Gouren (Brittany, France)
Name of sport (game)
Name in native language
Place of practice (continent, state, nation)
Gouren became a popular sport in the Middle Ages. It was mainly practised by peasants, even if some priests also practised it. Breton lords learned it and also had some champions who fought for them. During festivals the nobles could fight each other using their champions, it was sometimes a way to solve conflicts.
With the French revolution of 1789, gouren lost its notoriety. The lords could no longer organise festivals and the churchmen participated in the loss of notoriety. Speeches banished gouren and its use: "...all those who go to the fights of St Kadou will be nothing but thieves, debauched and rascals who will roast in hell...". (said in 1831). Gouren survives however thanks to peasants in some regions of Brittany. The sport then became a peasant game.
In the 19th century, several writers described gouren tournaments, and several drawings and paintings were also produced, showing the sport in all its different forms. The tournaments organised by the festival committees were meeting places for wrestlers. Wrestlers fought for honour, challenge, pleasure and the prestige of being the strongest man, but the prizes for the winners could be considerable: sometimes a simple handkerchief or a hat, but also a sheep, a bull or a sum of money.
With the First World War in 1914 many Bretons, and therefore wrestlers, died in the war. In addition, the cities became attractive, thus emptying the countryside, which had the effect of weakening this traditional sport.
In 1930 Doctor Charles Cotonnec decided to create an organisation called FALSAB (Federation of Friends of Breton Wrestling and Athletic Sports) which would establish a set of rules. Each fight will be supervised by 3 referees and the fight will have a limited duration, depending on the age. Weight and age categories are also created. Other results than the "Lamm (perfect fall on both shoulder blades, ending the fight) were also created: the "Kostin" (fall on one shoulder blade) and the "Kein" (fall on the lower back), which made it possible to decide a winner at the end of a fight.
After that, the federation of gouren was finally created in 1980, it also allows to train wrestlers, referees and competition managers. With this, gouren also opened up to women. Since then, departmental, regional and European championships take place every year, as well as championships during summer festivals.
During the competitions, each wrestler will first weigh himself in his wrestling clothes. This is to check the outfit and whether the fingernails are cut short. Once all the wrestlers have been weighed, they are called to take the "wrestlers' oath". Wrestlers are called by category and placed to face each other. When everyone has been called the referee table says: "Prest Oc'h" which means "are you ready", the wrestlers then raise their right hand.
The oath of the wrestlers is then recited:
M’hen tou da c’houren gant lealded - I swear to fight in all loyalty
Hep trubarderez na taol fall ebet - Without treachery and without brutality
Evit ma enor ha hini ma bro - For my honour and that of my country
E testeni eus ma gwiriegez - As a testimony of my sincerity
Hag evit heul kiz vad ma zud koz - And to follow the custom of my ancestors
Kinnig a ran d’am c’henvreur ma dorn ha ma jod - I offer my hand and cheek to my opponent
Once the oath has been recited in French and Breton, the wrestlers will make "l'accolade" (which is an embrace) to the wrestler in front of them. The embrace is characterised by a handshake with the right hand, the left hand on the shoulder and the wrestlers kiss each other's cheek three times. After the oath all wrestlers can do what they want and will wait in different manners to be called to wrestle. Many will chat with other wrestlers (not necessarily from the same club), but also go and encourage their team members during the matches, or warm up before wrestling.
Once called to wrestle, one wrestler is given a red "Ruz" ankle bracelet and the other a green "Gwer" one. The three referees present check that all participants are ready, they also check that the wrestlers' belts are tightened, which has an influence on the fight. The three referees have three different roles:
● One referee will be the timekeeper, he will stop the clock when necessary
● One referee will be responsible for summarising the results
● One referee will sit at a table and record the wrestlers' scores and hand the score sheet to the main table that will announce the results
The three referees, although they have different roles, have equal decision-making power. They are also spread in a triangle across the mat in order to have an optimal visibility of the falls.
After the final checks, the Gouren combat will begin. After the summary referee says "Prest Oc'h" the wrestlers repeat the "accolade" to show that they are going to wrestle under the oath recited earlier. Once done, the referee says "Krogit" which means "You may Wrestle".
The fight then begins, the goal being to bring down the opponent on both shoulder blades before any other part of the body. This result corresponds to the "Lamm", it is the perfect result and putting it directly ends the fight. Other results also exist in order to differentiate the wrestlers at the end of the fight: "Kostin" which is equivalent to a fall on one shoulder blade, "Kein" is equivalent to a fall on the lower back, "Netra" is equivalent to a fall giving no result.
At the end of a fight, the number of points that are given to a wrestler depends on the result of his technique. If the wrestler wins by Diviz (when there is no result) or by Kein he will gain 3 points, by Kostin 4 points, and by Lamm 6 points.
Each result in the fight has a specific rank.Therefore, one must put the same result to equalize or one must make a higher one to win. For example:
● The wrestler Gwer starts with a Kein, after which the wrestler Ruz puts a Kostin. If the match ends with these results the Ruz wrestler wins by Kostin.
● The wrestler Gwer starts the match and puts a Kein, after which the wrestler Ruz puts a Kostin. Wrestler Gwer finally puts a Kostin at the end of the time. The two Kostin cancel each other out, so Gwer wins by Kein.
● The wrestler Ruz gives 4 Kostin to the wrestler Gwer. Before the extra time, the wrestler Gwer puts on a Lamm. The match ends and the wrestler Gwer wins by Lamm.
There is also an extra time called "Astenn" which is given when at the end of the regular time there has been no Kostin or Lamm. It is composed of half of the regulation time. Male adult fighters must therefore fight for 5 minutes + 2:30 minutes of overtime if there is no result. Female adult fighters must wrestle 4 minutes+ 2 minutes of overtime. There is a 30 second break before the overtime. This allows the wrestlers to drink a little and briefly talk to their coach who advises them on their wrestling or on the weaknesses of their opponents.
There are also penalties that can be added to this. If the wrestler deliberately falls down to avoid getting a result, or if he prevents his opponent from wrestling, he may be given a "Diwall" which means "warning". This Diwall does not give any points but if a second Diwall is given it becomes a "Fazi" which means a fault. A player who has taken a Fazi must at least put a Kostin to beat his opponent.
The Fazi can also be obtained if the wrestler tries to put his arm on the ground (which would influence the result but could also injure him) or if he insults or contests the referees' decision. When a wrestler has two fazi, it becomes a Poent ( which is equivalent to a Kostin, except in the case of a perfect tie between the two wrestlers where it is superior). And if the wrestler takes a third Fazi, it becomes a "Fazi Bras" translated by "Serious Fault" which excludes the wrestler from the fight.
Finally, if at the end of the match neither wrestler has made a result (Kein, Kostin, Lamm) there is a Diviz. The Diviz is a result that is decided by the referees. They decide among themselves which wrestler deserves to win. The choice is made if:
● One of the two wrestlers has attacked more than the other.
● One of the two wrestlers has committed a Diwall.
● One of the two wrestlers had a fall that was closest to a result.
If neither wrestler can be separated, the "Kouezh" is set up. The goal is to make a hold that takes the opponent to the back. If the opponent falls on his buttocks but rolls onto his back, he has lost.
Gouren’s sports season is spread over two periods: the winter season, from November to May, includes training courses and approximately thirty indoor competitions on "pallennoù" (mats), and the summer season, from June to August, includes tournaments and outdoor exhibitions, generally on the traditional sawdust track, every weekend and often during festivals.
In 2020, the Gouren Federation had 1521 wrestlers, 28% of them being women. They are training in the 45 different schools called “Skol” (meaning schools in Breton) throughout Brittany.
Between its different components the federation hires 9 employees constantly, 7 of which being gouren teachers. In 2019, 10,000 people had been initiated to Gouren.
Fédération de Gouren
10, rue Saint Ernel
Tel. 02 98 85 40 48
Sources of information
Technique de base:
The information contained in the article comes from the following sources:
Source of photos used in this article and gallery:
Pictures taken by Jean Paul Menou