The history of Kazakh traditional wrestling is closely connected to the history of evolution of Kazakh nation. Wrestling activities of baluans (wrestlers) is one of the Kazakh traditional arts along with aitys (poetry contests) and baiga (horse races). The Kazakhs have called baluans heroes or giants and their strength was deemed an extraordinary gift they were endowed with by God. The art of wrestling is one of the facets of national culture. A nomadic lifestyle prone to being severe has taught the Kazakhs to be brave and strong from the early age. Thus skills in horseback riding, archery and wrestling became equally acceptable for both boys and girls. Endless steppe which was the major territory of the Kazakhs, households based on the nomadic lifestyle of people and the influence of traditions and customs of the neighboring states have all contributed to the emergence of several traditional kinds of Kazakh wrestling. There is plenty of evidence proving that the Kazakh people had several kinds of wrestling. Those are tales, legends, historical and narrative literature along with archaeological finds. An extract from the following historical event can serve as a proof of wrestling having ancient origins. Eighteen centuries ago in 371-381 Balamber, the ruler of the Huns (ruled before Attila) decided to have a big celebration to mark his successful campaigns and governmental decisions. At the celebration the Huns held such national games as baiga, wrestling, archery, javelin, audaryspak, tenge alu etc. In their language those games were called: Eer-khuresh, At-khuresh, Lansa-khuresh, Shabarman-khuresh, Zhebe-khuresh etc. (Eer stands for brave man). The paintings on the Pharaoh’s tomb dated 3000 BC which was found at Beni Hassan illustrate that wrestling was one of the most important trainings of the Egyptian soldiers.
An ancient Greek writer Aelinaus (II-III centuries BC) who wrote about the traditions and customs of the Saks revealed the following in his writings: “if a young man wanted to get married, he had to win a fight against his wife-to-be. If he failed he was to become the girl’s slave.” Wrestling is also mentioned in the history of the Maya civilization existed in Central Mexico (909 BC). Along with ball games, the Mayas were also developing wrestling sports. At times of combat competitions people used wrestling techniques and wore special clothes. The ancient Greek writer Claudius Aelinaus wrote: “If a young man wanted to marry a girl he liked, he had to compete with her on the wrestling carpet. If a girl won, a man had to obey her.” Thus only physically strong men could earn fame and be in power. The famous Italian traveler Marco Polo who traveled across Central Asian also noted in his historical journals that folk wrestling has developed into an applied army training in which young women were involved on equal terms with young men. Another world traveler, Ray Gonzales Clavdijo appointed by Henry III of Castile also provides valuable details in his works. He had the honor to attend wrestling competitions of the best baluans at the famous Timur’s palace. Given the events were taking place back in 1403 – 1406 it is only logical that the rules of traditional wrestling had to emerge long before that. It is also known that Timur paid great attention to wrestling and enjoyed watching it. Baluans were rewarded with gold, silver and other precious materials for victories in challenging competitions. There is another story that reveals how wrestling was not only a popular sport but also had an important political and religious impact. A famous historian Abilkazy Bakhadurkhan wrote: a ruler Churas declared to a Muslim Sheikh that should the latter wrestle and win a strong Mongolian baluan, Churas himself would become a Muslim. Although the baluan was skilled a punch in the chest performed by the Sheikh knocked him down… That day Emir Churas became Muslim along with other 160 thousand of his people. Since then Islam became a state religion of Chagatai Ulus.
The Kazakhs knew all of the famous wrestlers of their clans and tribes. Years and centuries have passed and wrestling has been developing along with the people. The art of wrestling is comprehensively described in historical writings. Competitions of baluans narrated in Kulager, the poem by Zhansugurov and Ulpan, the novel by Musrepov represent how traditional wrestling has been an integral part of the nation and lives in the hearts of its people. Take a closer look at epic poetry of baluans and you will have no doubts that it is a precious heritage of the Kazakhs. The academician and scientist A. Margulan emphasizes that the term ‘baluan’ originates from an ancient Turkic word – ‘blbl’. He also explains that balbal stood for ‘strong’ and huge in Orkhon-Yenisey writings.
Currently Kazakh kures is known across many countires. It has gone beyond republican scale as now there are Asian and World Championships. Up to the 20th century baluans were not divided in weight and age categories. Back then the competition was based on rules of itzhygys and bas attau. Itzhygys is a situation that occurs when baluans cannot defeat one another or when both baluans fall on the mat simultaneously. In those cases the situation was called Itzhygys, i.e. tie, and wrestlers had to start all over. Bastan attau is one of the ancient Kazakh beliefs. It is believed that if a wrestler steps over the opponent’s head he gains all of the defeated baluan’s strength. Up to 1928 there were no separate sets of rules for Kazakh wrestling. Therefore age and weight of wrestlers were irrelevant. Wrestling bouts used to be held in accordance with verbally declared rules which differed from region to region. The rules were negotiated between baluans in advance. People observed the rules strictly and passed them on orally. The words they used to honor winners back in the days are still used today; the strongest baluan is referred to as invincible and unshakable.
Modern Kazakh kures.
For the first time Kazakh kures was introduced in the program of the Republican Spartakiad for farmers in Almaty in 1938. Since there were too many people willing to participate they were divided in groups based on weight: light weight under 65 kg, middle weight under 76 kg and heavy weight over 76 kg. That year the winners were wrestlers from Semipalatinsk region: K. Altynbasarov and I. Tumenov. The Spartakiad not only made our baluans famous but also paved path for development of national type of wrestling.
The next sports festival was held in 1939 in Semey. This time a new group of talents was presented at the wrestling mat. In light weight it was Kurmanbayev of Almaty, middle weight – Doskaliyev of Western Kazakhstan and in heavy weight - Musin of Pavlodar region. All three wrestlers defeated their opponents to occupy their places in the hall of fame. Here they were also competing for the title of Tuye Baluan, and the representative of Western Kazakhstan, Doskaliyev received the honorable title. In 1940 another opportunity emerged to expand the combat arts and to present the skills of baluans to the public. Participants of the Championship dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Kazakhstan were presented at the mat in five weight categories. The winners were: in light weight – Baidauletov, in midweight – Kurmanbayev, in middle weight – Tolegenov, in middle-heavy weight – Makmanov and the champion in heavy weight was Zhumabayev. In 1955 weight categories expanded to eight, general rules were defined, adopted and published. Undoubtedly the name and role of Muzzafar Rakymkulov shall remain memorable for the fans as he was the one to put a lot of effort in this work.
In 1952 the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabad included national wrestling in the program of Spartakiad held for athletes of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Having negotiated, the qualified specialists of the five neighboring states agreed on using the rules of Kazakh kures as they were initially similar to the nature of classical wrestling and thus had great prospects. As expected, Kazakh athletes won in this spectacular and exciting championship. The leader in light weight was K. Bibatyrov of Semey, in middle and middle-heavy weight those were Kulen Bakizhanov and Alimshaikh Selimbayev of Karaganda. During the Second Summer Spartakiad of the USSR nations held in 1959 in Moscow there was also a general Soviet seminar of coaches and specialists in national wrestling. At the seminar discussions covered detailed rules of the competition and their descriptions. As a result of the meeting along with Kazakh kures experts gave high evaluations to the rules of Georgian chidaoby and Moldavian trynty. After that, wrestlers Tatiyev and Amanzholov from Karaganda masterfully demonstrated methods and techniques of Kazak kures in front of numerous spectators earning a round of applause. Before that in 1949 and 1953 during the championship of Kazakhstan eminent specialists of our country held a meeting and improved rules of Kazak kures. The main features of Kazak kures are as follows: during the standing bout wrestlers are allowed to implement sweeping and hooking with legs but grapping opponent’s legs with hands is not allowed. The scope and horizons of Kazak kures are very broad. A person who has mastered the techniques and methods of Kazak kures can easily wrestle in other styles of folk wrestling. It should be noted that some of the techniques are similar to the classical ones. One of the important aspects of Kazakh kures is the absence of ground fighting. As a result, the nation has raised some outstanding and world-famous baluans (Aikhanov, Ushkempirov, Turlykhanov etc.) and developed a wonderful sport. As of today there have been three World, two European and six Asian Championships. The first World Tournament in Kazakh kures was held in 2006 in Almaty, the second one was held in Orsk, Russia and the third Championship took place in 2010 in Astana , the capital of Kazakhstan. European Championship was for the first time organized in Kosagash, a place in the Altai Republic, Russia in 2005. II Asian Championship was held in 2006 in Bayan-Olgii province of Mongolia, III Asian Championship - Satpayev, a town in Karaganda, Kazakhstan in 2007, IV Asian Championship – Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan in 2008, V Asian Championship – Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan in 2009, VI Asian Championship – Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan in 2010, VII Asian Championship and I World Cup – Pune, India in 2011, I Asian Championship among Youth and I World Championship took place in Mashhad, Iran. Kazakh kures is an authentic tribal type of wrestling. The victory is considered clear only when shoulder blades of wrestlers touch the ground. These are the bouts of the mighty and broad athletes capable of blowing the will of their opponents to smithereens. Therefore the future of Kazakh kures looks stable and bright.