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Scottish Backhold Wrestling

12 September 2014 2 Comments

A fantastic photo essay from the Scottish Wrestling Bond, an organization dedicated to promoting traditional Scottish wrestling. Please take a look at the hard work they have done to promote their sport.  – Mark L.

From their website:

Backhold Wrestling can be seen all over Scotland and the north of England from May to October, at Highland and Border Games. The rules are simple, once the closed hold with the right hand under the opponent’s left is taken, the referee shouts “hold” in Scotland or “wrestle” in England to commence the bout. The first wrestler to touch the ground or break their hold loses.


The sport is thought to be one of the earliest and most basic  martial art and is depicted on crosses and standing stones dating from the 7th and 8th centuries


Variations of Backhold exist in at least ten other European countries, including Iceland, Albania and Sardinia. Today the sport is organised into district, national and European Championships. The English Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling Association has since 1900 insisted that their competitions, open to any wrestler, are the World Championships.

Backhold Wrestling

When free-style, or to use it’s correct name “catch-as-catch-can”, spread all over Scotland in the early 20th Century, only a few areas continued to specialise in the old traditional Scottish backhold style. Bute was one of the most important and helped to keep the sport alive.   Backhold wresting is practised all over the North of England and Scotland.  In fact, in Scotland there are two native variations, Carachd Uibhist (Uist wrestling) and Scottish Backhold, which is almost identical to that found in the North of England where it is called Cumberland & Westmorland Style.

Anton Doherty & Ryan Dolan

Scottish Backhold wrestlers grip each other around the waist at the back, with the right hand under the opponent’s left arm and the chin resting on the opponent’s right shoulder.  When the referee is sure that both wrestlers have a firm grip he shouts “Hold” and the bout begins.  Should either wrestler break his hold or touch the ground with any part of his body except his feet, he loses. There is no ground wrestling and bouts are usually best of five falls.  The main difference from a style such as Graeco-Roman, the original style of the modern Olympic games, apart from the ground wrestling in Graeco, is that in that style trips and attacks against the legs are not permitted, but in Scottish Backhold wrestling they are fundamental.

Backhold Wrestling

After World War II  many of the traditional games were persuaded to become ‘amateur’, in other words not to give money prizes, and there arose a division between the ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ games which split wrestling.  The modern Bute Games were founded in 1947 and T B McMillan, the founding secretary, was also the secretary of The Scottish Amateur Wrestling Association, so Bute Games from the start were resolutely amateur.  Both backhold and catch wrestling were competed for as in many other Highland Games.

Scottish Backhold Wrestlers, Ryan Dolan &  Drew Griffiths

In Bute, wrestlers from the mainland’s industrial belt won the catch-as-catch-can competitions as the sport was not practised on the island, whilst the Brandanes dominated amateur backhold competitions all over Central Scotland.  Famous names from those days are engraved on trophies still used – Big Jock (Farouk) McMillan of Eskechraggan; Ian Fraser; “Lum” Simpson; the McAlisters; the Macfies; the Taits and many other local families dominated the amateur Highland Games’ circuit.  One particular example of their superiority at that time was decisively demonstrated at the Cowal Games in 1957 when Jim McMillan, the Scottish 11st 7lbs champion, easily threw the famous ex-heavyweight champion and thrower, 20st George Mitchell of Glasgow Police – but times change.

Intense Wrestling

Gradually the young people on Bute became more interested in football and, as the old stars retired, the practise of wrestling died away, but the Games’ Committee decided to make a new start.  In 2012 Bute Highland Games commenced by hosting the British 11st 7lbs championship for the T B McMillan Salver and, as Luss Games were flooded that year, also temporarily hosted the Scottish 14st 7lbs championship for the Littlejohn Quaich.

Ryan Dolan & Frazer Hirsch

This year Bute Highland Games will once again welcome and be host to the Breton national team, the Icelandic national team and a team from Northumberland.



Operated under The Scottish Wrestling Bond
Backhold Wrestling

1.   Weight  -  11st 7lbs  (British Championship - Trophy – The T B McMillan Salver)
2.   Weight  -  12st 7lbs
3.   Weight  -  14st 7lbs
4.   Weight  -  Open



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