Home » Countries, England, England, Featured

Gwary Whek Yu Gwary Tek: Good Play Is Fair Play. (Cornish Wrestling)

11 November 2013 No Comment

Much like the other traditional forms of wrestling we have highlighted, Cornish wrestling has been around for centuries and has been in the midst of a revival of sorts.  A quick search of the sport on youtube will garner dozens of contemporary matches and exhibitions that have been filmed in local fairs.

It’s an ancient skill.  In 1415, at the Battle of Agincourt, banners borne by Cornwall’s fighting men carried symbols showing wrestlers.  


So how does Cornish wrestling work?  The object is to throw your challenger, from a standing-up position; no grappling or holding on the ground is allowed, a measure intended to bring out skill and technique rather than relying on strength alone.  A bout begins when the competitors grasp each other’s jackets by collar, lapel or sleeves in what’s called a ‘hitch’.  To win you must score a ‘back’, throwing your opponent onto his shoulders and hips – his four ‘pins’; at least three pins must touch the ground at once.  Once a back’s scored the contest is over, but single-pin scores can accumulate toward a points win if no back is achieved.

Old Cornish wrestling photo

Sound’s easy?  In fact there are many different techniques and throws you can use to defeat your challenger.  Crooks and heaves are among the most popular, crooks being variations of trip to catch your adversary unawares, while heaves are often used by heavier, more powerful wrestlers to lift the opposition up in the air and fling him down on his back.  If any part of the body except the feet touches the ground, the hitch ends and the bout must restart.  And always there’s the traditional courtesy of the handshake, before the bout, prior to each hitch, and at the end of the contest. 

Gerry and Ashley Cawley's photo of Cornish Wrestling

Cornish wrestlers go barefoot or wear socks, together with simple shorts.  Their most important piece of clothing is the canvas jacket, in past times sometimes made of sailcloth or even sacking, laced at the front and with baggy half-sleeves.  It’s an indispensable item which must also be durable; contenders are only allowed to grip each other by the jacket.  Specialist moves such as the ‘flying mare’ involve grabbing your opponent’s jacket strings, swinging him off-balance and onto the ground.

As they gain experience, Cornish wrestlers develop their own moves and counters, but some methods aren’t allowed.  Finger- or wrist-twisting is forbidden; throat-holds, using your foot above your opponent’s knee or gripping his jacket below the waist are also out, as is touching the ground with your hand or knee to avoid being flung through the air.

Wrestling matches take place mainly in the summer, outdoors on grass; a 6-metre radius ring is marked out, together with an outer ‘no-man’s land’ into which spectators may not enter.  Typically, for senior competitors one 10-minute round is allowed, overseen by three ‘sticklers’.  These umpires are usually ex-wrestlers themselves; they carry walking-sticks traditionally used to enforce the rules if needed.  The sticklers score the bouts, watch for illegal moves and their decisions are absolute – there’s no right of appeal for feeling hard-done-by and the wrestlers accept judgements with good grace. (Holden 2013)

Old cornish wrestling pic

Much like the British miners who moved to Australia seeking employment in the mines, Cornish wrestling emigrated Down Under as well.

There were very few facilities for sport in the early years, and any form of organized sport was greeted by the miners with great enthusiasm. Wrestling was a very popular pastime, and with many nationalities represented on the gold fields, various styles of wrestling were practised. With a large percentage of the mining population being of Cornish origin, it was natural that Cornish wrestling was one of the forms used.

 In this type of wrestling the contestants would be clad in a canvas jacket reaching down to their thighs, on one shoulder, was attached a grip, and on the opposite  side at waist level was another grip which the opponent would fasten onto with  his hands, or in Cornish terms “get a hitch”. They would then endeavour to throw each other off balance, if thrown to the ground, it was declared a throw; two throws out of three won the match. Skill rather than strength was considered the chief attribute in this type of wrestling. In an organised competition the winner usually  received twenty or thirty pounds for his efforts. (Leigh 2010)

Cornish wrestling Australia



Clips from some recent Cornish Wrestling Matches (all under five minutes)

“ITV Local Westcountry was at the Royal Cornwall Show 2008 and raving sports reporter Jeff Welch brings you the ins and outs of the ancient art of Cornish Wrestling.”

Smaller Cornish wrestler tripping his larger opponent for the takedown

Series of takedowns



“Discover the History Behind the Cornish Sport of Wrestling:

27th Aug 2013 Rebecca Holden



“Polglase Heritage”

30th March 2010 by Avis Leigh



Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.