Immediately after the opening ceremony the wrestling starts in the stadium. Each province’s top wrestlers take part, 512 in total. They wear similar outfits which, so the story goes, is open chested so everyone can see they are male. In the past, when they were clothed, a woman took part and beat some of the guys until she was recognised by a family friend. Each bout has a judge allocated. The judges are the ones decked out in the dark blue and red. There are a whole loads of bouts going on at the same time with a tangle of wrestlers hard at it, judges observing, victors jogging about celebrating and four static soldiers whose job it is to guard the Nine Banners, representing the 9 horsetails of Genghis’ 9 Mongol tribes.
Some things you need to know about Mongolian wrestling. Firstly, and most importantly, there are no weight categories. So the lightest guy may have to fight the heaviest, and some of them are heavy. So, in the early rounds there are complete mismatches and if there is a chance that a thin guy can get one over a heavy one, the spectators give him all their support. This little guy put the big guy down.
In the later rounds only the heavy, thick guys are left.
Secondly, ‘knee-dirtied’ is the Mongolian term for defeat. In other words, if you can get any part of your opponent’s body to touch the ground, you are the winner. Here are a few moves.
Once you have put your opponent down, you flap your arms in the air like a goose trying to take off, you rock around 360° stiff legged before jogging off to give thanks to the Nine Feathers. You return to your defeated opponent and run clockwise under his outstretched arm to mask respect for his participation. You then collect a token from the judge and progress to the next round.
Thirdly, there is no time limit so the bout can go on for 3 seconds or 30 minutes of even longer. Because of this the closing ceremony is always a movable feast. They start ’em young in Mongolia.