Greco-Roman Wrestling by Peter Lockhart

"A sound mind and a healthy body". This was the maxim of the ancient Greeks, who strongly believed in physical exercise and athletic competition, to develop a person's bodily and spiritual strength. Wise people the ancient Greeks.

It has often been said, that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. This meant that the English youth played and were encouraged to participate in sport, whereas, the French youth to the contrary, had no playing fields, played no games and received little physical training.

It was however, a Frenchman with a magnificent obsession, called Pierre, baron de Coubertine, who recognised the reality of that saying and so, embarked on his one man campaign to remedy that situation. Inspired in his youth by tales of the Ancient Olympic games and the Greek athletic ideals, Coubertine worked, organised, planned, persuaded, influenced, and inspired others, until in 1896, the first Modern Olympic Games were held in Athens.

The word athlos comes to us from ancient Greece. In English, it means `labour achievement' and this is where our word athlete comes from. This word is now used all around the world, by all the people of the world. The Greeks were the only ancient people, to cultivate athletics and the competitive spirit, to such a high degree. An athlete was a person, who labored or struggled against himself and others, in order to achieve, in order to win.

The first inhabitants of ancient Greece, were the Achaeans. These people had a great competitive spirit and, were both a courageous and gallant people. These were a warlike and at the same time, an honourable people, that lived a military lifestyle and, were always ready to do battle in what was after all, a primitive, violent and very dangerous time in world history.

Consequently, the Achaeans devoted themselves to all imaginable pursuits, that were in some way related to warfare. With their highly competitive natures, the Achaeans practiced: running, the javelin, wrestling, discus, horse riding and chariot races. The young men of these people, were continually exercising and vying with each other, to gain stamina and skill in order to, compete in and ultimately win, athletic events.

This was the beginning of the Greek competitive spirit and, the Greek games which we still have with us today, in the form of the modern Olympic games, thanks to the vision, dedication and inspirational efforts of Pierre, baron de Coubertine. From those ancient beginnings, two wrestling forms are still with us today, at our Olympic Games. These are, freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling, which was modified by the Romans from the original Greek form.

The event of wrestling, is all about coming to grips with and physically defeating an opponent or enemy, in a hand to hand struggle. That athletics in general and wrestling in particular, as practiced by the Greeks, was an effective martial skill is evident from the historical account of the battle of Marathon in 480 BC.

At this battle, 10,000 physically and spiritually strong Athenians and likewise 1,000 Plataeans were victorious over 60,000 weak and unfit Persians, that was a supposedly invincible army. Quite clearly, like Waterloo, Marathon was won on the playing fields of, in this case, Athens.

Wrestling, was used very effectively, at that battle by the Greeks to defeat the Persians. It was and still is, an art and sport to develop and improve the manner and method of defeating an enemy or foe without weapons. The ancient Greeks elevated wrestling to a science, of which boxing and the pankration were branches.

The ancient historian Plutarch, refers to wrestling as the `most technical' and `cunning' of all the contests. It is an art and sport which demands great skill, discipline and mental ability. It also demands a supple and agile body.

The ancient Greeks considered the God Hermes as the patron and protector of wrestling. There were statues of him, in the first place of exercise, or the palaistrae, the Greek word for wrestling is pale. The categories of wrestling were: upright (orthia pale), ground (kato pale) and rolling (kylisis).

The Roman empire conquered the Greeks and adopted, but unfortunately corrupted the games. The decline of the games, was due to monetary prizes and the rise of the professional athlete. The devotion of life to athletic professionalism and, competing for prize money, meant that the common man was excluded from competition, as he was unable to reach the abilities of the man who trained constantly. This also introduced corruption, as wealthy competitors or gamblers could buy the results they wanted. Many athletes took bribes to lose. The original athletic ideals were therefore lost.

With the Romans, there also came the change of wrestling in other ways. The Greek style of wrestling waned in popularity since the Romans lacked the Greek appreciation for grace and skill. The Romans wanted and appreciated more brute strength and violence. Pankration therefore survived in Rome, as it suited the bill according to Roman taste. Wrestling on the other hand, took on more a Roman aspect as the Greek and Roman styles and systems of wrestling merged into one.

This is what we now know as Greco-Roman wrestling. This form of wrestling is a strictly upper body wrestling. The wrestler must use only his upper body and attack only the upper body of his opponent above the waist. Since the days of the Roman Empire, some rule modifications have been made, but it is still the basic form of Greco-Roman wrestling. Greco-Roman wrestling is, today especially popular in Europe, but it is practiced throughout the world. It is quite distinctive with its feature of all the holds above the waist and how the use of the legs in scoring or defending is prohibited. Tripping, tackling and using the legs to secure a hold are not permitted. The Greco-Roman wrestlers begin their bout in a standing position and, attempt to either throw their opponent to the mat or use holds to drop them to the mat.

Greco-Roman wrestling is a very physically demanding and great sport. It is a sport that requires, strength, agility and stamina, as well as mental ability. It is really a Martial art and has a long and illustrious history of winning battles as well as building a sound mind and a healthy body of the wrestler.