|The fascination of wrestling:
the body contact, the muscular men, the expression of anger, the techniques of self-defense, of controlling your opponent and, in submission wrestling, of actually punishing him. Watching a wrestling contest is like experiencing an ancient spectacle. In the studied gestures, the expressions of strength and vigor lies the abstract beauty of classical sculptures. Homeric heroes take the stage once more in one of their habitual setting, as if in a fragment of the ancient world:
"So speaking, he raised him up, but Odysseus did not forget his tricks. He kicked him from behind and hit the hollow of his knee and loosed his limbs, and Ajax fell backward and Odysseus fell on his chest..."
Wrestling appealed deeply to the ancients. Though far from being a gentle sport, it is substantially less violent and injurious than the other combat sports: it pits one man against another in a close struggle that maximizes the role of skill and science. In a manner that encourages wide participation, it tests an array of martial virtues: cunning, boldness, courage, self-reliance, and perseverance.
some of the earliest figures in the Western tradition, both legendary and historical (Gilgamesh, the Sumerian king Shulgi, the patriarch Jacob) stand there ground as wrestlers, and quite early in their history the Greeks developed special facilities for the practice of the sport. Hellenic society expected that an accomplished and educated man would practice and enjoy wrestling as an adult. The time came when the harsh experience of everyday life and physical training became rites and recollections and finally gave rise to institutions and games, as a result of a cultural process.
Wrestling as a ritual of war
therefore evolved into a means of overcoming war. It asserts the right of the strongest but also gives the weakest the possibility of winning with skill and dexterity. War is dominated by violence and brutality; in wrestling the rules and regulations are just as decisive. Therefore wrestling can be seen as a product of a culture and laws where barbarism and anarchy once reigned. To have made Athene the supreme organizer of civilization when the history of combat first began, and after her, Theseus, the quasi-divine hero, another builder of civil order, means that the ancients attributed to fighting, through its practice and the spectacle it provided, a capacity to transmit the same principles learned in the schools of philosophy and ethics.
The legendary tales
of Theseusí fight against Cercyon and of Herculesí, the most celebrated of all the mythological heroes, another cornerstone of ancient civilization, against Antaeus, want to symbolize precisely this: the supremacy of the principle of order and culture over disorder and the barbarities personified by two adversaries who cause confusion with their cruel actions.
Today, the wrestling contest
represent a kind of special cultural melting pot. Many societies have placed strong cultural significance in wrestling, which has taken on ritualistic and ceremonial meaning and performs a number of different functions: competitive, ostentatious, communicative, each one with its own protocol and containing detailed procedures. Such aspects have been amply documented in demological, ethnological and anthropological literature indicating the various forms of wrestling in the different cultures.