Turkey’s unique national pastime: oil wrestling

While America has baseball, New Zealand has rugby, and Australia has cricket, Turkey has a national pastime that some may find a bit odd– oil wrestling. Also known as “grease wrestling,” the sport involves men clad in black leather pants carrying wicker bags that contain bottles of olive oil, which they must pour over every inch of their flesh. Because it’s so difficult for a participant to get a good grip on their opponent, a common strategy is “hands down pants,” which literally entails fully sticking your hands down another man’s pants. There are five levels of advancement in the sport and children as young as seven begin training to make it to the top.

Since 1362, the city of Edirne in Turkish Thrace has been celebrating oil wrestling by hosting an annual Kirkpinar tournament. The event is the oldest, continuously running, sanctioned, sporting competition in the world, and people from all over travel to watch Pehlivan (wrestlers) compete for the winning gold belt and the title of “Chief Pehlivan.” Sorry ladies, the sport is for men only. But, don’t think that just any guy off the street can enter the contest, as Pehlivans are held in high esteem and are considered role models with honest, humble, moral, and respectful personalities. These men are also expected to adhere to local traditions and are trained as an apprentice by a master of the sport. This year, the event will take place July 2-8, 2012.

For a better idea of this unique pastime, check out the short documentary above.