Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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Bashkir national wrestling kuresh
− one of the varieties of belt wrestling.
They wrapped their arms around each other,
First a step forward, then a step back,
They want to overcome each other.
Force is opposed to force;
Craftiness is opposed to deception;
They squeeze each other,
they crush each other
First they both straighten the body…
Then they lean forward again and flex,
Then they step aside, then converge…
They rest their shoulders against each other,
They squeeze each other with new force,
They crush each other with new force…
Embraced by annoyance and audacity!

Pyotr Mikhailovich Kudryashov,
poet, member of the secret society of the Decembrists

Kuresh wrestling is an integral part of the national Bashkir culture, in previous centuries wrestling was included in the program of folk and religious holidays.
Ilgam Khabibullin writes about this in his scientific article: «The traditional Bashkir national wrestling kuresh is one of the varieties of belt wrestling, it has its own characteristics. The main weapon in the hands of the batyrs (heroes, brave warriors) was only a bilbau – a felt, linen or silk belt. This is the only object attribute in the single combat». According to the Hungarian historian László Kun, in the Middle Ages belt wrestling as well as horse riding, cold weapons skills, archery was part of the military-physical training of nomads.
In the old days most Bashkir boys received their first lessons in kuresh wrestling from their close relatives: their father, older brothers. The famous kuresh wrestlers in the vicinity taught local children the tactics of wrestling.

Teaching Bashkir children kuresh wrestling is reflected in Bashkir oral folk art. In the epic «Kuzyjkurpes and Mayankhylu» Karabai taught his son Kuzyjkurpes wrestling, forcing him to wrestle with his peers.

Sports competitions in previous centuries were included in the program of folk (iyiyn, sabantui, etc.) and religious (Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha) holidays. Today kuresh wrestling is always the highlight of the program at sabantui.
Ethnographer Sergei Rudenko described in detail the course of the kuresh combat.
«A wrestling begins in the center of the circle. It consists in the fact that the wrestlers step in the middle of the maidan (the place where the competitions are held), and, throwing off their outer dress (they remain only in trousers and a shirt) and rolling up their shirt sleeves, they converge and grapple, throwing a belt (bibau) over each other's back, the ends of which each holds in his hands, wrapping around the wrist. Spreading legs and testing each other in dexterity and strength, they try to wrestle each other to the ground. Slowly and heavily shifting from place to place, turning each other to one side, then to the other, or falling on one knee, they try to throw the opponent over their head or press him to their chest, trying to break his resistance, leaning on him with all the weight of their body, or lift the opponent into the air and, turning three times around their axis, throw him to the ground».
Gradually getting carried away, dozens of pairs of wrestlers gather in the arena. Only when two equally strong opponents wrestle, all the attention of the audience is focused on this pair.

The winning wrestler approaches one of the old men distributing awards and receives from him a couple of eggs, a handkerchief or just a piece of cloth.

He immediately gives the prize to someone from the honorary persons: his father, uncle or an old man, who, in turn, presented the winner with a coin.

Trans-Ural Bashkirs strictly observe the rule – a wrestler who is defeated once no longer wrestles. This is the idea of the rite, its essence: a wrestler must wrestle with dignity, not hoping for leniency, not on the off-chance – a chance to win is given once.
The ethnographer N. V. Bikbulatov describes the kuresh of a later period in this way:
«The arena is a circle, near which the spectators future participants are arranged in a tight ring. There are two or three judges inside the circle with incentive prizes and gifts piled up around them. The winner is seated in a certain place in the circle, and the loser receives an incentive prize and is eliminated. And so on until everyone who wants to take part in the competition tries their strength».
The kuresh wrestling excites everyone who has ever seen it.
In 1841 writer and poet Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy wrote:
«In a wrestling that requires as much strength as dexterity the Bashkirs easily threw me, as well as the Cossacks, to the ground, but in trying strength I got the better of them several times, and they honored me with the name of a dzhigit ("skillful and brave equestrian", "brave man" in translation from the Turkic languages)».
Wrestling etiquette
Wrestling competitions have always had a certain etiquette.

A mandatory element of the kuresh is the greeting of rival wrestlers.

Bowing and greeting is a gesture of the worthy people. Pressing his right hand to his heart and slightly tilting his head, the man showed respect for the opponent. On the maidans this ritual is observed especially accurately. Folklorist, researcher Rozaliya Sultangareyeva believes that the traditional cry of batyrs should return to the trappings. «Alysh barmy, kuresh barmy?» («Fighting or wrestling?») «Kuresh!» – the batyr answers. So it is not a fighting for superiority that is being chosen, but a rivalry in the name of an honest assertion of the rights of a strong man.

After the combat the wrestlers also shook hands.

Among the Bashkirs, according to their customs, the victorious wrestler extended his hand to the defeated opponent. The absolute winner of the competition with the main prize − a live ram on his shoulders – walked around the circle of the wrestling maidan. And today the best wrestler at sabantui is awarded with a live ram.
The ram has been a sacred cult animal since ancient times. In the beliefs of the Turks and Mongols the ram personifies the guardian of the soul and the substitute for human death (the ram is a victim). He also represents the power of life. In this context the ram is traditionally the main sign of recognition of the batyr's victory. On the maidan, after the victory, the animal is stabbed, and everyone present is treated to meat, especially aksakals (elderly, respected people). The ram is considered not so much a prize and a treat, as a thanksgiving to the Almighty God for the good, strength and victory that has been sent down.

The modern rules of the kuresh wrestling competitions provide that «at the end of the competition the wrestlers remain on the mat, after the announcement of the result they shake hands and leave the mat. A wrestler who refuses to give a hand to an opponent is removed from the competition».

In the old days kuresh competitions were held as follows: in order to become the absolute winner of the competition a wrestler had to win alternately over three rivals. From the wrestlers who have defeated dozens of opponents a group of strongmen is selected, who begin to compete with each other, and as a result one or two of the strongest batyrs remain.

Sometimes wrestling competitions become so famous that they gather participants from the farthest villages.

In the case of two successful combats, but if defeated in the third combat, the batyr was deprived of both the reward and the opportunity of further participation in the competition.

The wrestling took place on a flat surface with a natural coating, around the wrestling arena there were people who supported their wrestlers with shouts and applause. The combat was judged by the aksakals, those who in their youth were themselves popular wrestlers and amazed the people with their strength and dexterity.

The wrestler went to the middle of the circle waiting for the opponent, the opponent could enter the wrestling arena himself. If there were several of them, then drawing procedure decided the question of choosing an opponent.

Russian researcher Ivan Ivanovich Lepyokhin describes the specifics of the kuresh wrestling:
«...Unlike Russian wrestlers who take each other "by the collar", Bashkirs take "on the belts", i.e., they grapple with each other, throwing a belt over each other's back, the ends of which each holds in his hands, wrapping around the wrist».
«Bashkir kuresh is one of the most fair types of wrestling in the world», – noted Bashkir educator Mukhametsalim Umetbayev. – In the correct Bashkir kuresh there are two techniques: to lift, to lay the opponent on your chest and throw him, slightly bending, under your feet or to the side. This is all done quickly. Other techniques are not taken into account and do not give the right to a prize».
In the past there were no weight differences in the kuresh, and the strong and dexterous man won.
But the brave, powerful son of Abzak,
Having gathered the rest of his strength,
So squeezed, so compressed
The giant Kilmyak in his hands,
That all the bones in him cracked,
He strained his strength in vain −
Like an oak tree from a terrible storm he had fallen!

excerpt from the work of Pyotr Mikhailovich Kudryashov
According to modern rules, «a clean victory is counted to a wrestler if he, having torn the opponent off the mat, threw him on his back (with both shoulder blades) on the mat by any of the permitted techniques. At the same time the attacker conducts a technique in the attack without loosening the belt».

Currently kuresh wrestling competitions are held according to the Olympic system (with elimination): among adults in 10 weight classes, among boys in 9 weight classes. Now there are classes up to 65 kg, 90 kg and over 90 kg, and wrestlers compete strictly in their weight classes.

«This is done in order to save a person, not to cause injury to him. Because if a 60-kilogram wrestler is thrown to the ground by a 90-kilogram strongman the consequences can be unpredictable», – explained the master of sports R. G. Murtazin.

The combat lasts 3–5 minutes.

Rozaliya Sultangareyeva in her book «Bashkirskiy narodnyi kuresh» («Bashkir folk kuresh») writes that the competition assumed a rigid organization of one's own capabilities, hardening of breathing, emotions, managing feelings for the absolute control of one's self.

In fact, kuresh is a method of upbringing of a person, a strong-minded disciplined Bashkir.

The constant norm of the Bashkir traditional kuresh is to assert oneself in the action of an active wrestling, and in no other way. Avoidance of the wrestling, slowing down the pace, deception, craftiness – unacceptable qualities in the ethics of kuresh wrestling.

There were harsh laws and rules in the kuresh wrestling.

It is impossible to lie – to trip up, it is impossible to cheat – to throw over the side, it is impossible to dodge and put a knee, it is impossible to lean with hands, knees on the ground.

Also it is impossible to wrap the belt around both hands, to tie a knot on the belt, to twist the belt into a plait, to put the belt below the waist, to intentionally move the belt on the opponent's back, to rub, to «saw». The distance between the hands should be at least 20 cm, the hands should be on the opponent's back.

There is a legend that tells about the death of the winner who broke the rules.

«Three batyrs – Ilekei, Daut and Kului Baltasov decided to compete in strength. Whoever wins three times will own the lands, the most beautiful fields, forests, rivers... Ilekei first defeated Daut, then the wrestling with Kului Baltasov began. Initially, Kului Baltasov defeated Ilekei twice, but then lost. According to the agreement, the beautiful lands went to Ilekei, he became the first batyr. But he died quickly. Before he died he said: "At that time, during the combat, I let myself be overcome twice, because I was afraid that Kului Baltasov would crush my chest. Then I wrestled him to the ground myself. It seems I had strained myself. My illness is the punishment for that sin. I overcame Kului Baltasov that time because I put my knee. Don't bury my body on sacred ground. Bury it on the other side, across the river"».
According to the norms of the national kuresh, exclamations of approval or condemnation were allowed only from the audience, this cheers up the wrestlers, gives strength. However, the shouts and exclamations of the wrestlers themselves were prohibited.

Based on noble competitive principles, the process of strength competition did not allow violation of the yola (rules and norms) of wrestling.

The yola of wrestling is the concentration of will and strength of temperament, inner energy, even and calm breathing, quietness.

All this required a huge concentration of thought, inner spiritual work, compressed into silence. In Bashkir kuresh the shout was equated with defeat, because «the shout scared the good − kot, soul, strength». Now this prohibition is being violated everywhere.

«I tried to ban shouts, reduced points, added penalty points. Alas! The shout begins to enter the trappings of the wrestling», – Robert Murtazin complains.

According to custom, the batyrs wrestled for no more than 10–15 years. In order not to show a decrease in their strength they abandoned the wrestling arena after the first defeat.

The memory of the people
Skilful wrestling and the batyr remain in the memory of the people.
«Residents of the Miyakinsky district remember Zagidulla Gilmanov, born in 1896, who lifted his opponent high and knocked him to the ground. They mention Makhliulla Valishin from the village of Islamgul, who participated in competitions up to 75 years old. His technique consisted in the fact that he strongly pressed his partner to himself with a towel below his back and threw him over himself.

Residents of the Khaibullinsky district note wrestlers Gazzali Utyashev from the village of Tashtugai, Badri Tumanshin from the village of Yusupbai. According to their information, at the iyiyn festival in 1938 Tumanshin, a man of medium build, knocked an opponent weighing 105 kg to the ground», – writes Rozaliya Sultangareyeva.

At modern competitions wrestling fans with respect and delight pronounce the names of Kharis Yusupov, Vakil Ilyasov, Dim Safin, Fanis Urazbakhtin, Galimzyan Kudakayev, Yuriy Sabanov, Robert Murtazin, etc.
«The batyrs-wrestlers ate a lot of mutton, worked a lot. In no case did they bring themselves to exhaustion, it takes away the strength of the heart. There was such a batyr Akhmadi, he trained and hardened his body every day. He had two huge stumps. He picked them up with both hands 40 times and only then got down to business. Burkhan Saitgalin trained in a stone quarry – he carried heavy stones from place to place», – residents of the Salavatsky district report.
Radiy Khabirov and Steven Seagal at the sabantui in the city of Sibai (2019)
The batyr Gazzali Utyashev (1909–1977), a native of the Khaibullinsky district, distinguished himself by his original tactics.

At the age of 18 he wrestled a mighty Kazakh batyr to the ground, who, allegedly, was kept in chains before the battle – he was indomitable to this extent.

After a short wrestling Gazzali knocked this batyr to the ground with his famous technique.

Gazzali Utyashev
He never crawled on his knees, tripped, shouted, he immediately challenged his opponent: «The first jerk is yours, the second is mine, and the third is someone's who will have time».
The traditions of G. Utyashev were continued by his countryman Gali Bukharbayev. A surgeon by profession, he became an absolute champion among heavyweights.

The President of the Federation of kuresh and belt wrestling of the Republic of Bashkortostan Vakil Ilyasov spent more than 30 years on the mat and devoted his whole life to popularizing this sport.
Vakil Ilyasov
«I never thought I would take up wrestling. In my youth I was engaged in strength sports: lifted kettlebells, ran on skis, exercised on the crossbar and parallel bars. The results were above average: for example, I lifted a 24 kg kettlebell 54 times in a minute, with a weight of 90 kg I pulled myself up 45 times on the crossbar and did the same amount of muscle-up.

When I was in high school there was a section on kuresh at the school, and from time to time I was taken to the team for the zonal republican competitions to "close" the weight class. After serving in the ranks of the Soviet Army, where I continued to exercise hard and got in good physical shape, I was invited to the Bashkortostan kuresh championship, and there I wrestled in a draw with famous athletes – Ilgam Anvarov and Altaf Fattakhov. Sports excitement, the desire to win forced me to engage in kuresh purposefully, and it gave its results. In republican competitions I completed combats with rivals in three or four seconds, and tried to uphold my reputation for all the 30 years that I spent on the mat. Like all sports, kuresh cultivates will, determination and develops strength. And what is important for men – the ability to stand up for themselves, to finish what they started, if they went to the mat, then only for victory. No one goes into the circle to lose», – says the recognized athlete.

Vakil Ilyasov is preparing for the competition (1981)
Now Vakil Ilyasov is 60 years old. He still retains good physical shape – most recently he performed the «sun» element on the horizontal bar. Having fought for 30 years on the republican wrestling mat without losing, Vakil abandoned wrestling at the age of 50.

«In 2008 in Ufa on Lenin Square on the City Day kuresh wrestling competitions were organized. At that time I competed in the absolute weight class, in the final I wrestled with a 28-year-old opponent weighing 170 kg, he was a world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, a master of sports of international class, and I managed to put him on the shoulder blades in 14 seconds. And I was awarded a horse as a prize», – recalls Vakil Ilyasov.

According to him, over the past three decades the kuresh has changed noticeably – this is the requirement of the time.
«An interesting point is that belts used to be loose, now athletes wrestle with tied belts, which does not allow athletes to "walk away from the wrestling". Falling on the back was not punished. Our main throw over the chest – lifting – and you throw opponent on his back – and this is a clear victory. Some imitate this attempt, for which the athlete was given activity, and in that way, with equal forces, some managed to "win", i.e., the victory was obtained by "false" activity. Now this moment has been excluded from the rules, a wrestler receives a warning if his opponent falls without a lifting. I think it's right. All these moments make the fight more interesting, dynamic, reduce the time for combats», – he says.
The year 1998
In 2013 kuresh was included in the official register of sports of the Russian Federation, and now athletes can be awarded ranks and honorary titles.
«Kureh wrestling is a national sport that we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers as a relic. The people carried the kuresh through their entire history, if the people did not like the kuresh, it would have been lost somewhere along the way, but this did not happen – it was preserved as part of the culture of the Bashkir-Tatar people. Sabantui festivals are held everywhere every year, people, as before, gather around the mat to watch the wrestlers, and the kuresh attracts people to itself, and anyone can go out and measure their strength – to show their prowess, demonstrate physical fitness, skill on the mat. And anyone who goes out on the mat will not be crippled: the rules are arranged in such a way that you do not beat the opponent, do not break, but lift and gently throw him on his back», – says Vakil Ilyasov.
The absolute championship of the Republic of Bashkortostan in kuresh. From left to right: Aslyam Khafizov – 2nd place, Vakil Ilyasov – 1st place, Yuriy Sabanov – 3rd place (2007)
Since 2012 kuresh wrestling has been included in the school curriculum. In physical education classes the basics of wrestling are taught, in the evenings trainings in gyms are organized, competitions are held, this gives children an additional opportunity to self-actualize and find themselves.

According to the latest data, there are currently more than 30 thousand athletes engaged in kuresh wrestling in Bashkortostan.


1. Bikbulatov N. V. (1969). Bashkirskiy aul [Bashkir village]. Ufa: Bashknigoizdat, 214 p. (in Russian).
2. Khabibullin I. Z. (2008). Traditsionnaya bashkirskaya bor'ba kuresh [Traditional Bashkir wrestling kuresh]. Vestnik Chelyabinskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, no. 35 (136) [online]. Available at: http://www.lib.csu.ru/vch/136/002.pdf (accessed 1 October 2021) (in Russian).
3. Sultangareyeva R. A. (2009). Bashkirskiy narodnyi kuresh [Bashkir folk kuresh]. Ufa: Kitap, 144 p. (in Russian).
4. Tolstoy A. K. (1961). Dva dnya v kirgizskoi stepi [Two days in the Kyrgyz steppe]. In: A. N. Kireyev (ed.). Bashkiriya v russkoi literature [Bashkiria in Russian literature]. Ufa: Bashknigoizdat, vol. 1, pp. 230–235 (in Russian).

Photos: Rita Ishniyazova, Oleg Yarovikov

Author (compiler): R. T. Valeyeva, 2021