Arguably the most manly of the three so-called ‘manly sports’ of Naadam has to be wrestling. Wrestlers tend to be enormous. They’re more muscular that Sumo wrestlers, but certainly much bigger than the likes of A.C. Slater. The bottom line is, I do not want to be on the wrong side of an argument with one of these guys.

Like horse racing and archery, hand-to-hand combat was an essential martial art back in the days of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan. Mongolian wrestling is steeped in tradition.


The wrestler’s costume is one of the more eye-catching aspects of the sport. Rather than the Western singlet, wrestlers don Speedo-like bottoms, an open jacket, and leather boots. The fabric and boots are adorned with traditional patterns. The clothing has white stitching and tends to be blue or red, but I’ve also seen bright pink, turquoise and orange. For me the most interesting part of the uniform is the jacket, called a Jodag.

Once upon a time, the legend goes, wrestlers wore closed jackets. Then one day, after beating several contestants and winning a competition, a wrestler tore open her jackets exposing her breasts. Since that time, the official wrestling uniform has required a bare-chested jacket, in order to prevent a repeat performance.

Arm Flapping

Before each wrestler competes, he approaches the referee (each wrestler is assigned their own referee). He offers his hat and then approaches the eastern side with his arms outstretched like wings. He is mimicking a mythical bird called the ‘Khan Garuda’. Then, he slaps this thighs three times representing the three Naadam games. After the match, the winner’s referee places a special hat on his head and he does the dance again, flapping his arms while rotating in a circle.

Rules of Engagement

Mongolian-style wrestling differs significantly from its Western counterpart. The object is to force your opponent to touch the ground with anything other than his feet. Once you have accomplished this task, the game is over. However, there is no time limit, and so until someone touches the ground, the match will continue. Additionally, it is fair game to grab and tug on each others’ clothing (what little there is of it). That is strictly off-limits in the American-style.

Watch a Video About Mongolian Wrestling:

Read and Watch More about the Naadam events of Horse Racing and Archery.

These videos were produced in partnership with the Vanishing Cultures Project.

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