Ruslan C Pashayev - Russo-Swiss Belt Wrestling

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My Dear Friends Mr. Sergey Kuzmin of Russia, Mr. Alexey Kostyrev of Latvia, Mr. Gernot Freiberger of Austria and Mr. Cay Fabian of Germany.

Russo-Swiss Belt Wrestling

Russo-Swiss Belt Wrestling was a professional wrestling (circus wrestling) style which in the second half of the XIX century was popular all around the Continental Europe, especially in Russia and Germany.

In the early 1880s this wrestling style was brought to Russia. At first by the troupes of traveling German pro-wrestling performers; in Russian towns at the folk festivals and fairs they challenged local men to a wrestling match in this style for prize-money. Later this wrestling style was taught as the “Russo-Swiss Wrestling” at the Athletic and Cycling Club of Dr. Wladislaw Krajewski aka Vladislav von Krajewski (1841-1901) in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire. The Polish native Krajewski also founded the St. Petersburg Amateur Weightlifting Society in 1885, and occupied a very prestigious position of the physician to the Czar (Emperor) of Russia. In Russia Krajewski is still remembered as the "The Father of Modern Athletics".

The professional belt wrestling matches were regularly performed in Russian circuses as a part of the wrestling entertainment, it was a first Russian Pro Wrestling. In Russia this style of wrestling was seen as an ultimate feat of strength, and was strongly associated with the weight-lifters and circus’ strongmen, it was a powerful men wrestling style. All the best Russian Graeco-Roman (French wrestling style) wrestlers had Russo-Swiss belt wrestling background. The best Russo-Swiss belt-wrestler of Russian Empire was Ivan Poddubny.

Around the world this style of wrestling was known under the different names. In German speaking countries it was known as the “Schweizer Gürtel – Ringkampf” (Swiss Belt Wrestling), in the United States, Canada and Australia as the “Swiss Belt Wrestling”, in England as the “Russian Strap Style”. Among the prominent practitioners of this style in the 1800s was German pro-wrestler Emil Voss of Stettin, Pomerania (back then German Empire, now Szczecin, Poland) who popularized this style of wrestling everywhere in the world.

Russo-Swiss Belt Wrestling was an equal fixed hold standing (upright) wrestling. The “crosswise” or above and under holds (right hand over and left hand under) were taken of the two handles attached to the thick leathern belts buckled about the waist of wrestlers. In the front of the belt there were two additional straps attached to it, those straps were tightened around the wrestlers’ legs in the crotch area and buckled to the back side of the belt. It was done to prevent the belt from shifting.

The objective of the match was to throw opponent flat on his back (two shoulder blades touching the ground simultaneously) with or without attacker falling himself. In this style no use of legs or feet for throwing was allowed. The matches were played 2 out of 3 falls. The main techniques of that style were: lifting adversary off his feet and taking him down on his back, or throwing him over the head, or pulling him towards yourself and capsizing him, or simply swaying and swinging opponent from side to side and trying to unbalance him thus causing a fall. The weight of wrestler and his physical strength were decisive factors for winning those contests.

Until now the origin of the Russo-Swiss belt wrestling was obscure. This style of wrestling definitely was not a traditional Russian folk wrestling style but rather a German import, first of all because of the unusual design of the belt (harness-type belt with two handles on the sides) that was unknown in Russian Empire before the arrival of German pro wrestlers.

Russian, Ukrainian and Belarus people in fact did have a traditional belt-wrestling styles of their own. It was called “на поясках“ (in Russian) or “за пояски, поясна боротьба“ (in Ukrainian) and “за паясы“ (in Belarusian) but in those folk wrestling styles the use of legs and feet for throwing was not strictly prohibited and often in order to win the match it was not necessary to put your opponent on his shoulder blades; the matches were decided on “first down to lose” conditions.

Also despite being often called a “Swiss style”, Russo-Swiss Belt Wrestling was unknown in Switzerland either where other two traditional wrestling styles were historically practiced (Schwingen and Suisse Lutte Libre - Swiss freestyle wrestling).

During my intense studies of the various wrestling styles and exercises which were taught in the German Gymnastic Societies, GGS (Turnverein, Turners) in XIX century I came across a book called “Turnschule für die deutsche Iugend” by Dr. Otto Heinrich Jaeger which was published in Leipzig, Germany in 1864.

The “Der Ringkampf” (Wrestling) chapter from that book (which starts on Page 212) provides a detailed description of two kinds of the GGS Ringgurt (ring-strap) wrestling exercises. The picture of the original GGS Ringgurt appears in another book by O. H. Jaeger called “Neue Turnschule” in Chapter “Das Ringspiel” on Page 175 (Stuttgart, 1891 edition). The GGS Ringgurt was a harness-type belt, the two rings attached to it were designed to be worn by the wrestlers around their thighs that prevented belt from shifting during the contest, and taking holds of the rings was allowed in one of the exercises.

The aforementioned two wrestling exercises were described as such:

1. fixed crosswise hold of the belt and of the ring around the thigh; the goal was to unbalance the opponent by lifting and swinging him from side to side

2. fixed crosswise hold of the belt only; the goal was to throw opponent flat on his back, both his buttocks and shoulder blades should be on the ground at the same time (fair back fall)

In that chapter is also mentioned the GGS Back-hold wrestling exercise, it was also a fixed crosswise hold around the body (trunk); the goal was to give opponent a fair back fall.

In all those exercises the fixed hold was performed crosswise (right hand outside/over and left hand inside/under) and no use of legs and feet for throwing allowed. According to the old Germanic wrestling traditions only wrestling with Arms and Hands/Arm-Ringen, Body/Leib-Ringen, and Hips/Hüft-Ringen was considered true and fair trial of strength and skill.

All those three GGS wrestling exercises had their origin in traditional folk wrestling styles of ancient Germanic people, namely breeches-hold (Hosen-Ringen), belt-hold (Gürtel-Ringen), and back-hold (aka Bären-Griff/bear-grip, or Bauern-Griff/farmer-grip) styles.

It appears to me that the original GGS belt wrestling style/exercise (which was taught by the GGS wrestling instructors at least since 1860s if not earlier than that) was at first learned and adopted by the contemporary German pro wrestlers and then turned into a completely new pro wrestling style which they called with a fancy name of “Schweizer Gürtel – Ringkampf.” At some point before 1880 the original GGS Ringgurt was modified by pro wrestlers, the unnecessary thigh-rings were removed from it (since it was a belt-hold only style) and instead the extra crotch-straps were added to it, that made the belt design perfectly suiting the conditions of the game. It was traveling German pro wrestling pioneers who exhibited their Schweizer Gürtel – Ringkampf in different European countries and even on all continents including America.

I summarize my article with this statement - the Russo-Swiss belt wrestling originated from the mentioned above GGS belt-hold wrestling exercise.

The original paragraphs (in German) from “Turnschule für die deutsche Iugend” about the Ringgurt and Back-hold wrestling exercises will follow this article.

© 2021 Ruslan C Pashayev All Rights Reserved.

Turnschule für die deutsche Iugend, als Anweisung für die Turnlehrer in Württemberg bearbeitet von Dr. Otto Heinrich Jaeger, vormals a.o. Professor der praktischen Philosophie und Pädagogik an der Hochschule Zürich, derzeit Lehrer an der Turnschule in Stuttgart, Leipzig, 1864.

Gymnastics school for the German youth, as an instruction for the gym instructor in Württemberg, edited by Dr. Otto Heinrich Jaeger, formerly Professor of practical Philosophy and Education at the University of Zurich, currently teacher at the gymnastics school in Stuttgart, Leipzig, 1864

The Articles 6, 7 and 8 on the GGS Belt-Wrestling and Back-Hold Wrestling exercises. Pages 219-220.

„Der jeweils in der Verbindung von Ziehen und Schieben liegende Kampf um den Stand mit Griff links (rechts) innen hinter Gegners Hüfte am Hauptgurt, rechte (links) außen an Gegners Schenkel am Ring; in Schrittstellung erst linksvor, dann je vom selben Paare sofort auch rechtsvor. Der fürss ziehen von Nr. 1 abgeschnallte Ring wird wieder angeschnallt, und beide Ringer ziehen den Ringgurt an, indem sie mit den Füßen in die Ringe schlüpfen und den Hauptgurt gleichmäßig fest um den Leib schnala len . Haben sie sich gefaßt, so legen sie sich mit den linken (rechten) Schultern an einander und suchen einander vom Plaße zu bringen , aufzuheben und herumzuschwingen . Wer den Andern in die Höhe bringt und hochhält und schwingt, hat gesiegt. Wäh rend aber ein Paar jdwingt, zieht das nächste die Ringgurte an und macht sich vollkommen schwingfertig.“

“The struggle for maintaining the standing (upright) position, with the grip on the left (right) inside behind the opponent's hip on the main belt, right (left) outside on the opponent's thigh on the ring; in-step position first left forward, then by the same pair immediately also right forward. The ring that has been unbuckled for pulling from exercise No. 1 is buckled up again, and both wrestlers tighten the ring belt by slipping their feet into the rings and buckling the main belt evenly around their bodies. Once they have composed themselves, they stand body to body, their left (right) shoulders met, and try to get each other off the ground, to pick them up and to swing around. Whoever lifts the other up, holds up and swings, has won. But while one pair is swinging, the next pulls on the ring-straps and gets completely ready to swing. "

“Ringen um Wurf mit gegebenen Griffen am Gurt, in Schrittstellung erst linksvor, dann je vom selben Paare sofort auch rechtsvor. Die Griffe werden aber an den Ringgurten genau genommen, wie bei 6; nur gilt es jeßt eben, den Gegner nicht nur zu schwingen, sondern im Schwunge auch so zu werfen , daß er auf Gesäß und Schulterblätter zu liegen kommt. Dabei gilt die Regel, daß im Ausholen zum Schwunge auch gefniet, hins hinwiederum mit der einen oder anderen Hand der Griff auch gewechselt und beliebig genommen werden darf.”

“Wrestling for a throw with holds applied to the belt, in-step position first left forward, then by the same pair immediately right forward. The holds are taken directly of the ring-straps, as with Article 6; But it is always important not only to swing the opponent, but also to throw him while swinging so that it comes down on the buttocks and shoulder blades. The rule here is that when backing out to swing, the grip can also be changed and taken at will with one hand or the other. “

“Ringen um Wurf mit gegebenen Griffen um den Leib, links (rechts) innen , rechts (links) außen , in Schrittstellung erst linksvor , dann je vom selben Paare sofort auch rechtsvor. Die Gegner liegen Leib an Leib, halten sich möglichst tief fest um schlungen, und suchen nun einander zu werfen, wie oben bei 7. Die Ringgurte sind dabei ausgezogen und bei Seite gethan.

„Wrestling for a throw with holds around the body, left (right) inside, right (left) outside, in-step position first left forward, then by the same pair immediately also right forward. The opponents stand body to body, hug each other as tightly as possible, and now try to throw each other, as in Article 7 above. The ring straps are pulled out and put to one side. “

Articles 678
© 2021 Ruslan C Pashayev All Rights Reserved.

Russo Swiss Reference

Russian Folk

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1912 Reference

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1902 Russian Wrestling in London

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Russo Swiss Belt Wrestling Belt Design

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