three pins touch the ground directly after a throw. A fall where less than three pins touch, or when the "hitch" is broken must be wrestled over. A back ends the bout.
The throwing techniques operate on the "double twist" principle where an wrestler's leg or head is twisted in one direction, and the rest of their body is pulled, or pushed in the opposite direction. (Using the jacket of course.) The throws are not really comparable to the throws in any mainstream style of wrestling. (I, for one get infuriated when this style gets compared to judo, because judo it aint!)
As to the martial aspect: The manual of Cornish Wrestling, put out by the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies some years ago states: "...the thrower will genarally lose his balance and fall fractionally later than his opponent;" This is significant in a fighting situation. In sport, wrestlers endeaver to fall clear of their opponent to avoid injuring them, however, when someone crashes to the ground from a standing postion, with the full weight of their opponent on top of them, there is a strong possibility for injury.
Mr. Colin Roberts, a cornishman who teaches these techniques, was asked about this, he actually said that Cornish wrestling evolved the way it did because it was safer to land on your back, and minimsed the chance of injury. However, it is also significant to note that wrestlers are taught to grip tight to their opponent's jacket when thrown, and not put their arm down to soften the impact of a throw, b/c of the possibility of landing on the arm, not only with your own full weight, but also with the full weight of your opponent. Imagine trying to finish a fight with an arm broken in this manner.
The 14 Techniques of Cornish Wrestling
Before the techniques are described it should be explained that the wrestling always starts by getting into a "hitch". That is, each wrestler takes a firm hold on the other's jacket at left shoulder and right underarm. This is considered a "proper" hitch, however any grip taken on the jacket after shaking hands is deemed fair. That is why some exponents will explain "This is a throw best done before the proper grips are taken".
It is important to remember that Cornish wrestling is not just about the mastery of single techniques. The art is applying them, or combinations thereof while your opponent is doing his best to unbalance you. It is also important to remember that although there may only be about 14 or so techniques, there are many, many variations of them. (ie. there are several ways to do them. eg. the many varieties of sidestepping, footblocking and tripping would all be classified as a Heel or a Toe.) So considering all the variations and combinations, the wrestler has an infinite number of potential moves.
1. The Fore Hip is a move where the opponent's jacket is grasped and is rolled over the hip onto his back.
2. The Fore Crook is similar to the Grapvine. The right leg, say, is wound (or "crooked") around the opponent's left leg just above the ankle. Using your crooking leg, lift your opponent's leg to the rear and as high as possible to over balance him. A sharp pull on his jacket will send him to the ground.
3. The Back Crook starts from the same "crook" position of the previous move. This time the crooking leg is swept quickly forward. A push on the opponent's chest or shoulder will over balance him.
4. The Heel is a trip that can be executed from three positions:-
· From ground level
· At mid calf
· Behind the knee.
5. The Sprag is a defensive wrestling move used when a wrestler is picked up by an opponent. One or both legs are wound around the legs of the offensive wrestler to prevent him from throwing you.
The next two throws are considered "strong man" throws.
6. The Fore Heave involves placing say, your right hip directly against your opponent's right hip, and lifting him onto your hip. You have to grasp the jacket right near the hip, and swing his legs in an arc out in front of you and back behind your left side, dropping him onto his back.
7. The Under-heave involves changing your grip from the initial "hitch". You take you right hand off your opponent's left collar, pass it over his head from your left (his right) and grab the back of his jacket. If you are still with me, you take your left from under his right armpit, and grab his left lapel. From here, you lift him straight up, from his chest with the jacket. If his legs are lifted high enough, gravity does the rest.I am told that this throw is unique to Corno-Breton tradition, but I stand to be corrected.

(I have done these throws in practice many times, but are yet to use them in actual wrestling.)
8. The Toe is a foot block.
9. The Flying Mare. This throw is best done before proper grips have been taken. This is not a "shoulder throw" as found in other styles of wrestling, and therefore requires a little more explanation.The cornish jackets have short lapels that are held loosely closed by two horizontal cords. The Cornish Flying Mare is executed by actually grabbing these cords (top cord palm down and bottom cord palm up) turning and then throwing the opponent over the shoulder onto their back.
There were no unified rules governing the sport until 1923 so techniques would have varied from district to district in Cornwall. Although I am sure that the more conventional shoulder throw was probably used it is not actually listed as a hitch in the Cornish Wrestling Manual.
10. The Lock Arm is a move to immobilise one of your opponent's arms, to enable you to effect a throw. From the opening Hitch pass, for example, put your left arm under your opponent's right, reach across and grab the left lapel of his jacket, thus securing a "wing lock" type manoever. A toe, heel, crook or hip usually follows. This is best done before the proper grips have been made.
11. The Back Heave is where you grab your opponent and lift him slightly from the side. Pivot him on your hip so his legs are swung forward. Take your full weight on your far leg and sweep his legs forward with your closest leg. At the same time, pull back on his shoulders and drop him on his back. This is considered to be an offensive move.
12. The Knock Back is basically the same as the Back Heave, but is done when your opponent has stepped in front of you to Heel or Fore hip you. By pulling him backwards, while "knocking" his legs behind the knee joints, he can be thrown backwards. This is a defensive move.
13. The Pull Over Hip is kind of like a hip toss. You reach under the opponent's armpit, grip his jacket behind the shoulder, and trhow him over your hip.
14. The Back Step is another move to be done b4 the "proper" grip is taken. Putting your right leg between the opponent's feet, hook his left leg with your right foot. Keep your forearms parallell to the ground, and shove his chest as you kick your right leg back.
Another ingenious thing about Cornish wrestling is the ability of the technique to "flow" from one to the other. Eg. If your opponent refuses to go down to a Back Heel, you can try to turn your buttocks underneath him in a Fore Hip. If a Fore Crook fails, you can try to sweep the crooking leg forward into a Back Crook, or disengage your leg and Toe his supporting foot.
However, with a little imagination many variations and improvisations can be developed, so no one consider my discussion anywhere near exhaustive.
Please let's not let this aspect of Western Martial Arts heritage die.

Kendall, B; "The Art of Cornish Wrestling". Federation of Old Cornwall Societies. 1990
Unpublished (I think) lecture by Colin Roberts.