Turkish Oil Wrestling, or Yagli Gures, is one of Turkey's oldest sports and a historic festival that has been held annually since 1346. Two men, covered in oil, wear trousers and wrestle, battling it out in matches that can last for hours to become champions.
It is open to men from all cultures, regions and ages without discrimination, with as many as thousands entering each year. As the wrestling begins, the drum and shawm bands start to play the festival's traditional repertoire, adding to the event's excitement as the two men prepare to beat their opponent and be crowned Başpehlivan.
Each year in June, the Turkish Oil Wrestling tournament is held at Kirkpinar, Edirne, in Turkey. Yagli Gures, or Turkish Oil Wrestling is where two oiled wrestlers compete to pick each up in the air and make their opponents ‘belly face up in the sky' on the grass.
The roots of Yagli Gures date back to 1346 in the Ottoman campaign in Thrace. At that event, two soldiers fought to the death in a wrestling bout, and the winners were given horses, camels or bulls as a prize. Although now, champions are crowned with a golden belt and cash prizes. For most, though, the award of being crowned the winner.
The oil was first introduced to ensure fairness, making the wrestling about the tactic rather than the wrestler's size or strength. The addition of oil also makes it difficult to stand and get any grip, as the sweat mixes with the oil on the grass around them. It ensures the match is fair, as both opponents are at a disadvantage allowing men of different weights to battle.
Previously, there was no fixed time limit on the fight, meaning it can last from minutes to hours. However, two men previously fought for longer than a day and unfortunately lost their lives, so a fixed time limit of 40 minutes is now placed on all matches.
Every wrestler from a traditional upbringing has an apprentice they help shape. The master trains with his apprentice, also known as the 'Cirak', who teaches the art of oil wrestling and shows them any tactics they have learnt. When it comes time for the master wrestler to quit the 'arena of the brave', his apprentice will step in to continue the tradition.
When it comes to competing, weight is not a deciding factor and is not in any rule books.
A wrestler weighing 120 kg may not be able to wrestle in the 'bas' category. To compete in the 'head' category, they must have had a final in 'bas alti' (which is one step lower than the 'bas' category. The only exception to this is if a wrestler within regional championships may be allowed to wrestle in the 'bas' category if they are superior to their competitors.
One of the wrestlers' rules is for the oil wrestlers to be covered in oil and be wearing kıspet. These trousers are the only piece of clothing wrestlers wear, which are both short and tight made of cow or water buffalo hide.
Because of the oil's slippery nature, and with many opponents spreading the oil inside the shorts, it adds to the fight's difficulty. The trousers' tightness stops opponents from grasping for the material, although there is no rule against sliding hands inside the trousers to control the opponent. However, wrestlers are prohibited from getting too intimate with their opponent's genitalia.
For matches that run over the time limit of 40 minutes, there will be a 7 minute final score period with final scores being tallied to award the winners of those matches.
Similarly to other sports, taking illegal substances to improve performance is banned and can cause disqualification. Back in 1999, anti-doping checks were introduced by the Turkish Olympic Wrestling Federation. Back in 2013, several athletes were disqualified for doping.
The object of oil wrestling is to get your opponent in a position where his belly button faces the sky, at which point he loses the game.
During the match, opponents will attempt to try and stick their hands inside the other's kispet to gain leverage, to grab hold of the cuffs below the knees. However, as per the rules, one must avoid opponents' genitalia.
If a young wrestler defeats an older wrestler, they will kiss the more senior wrestler's hand out of courtesy.
The victor of the oil wrestling tournament wins the coveted gold belt for the year and is given the title of Başpehlivan, meaning head wrestler. If a wrestler can obtain this award for three consecutive years, they become the continuous owner of the golden belt, alongside cash awards.
Due to the competition's size, many banks, companies and even individuals sponsor and endorse the athletes, who may even reward cash prizes to the wrestlers who do well.
Yagli Gures is Turkey's national sport and has been practised in the area for thousands of years, being founded in 1346. This wrestling style is one of the oldest continuous techniques still practised and becomes an essential part of Turkish culture.
Many Turks still dream of one day becoming a champion of Kirkpinar, and the sport itself has helped lay roots down for other sporting movements. With oil wrestling so large in Turkey, it undoubtedly helped Turkey's modern Olympic athletes' success, with them taking home five medals at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.
There is even a move named 'The Turk' where a person catches one of the opponent's legs between their own from the top position, preventing them from returning to their knees. It was named this after Turkey used it exclusively and took home several medals during the London Olympics in 1948.
Turkish oil Wrestling is an integral part of Turkish culture, so much so that it was recognised that UNESCO lists the Kirkpinar tournament as part of humanity's 'Intangible Cultural Heritage'.
Yagli Gures attracts thousands of people from different age groups, cultures and regions to travel to Turkey every year to see the wrestlers. It is a challenging style of wrestling and is a highly recommended celebration that's a must-see if you're at all into these kinds of heritage sports.