Part of my research in Mongolia is trying to understand what it is about wrestling that has kept the attraction of Mongolians for centuries. There are possible explanations in their landscape and lifestyle, and certainly their physical hardiness seems to play a role (though I’ve only been in and around UB…). However, one of the reasons (or is it result) I’ve seen is that Mongolians genuinely seem to enjoy participating in wrestling. That is, they love to wrestle.
Wrestling is different than to talking about wrestling, writing about wrestling, or attending wrestling matches. Mongolians of all ages, sizes, and sexes in the same room sharing techniques and keeping the mood light. Look around this video and you’ll see a cross-section of the city: men, women and older wrestlers all sharing mat space. This video is only a snippet of the 45 minutes I filmed after a very tough 90 minute freestyle practice (I gassed. Though we are at 5k feet…). Yet here they are, playing games and showing techniques. No cursing … or jumping ropes … or stationary bikes … or treadmills. For a moment it felt like Wrestling Utopia.
One of the riddles I’m working to solve is the diminishing participation of Americans in folkstyle wrestling. How can we boast 300k youth wrestlers, yet fewer than 2k wrestle past their 30th birthday? Are the rules of American wrestling not conducive to long-term participation? Is that hurting the sport?
I don’t have the answers and I’m hesitant to share my theories before I test them against my upcoming experiences in Mongolia. Enjoy the clip and dream about how we can get our wrestling rooms to start looking a little more like Ulan Bator’s.