Source: The Western Morning News
The Cornish Wrestling season comes to a close on Saturday after a successful summer of tournaments. Pete London reports on the current state of play for Britain’s ‘oldest’ sport.
“Gwary whek yu gwary tek: good play is fair play” is the motto of the Cornish Wrestling Association – and today “wrasslin” is experiencing a healthy revival.
Cornish wrestling retains a unique style; emphasis is on skill and deftness rather than just strength. The object is to throw your challenger, from a standing position, and no grappling or holding on the ground is allowed. To win you must score a “back”, which involves throwing your opponent on to his shoulders and hips – his four “pins” – and at least three pins must touch the ground at once.
Cornish wrestlers go barefoot or wear socks, together with simple shorts. Their most important item of clothing is a canvas jacket, laced at the front and with baggy half-sleeves; contenders are only allowed to grip each other by this jacket.
Typically, in senior bouts one 10-minute round is allowed, overseen by three “sticklers”. These umpires are usually ex-wrestlers themselves and they score the match, watch for illegal moves. Their decisions are final. There’s no right of appeal for feeling hard-done-by and the wrestlers accept judgements with good grace.
ADVERTISEMENTCornish wrestling’s heyday was during the 19th century, when huge crowds would watch the contests. Wrestlers from those times are still remembered. Weighing in at 16.5 stone, Richard Parkyn enjoyed an amazing 20 years undefeated from 1806 and became known as The Great Parkyn, celebrated from Saltash to St Just.
Parkyn was followed by James Polkinghorne. Five foot eleven inches tall and around 20 stone, he was an intimidating prospect for any opponent. Polkinghorne became Cornish champion and was also landlord of St Columb Major’s Red Lion public house, handy on Saturday nights if anyone dared become playful.
In October 1826, the last great wrestling clash between Cornwall and Devon took place at Devonport. Watched by some 17,000 people, the purse was a colossal £200. Polkinghorne appeared for Cornwall, while Devon fielded Abraham Cann, a mere 5ft 8in tall and weighing 12.5 stone.
The outcome might have seemed a foregone conclusion but the bout was fought under Devonian rules, which allowed kicking. Cann was reportedly strong in the leg, and nimble. Today the result isn’t clear to us, but it seems the contest was a long one and finally ended in a draw.
Cornish Wrestling Association historian and former champion Gerry Cawley believes the sport’s survival of is important for several reasons.
“Cornish wrestling is the oldest sport in Britain,” he said. “It is gentlemanly and traditional, with a vast heritage. At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, banners borne by Cornwall’s fighting men carried symbols showing wrestlers. During Victorian times big contests could take as long as a week, with the semi-finals and finals held over the weekend so people could come and watch. But because wrestling was handed down and taught from father to son, the sport really struggled after the two world wars, when so many men were lost.”
In the face of competition from other sports too, interest in Cornish wrestling waned until only a band of stalwarts was left. To stop the decline, raise awareness and seek funding, the Cornish Wrestling Association became affiliated to the British Wrestling Association in 2004. Now, thanks to its enthusiasts, “wrasslin” is making a powerful comeback.
Over the summer months the CWA runs tournaments across Cornwall and also stages demonstrations at the Royal Cornwall Show. All ages can join in, with categories including under-18s, under-16s, under-14s, under-12s and even under-10s. The season will conclude with the Cornish Heavyweight Championship, along with junior and novice classes, on Cathedral Green in Truro from 11am on Saturday.
“Our wrestling’s a unique sport,” added Gerry Cawley. “It’s good all-round exercise and teaches discipline. There’s no team effort – win or lose, it’s down to you.”
Anyone interested in taking up the sport can visit cornishwrestling.co.uk
Read more at http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Cornish-wrestling-fans-hail-successful-summer/story-22893613-detail/story.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter#D3g3cu4t5yHbEPIL.99
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