Turk Wrestling Australia Inc
Turk Wrestling Australia Inc was formally established in 2000, after the Sydney Olympics, under the leadership of its first president Mehmet Latif Sagol, to encourage Australians of Turkish descent to participate in sporting forms of wrestling. With a population of nearly 40,000 scattered across every major city in Australia and with a strong tradition in several styles of wrestling, it was determined that Australian Turks could contribute to make wrestling a more popular pastime in Australia, therefore strengthening the competition circuit. Built on an earlier foundation of Turkish wrestling clubs established in the Western Suburbs of Sydney since 1975, Turk Wrestling Australia Inc has produced numerous Australian champions and international representatives for various styles of wrestling and plan to continue to do so long into the future.
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The land which is encompassed by the modern nation of Turkey has produced some of the oldest artwork in the world depicting the sport of wrestling. A famous bronze statuette, known as the Khafaji Bronze, was unearthed from the ancient Sumerian city of Tutub near what is now Baghdad in the 1930s. Dated at nearly 5,000 years old, it depicts two wrestlers gripping on to each others belts while balancing large vases on their heads. If the historian Mohamed El Fers is correct then these vases may be symbolic that the wrestlers were actually covered in olive oil, demonstrating that oil wrestling is truly indigenous to the region. Today Yagli Gures, as oil wrestling is known in the Turkish language, is the most popular expression of traditional wrestling in Turkey, with hundreds of thousands of wrestlers participating in tournaments across the country. There are also several references in Hittite sources that describe how wrestling was often used as a votive offering done before large statues of the gods in ancient times, so the sport has always held an element sacredness in the region. The Hittite word for wrestling was Hulhuliya but they often used another synonym, Kit Palu that sounds very similar to the Greek word used to describe the sport. The researcher David Chibo has put together a compelling argument that major athletic tournaments were held for thousands of years throughout the Near East by Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite people during the month of Arah Abu in August. Because of the popular epic poem that may have inspired this he calls them the Gilgamesh Games and believes they came to inspire the ancient Greek Olympiks in the 8th century BCE. You can read more about this at his website;
Although many people assume that modern Greco-Roman Wrestling is the descendant of the style of wrestling practiced during the ancient Greek Olympik Games, this is a misnomer because Greco actually evolved from traditional Southern French wrestling in the 1840s, known as Lutte a main plat and has no connection whatsoever with either ancient Greece or Rome. It was only called Greco-Roman Wrestling with the creation of the modern Olympic movement to identify it with the Classical period, but gullible people still believe this propaganda. Yagli Gures on the other hand is still practiced in regions where the ancient Greeks held their gymnic agon, or naked games, as the sporting festivals were known and their style of wrestling, called Orthopale, has many parallels to Yagli Gures. During wrestling events held in the ancient Olympik stadium and several other sporting venues across the Hellenic world, palaistis or wrestlers would rub olive oil into their skin before competing, just as the pehlivan still do in Yagli Gures. Of course there are several differences between the two sports as well. Victory in Orthopale was determined when the opponent was either thrown flat on his back three times in one match, known as a triakter, or was lifted and carried out of the wrestling arena, while in Yagli Gures the idea is to bring the opponent to the ground and turn him over so that his belly is exposed to the sun, or lift and carry him for five steps in any direction. The other major difference is that Orthopale was done completely naked, with clothing actually forbidden, while Yagli Gures follows a Muslim sensibility and has the pehlivan wearing special leather trousers called kizpet, but after nearly 1500 years since the last official Olympik Games, it isn't surprising that the sport followed its own evolutionary path, seeing the rise and fall of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
The biggest Yagli Gures tournament, with 1,000 wrestlers and a television viewing audience numbering in the millions, is held each June in the ancient capital city of Edirne and is known as Kirkpinar or the Festival of the Forty Springs. According to Turkish mytho-history, during a military campaign by the Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi in 1346, an elite force of 40 warriors layed siege to several cities in what is now Greece and after conquering them set up camp on the Ahir Koy Meadow in what is now Bulgaria. As a form of entertainment for the other troops, two of these warriors began a wrestling match early in the morning that still continued until late at night, after all the all the other warriors had retired for the evening. At dawn the next day the others rose to witness a grisly site. Because neither would concede, the two warriors became exhausted during their fight and they were locked still on their feet in a motionless death embrace. They were then buried under a fig tree but when the other warriors returned a year later to pay tribute to their colleagues, they found a miracle had happened on the site of the wrestling match, 40 underground springs had miraculously appeared to water the area for habitation. From then on a commemorative wrestling festival was held on that spot until forced to move to Edirne after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
Because of this passion for wrestling, Turkey has a very enviable record at the Olympic Games and at all international wrestling events; it is regarded as one of the strongest wrestling nations in the world. In addition to International Freestyle and Greco Roman Wrestling, which are known as Minder Gures or Mat Wrestling, Turkey has also developed several other styles of Cayir Gures or Meadow Wrestling alongside Yagli Gures. This includes Aba Gures or Jacket Wrestling of Hatay and Gazientep provinces, which is detailed in the Celtic Wrestling pages on this website, Karakojak a style that is similar to Yagli Gures but without the use of olive oil to make the wrestlers slippery, Kusak Gures or Belt Wrestling as practiced by Turkic Tatar Nomads across Central Asia and Kisar Salvar Gures that is practiced by the Turkomen tribes in Kahramanmaras Province by using big baggy canvas shorts to assist in all holds and throws.
Turk Wrestling Australia Inc has a desire to encourage the development of all these sports as well as the Olympic styles and wrestlers are encouraged to compete in any tournament in any style of wrestling. The strongest emphasis is however in the development of Yagli Gures in Australia and strong ties are now being formed not just with the Turkish Wrestling Federation but also with other national organisations that practice oil wrestling such as in Macedonia and Bulgaria where it is called Maslo Borba and in the Northern Greek provinces of Thrace and Serres where it is called Palema. Oil Wrestling tournaments are also held in the Netherlands, Switzerland and even in Japan. In 2010 a contingent of Ozumo Rikishi were invited to the 649th Kirkpinar Festival where the giant Akino Mine put on a demonstration against Pehlivan Ahmet Tasci to the fascination of a worldwide ausience that saw Yagli Gures compete against Sumo for the first time ever.
Yagli Gures demonstrations have been held during Turkish Festivals in Auburn in Western Sydney since the mid 1970s. There are indications of similar shows held in Gladstone Park Melbourne at the same time but it is thanks to the effort of one man that the sport has continue in Australia over the last 40 years. Pehlivan Hasan Yilmaz was the wrestling coach at the Leichhart Youth Centre from 1972 and produced many state and national champions that also went on to represent Australia at world Championship events. His boys brought many medals back to the club and when they did Yagli Gures performances it was always to sell out crowds of over 10,000 spectators. His son Pehlivan Zafar Ylimaz actually travelled to Edirne in 1989 to compete in the Kirkpinar, the only Australian to date to hold this honour. Zafar continued his fathers legacy after his passing and continued to arrange shows throughout the 1990s, in fact he still remains active in Turk Wrestling Australia Inc to this day. In the last decade the organisation has encouraged hundreds of boys of any ethnicity to get involved in the ancestral sport of wrestling and partnering with the private school Sule College anticipates producing many more future champions. Currently classes are held at the Auburn-Lidcombe RSL Youth Club but if you would like to learn more about the organisation and its goals please check out the website at the top of this page.
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