Association of Australian Celtic Wrestlers

One of the major projects that the Coreeda Association of Australia is involved with, in conjuction with the Association of Australian Celtic Wrestlers, is the revival of the Celtic wrestling styles that were practiced in Colonial Australia. Undoubtedly the oldest surviving Historical European Martial Arts, records on Celtic wrestling go back more than 2000 years. Pan-Celtic Wrestling is a style that is actually unique to Australia and this websites covers all current events relating to the sport;

but many styles are considered ancestral to it, including; 


1. Cornish Wrestling or wrasslin Kernewek as it is called in the Unified Cornish language, also known as gwrynva in the old Brythonic tongue, is the most well known of the Celtic jacket styles practiced in Colonial Australia. First recorded in mythology, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1139AD classic 'the History of the Kings of Britain' Cornwall is named after Corineus, the champion who defeated a giant named Gogmagog by throwing him over a cliff. If the name Corineus is substituted with Taranis, the Gaulish thunder god and Gogmagog with Ogma, the champion of King Nuada from Irish lore, it becomes apparent that Geoffrey was actually retelling an ancient Celtic fable. The original Celtic tribe of Cornwall were called Cornovii by the Romans and in the 5th century the Anglo Saxons were referring to the people that lived there Cornu Welsh, or foreigners from Cornu but even in that era Cornishmen were already well known as powerful fighters. The sport was handed down from father to son since time immemorial becoming very popular from the late 18th century and in 1923 the Cornish Wrestling Association began formally organising competitions including inter-regional tournaments.

Cornish Wrestling Association website


2. Devonshire Wrestling or Gwrynva Deunansek is the style that was once played across the Tamar river border from Cornwall and likewise used a jacket to assist in holds and throws. The Devon style was more well known for its use of the 'outplay' method of kicking an opponents legs out from under them to make them fall. It differed mostly from the Cornish style in that wrestlers wore shoes with hardened souls during competitions. This style of Celtic wrestling became extinct in Devon in the 1890s. The sport was however made a part of the Cotswold Olympick Games that were held in nearby Gloucestershire, lasting from 1612 till 1852. In 1963 the Cotswold Olympicks were revived and Devonshire wrestling was modified into a sport called 'shin kicking' that can still be seen at the beginning of June each year, thus through adaptation the sport has survived. 

See here for more information about Devonshire Wrestling


3. Gouren is the style from Brittany in France or Breizh as it is known in the Breton language (Breznoheg), which is closely related to the Cornish tongue. Gouren is similar in nearly every aspect to the sport in Cornwall, using a wrestling jacket, known as a roched and striving for a back touch fall, called a lamm. The Bretons are essentially the descendents of the people who fled what is now England with the Anglo Saxon invasions and set up colonies in Armorica to mix with the native Gauls. The Breton and Cornish people have always maintained contact with each other and tournaments in gouren/gwrynva have been happening since before recorded history. In 1520 during a lavish peace treaty at the Field of Cloth of Gold near Calais, King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France arranged for the Cornish and Breton wrestlers of their kingdoms to wrestle against each other for the entertainment of the nobles. It is even said the two kings wrestled each other with both sides claiming victory, depending which side of the Channel the story is told. The Federation de Gouren was started at the same time as the Cornish Wrestling Association and a popular inter-Celtic tournament was instigated in 1928 .

Federation de Gouren website


4. Ymaflyd Codwn Cefn or the back fall style of wrestlo in the Cymraeg language of Wales, also has an ancient heritage extending back to early myth. The Mabinogion Collection records that the Welsh hero Pryderi, who was the equivalent of Cu Chullain from Ireland, was trained in all the noble accomplishments as befitting a prince. In 1420 the poet Rhys Goch Eryri defined these accomplishments as the 'pedair camp ar hugain' or 24 measures of a man which included activities as diverse as hurling heavy stones, running, leaping, horsemanship, weapons training, falconry, singing and playing chess. Ymavael which translates as seizing on to something, was the unarmed regime of combat training for warriors. It was the same style as in Cornwall that used a jacket for dynamic throws but also borrowed elements from the Devon style of outplay. It survived until the 1940s as a rural sport called 'purring' that according to accounts was similar to the shin kicking event mentioned above. There are some stories that indicate it may still occasionally be played amongst the Patagonian Welsh descendents of Chubut Province in Argentina and it is hoped that one day it will be an event at the Welsh National Eisteddfod held on August 1st during the lughnasadh. 

See this PDF attachment for more information about Welsh wrestling


5. Caraoicht Coilear Agus Uile or Collar & Elbow Wrestling in Irish Gaelic was also a jacket style but unlike the other jacket styles had each competitor starting in a catch hold with the right hand on the opponents collar and left hand resting on the opponents elbow. Different to the Scottish Backhold, breaking the grip did not end the match and the goal was to achieve a back touch fall similar to the Cornu-Breton styles, so it was like a mix between the other Celtic traditions. This sport was part of the Aonach Tailtean or Fair of Tailtu held in Teltown County Meath from before 1829BC till outlawed by government decree in 1806, the longest running ancient sporting carnival in Europe. The great Irish hero Cu Chullain competed at the Aonach Tailtean, which were started by his father the sun god Lugh in honour of his own foster mother Queen Tailtu and were part of the lughnasadh harvest festivals (a.k.a. loaf mass) that were practiced throughout the Celtic realms at the beginning of each August.  Also known as scuffling, the sport thrived in the countryside until the An Gorta Mor, the Great Potato Blight Famine of 1845 that killed millions of peasant farmers and forced many others to leave the homeland to spread around the world. Scuffling was practiced in colonial Australia and survived in America until being absorbed into Folkstyle (Collegiate Wrestling) in the early 20th century. In 1993 a group called Coiste Caraoicht Celteach began a revival movement for scuffling and are attempting to have it recognised as a national sport by Cumann Luthchleas Gael, the Gaelic Athletic Association. On the West Coast of Ireland & especially the Gaelic enclave of the Aran Islands, a style of wrestling with a catch-hold start has been played since time immemorial & this may well be connected with the following traditions. 

See this PDF attachment for more information about Irish Wrestling


6. Backhold is an old style of wrestling or carachd as it is called in Scottish Gaelic that requires competitors to seize each other in a fixed hold before the start of the match, one arm over, one arm under the opponents shoulder, with hands clasped at the back, hence the backhold title. Breaking the hold or touching the ground with any part of the body other than the feet ends the match. The sport has been central to the Highland Games since their inception in the 12th century but is most likely based on the concept of the Tailtean Games that were brought over from the Emerald Isle when the 5th century Kingdom of Dalriada ruled what is now both Northern Ireland & Western Scotland. It is highly likely the Scottish system shares a common ancestry with the other Celtic styles as an evolved form of jacket wrestling that was probably played by the Caledonii Pictish ancestors. The Scottish Kilt was once a much larger garment than the simple wrap around skirt that is so well known today. Called the Great Kilt or breacan an fheilidh it reached across one shoulder in the same manner that wrestlers begin their matches and the backhold start may have developed from a grip on the Great Kilt. Medieval art gives depictions of a wrestling style that used a sash that reached across one shoulder in this way but this sport, sometimes referred to as sidehold wrestling, has subsequently become extinct, replaced by the backhold style. Backhold is promoted in Scotland by the Comunn Carachd Na h-Alba (the Scottish Wrestling Bond)

Scottish Wrestling Bond website


7. Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling has the same catch-hold start as the Scottish backhold but is played across the border in the old English counties of Cumberland & Westmoreland. Reaching a peak in popularity in the late 19th century with the professional World Championships, the sport has the oldest organisational structure of all the Celtic styles with the creation of the  Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling Association, which has been functioning since 1824. It is thought that the reason catch-hold start wrestling is so popular in both Northern England & Southern Scotland is because it began as a peace-keeping ritual between the two people & has subsequently become culturally entrenched over the eons. Hadrian's Wall has always defined the border & the town of Carlisle, where the World Championship was contested, was originally called Luguvallium or Fortress of Lugh; even in the Roman era it was a stronghold to protect against Pictish incursions. With the growth of the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria from the 5th century, the region became less & less identified with its Celtic roots, eventually this turned into a rivalry with Scotland but this did well for the sport as it stimulated its growth in both regions. Today the Cumbraic people are again forging a strong connection with their most ancient cultural heritage with C&W Wrestling becoming closely connected with the other Celtic styles. 

C&W Wrestling Association website


8. Glima is the national sport of Iceland and as such is mostly considered as belonging to the Scandinavian people but there is reason to believe it may be more closely connected to the Celtic sports than most assume. Always associated with glima competitions is a catch-hold start style of wrestling called hyryggspenna, which follows exactly the same rules as Scottish backhold & C&W Wrestling, indicating at least some shared historical heritage. The Vikings were raiding the whole of Northern Europe from the 8th century & were for long periods in control of vast tracts of the British Isles, which obviously lead to cultural exchanges. When they first settled in Iceland they discovered that Irish monks had preceded them there & no doubt absorbed these men into their society. The way glima is played today however, makes it a very unique sport, unlike any other style of wrestling in the world, even though many try to classify it simply as a belt style. Glima is mentioned many times in the old sagas & the Norse god Thor was said to be champion of Valhalla; apparently the only match he couldn't win was against the hag of old age, but has anyone ever won this fight? Iceland has been an agrarian democracy since the formation of the Althing Parliament in the year 1100 & glima contests were often used as a legislated method to settle disputes since this time. Since 1906 Iceland has conducted a National Glima Championship, which brought a standardisation in the rules of play. In some of the old wrestling styles, competitors commenced with a catch-hold grip on each others trousers but nowadays a special leather harness that wraps around the waist & thighs is used. After holding on to this at the start of the match, the wrestlers must stay standing completely upright while looking over each others shoulders. They then begin to circle each other in a kind of combat waltz & aim to trip or throw the other down, any part of the body in between the elbows & knees constitutes a fall. Glima also has the rare distinction of once being an Olympic sport & was contested at the 1908 London & 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games while the governing body, Glimusamband Island, has been functioning since 1916. In 2008 a group consisting of the Glima Associations of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany & the Netherlands formed the International Glima Association & has been holding a world championship since then, with a hope of once again gaining Olympic status for the sport. 

International Glima Association website


9. Lucha Leonesa is the style of wrestling practiced in the Celt-Iberian lands of Northern Spain and Portugal. An amalgam of several different sports that were played since the pre-Roman era such as Aluche from Leon, loita from Galicia, lucha de la cruz from Salamanca, lucha de Roncal from the Pyrenese, galhofa from Northern Portugal and baltu from Asturias, the Federacion de Lucha Leonesa was created in 1930. Utilising a leather belt for a catch hold start, the aim is for the best of three falls in a match and the sport has a huge following. Celtic people have lived in this part of the Iberian Peninsular since the formation of the Castro Culture in the Bronze Age of 500BC and the name of the province of Galicia is taken from the Gallaeci people who were conquered by the Romans in the 1st century, while the province of Leon is named after the sun god Lugh. In about 500AD several of the Celtic tribes of what is now England set up a colony in the region, called Britonia, after fleeing the Anglo saxons (similar to what happened in Brittany). Although the language of the region, Galician, may no longer be Celtic, there is no doubt that Lucha Leonesa is a descendent of the older Celtic sporting tradition. 

Federacion de Lucha Leonesa website


10. Lucha Canaria although strictly speaking is not a true Celtic style, it has never the less evolved in parallel with the other sports and has joined the International Federation of Celtic Wrestling. This sport is incredibly popular in the Canary Islands and is considered the national sport of the entire archipelago. Although they are an Autonomous Community of the Kingdom of Spain, the unique human heritage of the islands makes the evolution of this sport unlike anything else in the world. First settled by a people called the Guanches, who were probably related to the neighbouring North African Imazighen (Berber) populations, the islands developed a Neolithic culture that built mounumental architecture, practiced mummification of the dead and developed an as yet undeciphered script. Although contacted sporadically in ancient times, as recorded by the Roman Pliny the Elder, the Guanches created a stable society ruled by mencey kings, uncontaminated by the outside world and truly deserved the nickname of the Fortunate Isles as they were known in the Medieval period. All this changed in 1402 when the Spanish began their conquest of the islands and the Guanches were the first to feel the cold Toledo steel of the Conquistadors before they went on to ransack the New World. Even with their advanced weaponry and numerical superiority it still took nearly a century to subdue all seven islands and the Guanches were known as fierce warriors, well trained in unarmed combat due to their regular practice of wrestling, which was done at all major gatherings. The rules for modern Lucha Canaria were first codefied in 1872 and the sport is conducted on a sand covered ring called a terrero by two competing teams of twelve players each. As the wrestlers are paired they meet in the centre of the arena where they shake hands with right and grasp the rolled up hem of each others shorts with their left hands. As they come together their right hands touch the sand in front of them and the bout begins, the first to achieve three falls is the victor. For more info about this sport see the website for the Federacion de Lucha Canaria;


11. Barroka is the indigenous style of the Euskaldunak people of the Basque Country of the French and Spanish Pyrenees in the Bay of Biscay. The Euskaldunak speak a unique linguistic isolate that predates the coming of the Indo-European languages into Europe and may be as old as the well known cave art of the region. After removing their berets and placing them behind lines marked about 2 metres from the centre of the wrestling pitch, the competitors then grab hold of each others belts and try to force the other back into his own territry across the line. This is all done to very quick rhythms kept by musicians using a tlaxaparta or traditional Basque xylophone. Like Lucha Canaria this is not necessarily a Celtic sport but may actually be ancestral to many of them due to ethnic mixing over the milennia. For more information about Barroka check out this website;


12. Schwingen from the German verb meaning 'to swing" is the Swiss style of wrestling famously contested on round pits of sawdust & using baggy canvas shorts with thick leather belts (called schwingerhosen) for lifts and throws. Also known as Hoselupf or 'lifting up by the pants' or Lutte Suisse in French, nobody is really sure of the origin of the sport, it has just been played since time immemorial. The alternative name for Switzerland is Helvetia, named after the major Celtic tribe that dominated the region in the era of the Roman Empire and the national sport of schwingen attracts as many as 80,000 spectators at its major event, the Eidgenossisches Schwing und Alperfest, which is held every three years on or near the Swiss National Day of August 1, coincidently or not the same time as the Celtic Lughnasadh. The Unspunnenfest of the town of Interlaken in the Canton of Bern has taken place every 12 years since 1805 & was a nationalistic reaction to the invasion of the Swiss Confederacy by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in the period of the Helvetic Republic. Champions of the sport are called Schwingerkonig or Kings of Schwingen & in addition to Swiss style wrestling, these celebrations of Swiss ethnic identity also include Steintossen or throwing heavy boulders & Hornussen which is a bit like golf on steroids as well as alpernhorn & yodelling performances, making them very unique celebrations.

Eidgenossischer Schwingerverband website


12. Ranggeln and Karnten Ringen are the sports played in the Alpine regions of Salzburg & Carinthia in Austria, the original Halstatt and La Tene heartlands of all the Celtic cultures. Ranggeln is like many of the indigenous sports played by the Insular Celts of the UK and Ireland in that a canvas shirt similar to a wrestling jacket is used to assist in holds and throws while the major event, called Hagmoar von Hundstein, is held at the same time as the Celtic Lughnsadh Harvest Festival at the beginning of August. Karnten Ringen, from Villach the southern most district of Carinthia State, is also a jacket style but differs from Ranggeln by what constitutes a fall. In Ranggeln the opponent must be pinned on his back for a length of time while in Karnten Ringen if any part of the body above the knees touches the ground, this  brings an instant finish to the contest, showing regional variance even in close proximity. Carinthia is called Karnten in German & Koroska in the Slovene language but both these words probably derive from an older Celtic word "Carant" meaning 'Friend'; therefore it can easily be translated to mean the 'Land of the Friends'. Just like in Spain, although the predominant language of the region is now German, there can be no doubt that these sports are descendents of a Celtic style. Artwork on a knife scabbard excavated from an ancient Celtic grave in Salzburg has depictions of a wrestling event held over 2,500 years ago, so the sport predates by at least a millennia the use of the Deutch & Slavic languages currently in Austria.

Salzburger Rangglerverband website


13. Aba Gures is the traditional style of jacket wrestling from Gazientep and Hatay Provinces in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. In 278BC Celtic people crossed the Bosporus to set up a kingdom in the Central Highlands of Asia Minor called Galatia. The Turkish capital, Ankara, which was also the Galatian capital is named after the Celtic word for 'anchor'. Famed for their prowess in warfare, Galatian warriors were often hired out as merecenaries during this period as far afield as Egypt. The Celtic language was still widely used when the region became a Roman province but during the Byzantine era, there was a purging of all pagan customs and it is thought that this impacted heavily on the Galatian culture and language. There was an independent state of Galatia created in 1073 under the leadership of Norman Crusaders but this was soon conquered by the Seljuk Turks under the Sultanate of Rum (Rome). Many Galatian words were subsequently absorbed into Turkish and jacket wrestling did survive throughout the period of the Ottoman Empire with the largest tournaments still held during the Celtic Lughnasadh Festival at the beginning of August. The major organisation that promotes aba gures is Turkiye Geleneksel Spor Dallari Federansyonu, the Turkish Traditional Sports Federation.

see this PDF attachment for more information about Aba Gures


14. Pan-Celtic Wrestling is the revival of the Celtic sports that were played in Australia in the colonial period. These were the first imported styles and the Irish had practiced scuffling as a tavern sport since the 1790s, it was also closely associated with the Vinegar Hill Rebellion of 1804, as a method of combat training for the convict rebels but seems to have died out by the 1860s. The Scottish Communities of the major cities were creating imitation Highland Games as early as the 1830s and the Melbourne Caledonian Society sponsored several backhold competitions at the MCG in the 1860s that drew over 10,000 spectators. Cornish wrestling was very popular in the mining towns across Australia but particularly in Bendigo, Ballarat, Moonta, Kadina, Wallaroo, Broken Hill and Cobar from the 1860s till the turn of the 20th century. After the First World War and the Great Depression of the 1930s the link with these ancient sports seems to have been severed and instead professional catch as catch can wrestling became the dominant style in peoples consciousness. In 2001 with the help of the Cornish Associations of Australia, a new championship was devised for the Kernewek Lowender in Moonta but Pan-Celtic Wrestling combines the rules of the three Celtic sports, Scottish backhold, Irish scuffling & Cornish wrasslin, fought by the wrestlers in three seperate rounds.

see this PDF attachment for more information about P-CW


15. The International Federation of Celtic Wrestling or le Federation International des Luttes Celtiques FILC as it is known in French was created in 1985 to revive the inter-Celtic wrestling events that were popular from 1928 till the 1970s. They have been conducting an annual European tournament in two styles of Celtic wrestling, Breton gouren & Scottish backhold but are constituted by a dozen traditional sports organisations. These include;

1. Federation de Gouren

2. Scottish Wrestling Bond 

3. Cornish Wrestling Association

4. Cumberland & Westmorland Wrestling Association

5. Glimusamband Island

6. Federacion de Lucha Leonesa

7. Federacion de Lucha Canaria

8. Salzburger Rangglerverband

9. Federazione S'Istrumpa

10. Coiste Caraiocht Ceilteach

11. Frysian Gouren Association

12. Swedish Glima Association

It is hoped that an Australian team can one day travel to this championship to challenge the Europeans and this is the ultimate aim of the Association of Australian Celtic Wrestlers. 

FILC website  


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