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National sports: Hapsagai

  • Published in Sport
Hapsagai 1

Traditional Yakut wrestling ‘Hapsagai’ is a freestyle wrestling with handclasp. The aim of the match is forcing the opponent to touch the ground.  The Yakut word ‘hapsagai’ is literally translated as brisk, adroit, fast.

Yakut hapsagai has genetic relatedness with the fight, common among the Mongols, Buryat, Tuvan and other Siberian peoples. In ancient times, regardless the time of year, even in the most severe frosts, a wrestler used to fight naked, dressed only in shorts made of soft elk skin without hair or with high rolled up trouser legs. Hapsagai competitions were held not only among men, children and adults, but also among women as well.

Hapsagai has an ancient history. In an era of wars, boys at the age of three were taught to shoot straight from the bow, to deftly wield a spear and a sword, and to ride fast on a horse. The child, who was destined to become a warrior (Bootur - hero), was taught to be strong and clever. A matured young man after appropriate testing was considered a true hero. Then he was taught the tricks of the national wrestling (hapsagai).

Hapsagai 2

Competitions were held during various festivals, the most important of which was Ysyakh - national summer holiday to greet the Sun. Hapsagai was the culmination of Ysyakh.  The main and most honorable prize for a winner was a big piece of meat. The winners of hapsagai tournaments were vividly poetized in folklore, tales, legends and traditions. They tell us that in ancient times hapsagai tournaments were accompanied by an unusual ceremonial ritual. Heroes were carefully concealed from each other, secretly brought to the place of Ysyakh and hidden from “an evil eye” of rivals. Wrestlers were led up to the spacious grassy "mat" with a thick blanket on their heads. And just before the start of the match the referee used to give the command to throw off the "mask." Such traditions do not differ from well-known traditions in Muay Thai, Japanese Sumo wrestling or Judo.

Nowadays athletes compete in singlets and sport boots. Hapsagai is recognized by Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA) as an official discipline and in 2011 included in all official competitions.

Andrei Shilov