Without a doubt Mongolian Wrestling or Bokh is the main national sport of Mongolia, however there are other sports that are just as popular and gaining more popularity by the day.
But we’ll get to that after covering Mongolian wrestling.
What is Mongolian Wrestling?
Compared with other forms of wrestling, Mongolian wrestling is a little bit different.
Between two contenders the first contestant to touch the ground with their upper body, knees, elbows, or head loses.
There are no weight classes and there are no time limits, so you can have some interest match ups with someone being over 2 meters tall and the other being around 160cm.
While it may seem like a sport that’s about strength, agility, speed, and tactics are just as important.
Who Can Compete?
Anyone can compete at the national level as long as they are skilled enough. During the Naadam festival, the best of the best compete at the national stadium in Ulaanbaatar, but for someone who is just starting out, they have to earn the rank and title to compete at the highest level.
Local soums/villages have their Naadam festival during July August and September, and tourists or any Mongolian from their respective village may compete in the games.
Unfortunately though, Mongolian wrestling is only available to the men.
How Is The Champion Determined?
It’s a process of elimination. Between a pair of wrestlers, the winner will advance to the next round and so on, until there is only 1 victor remaining.
National level championships at the Naadam festival have 512 of the best wrestlers competing for the title, and at the stadium you’ll see 4-5 pairs of wrestlers competing at the same time with Zasuuls motivating and encouraging the wrestlers along the way.
Usually the most likely wrestler to win get paired with the least likely to win and by the end, you have 2 great wrestlers that make an interesting match. Of course there are many surprises as there have been many underdogs who went on to win the wrestling games.
Rituals and Ceremonies
Before the wrestlers go head to head, the Zasuul introduces the wrestler (like an announcer during jousting tournaments). The wrestlers then run around performing the ceremonial dance and take off their hats and give it to their Zasuuls. Shortly thereafter the match begins.
Zasuuls observe the match for fair play and motivate their respective wrestlers, by sometimes even slapping their buttocks to encourage them to make a move.
The winner will proceed to do a ceremonial dance once again and have the honor of passing their arms over the loser to signify victory.
Clothing and accessories
You’ll see the wrestlers wearing these things during national Naadam festival championship.
- Mongolian boots – Traditional leather boots designed with Mongolian patterns and shape.
- Zodog – Collarless shirt that exposes the chest with straps on the back.
- Shuudag – Tight briefs / underwear specifically for wrestling.
- Traditional hats – Before the match, wrestlers wear pointy round hats.
You’ll also see these accessories in the stadium.
- Khadag – A piece of silk cloth used to officiate ceremonies.
- Traditional Spear Banner with Fur
Other National Sports
Of course there are other national sports that are very popular such as horse racing, archery, which are part of the Naadam games.
Boxing, judo, basketball, and judo are also non traditional sports that are very popular among Mongolian youth. Mongolia actually got their first 2 gold medals in the Beijing olympic games from boxing and Judo.
Read more: Popular sports in Mongolia
Mongolian athletes also do really well in modern archery and pistol shooting.