Cornish wrestling

Cornish wrestling
Gerry and Ashley Cawley.JPG
Gerry and Ashley Cawley wrestling at Pendennis Castle, 6 May 2002
Country of originCornwall
CreatorCornish people
Olympic sportNo

Cornish wrestling (Cornish: Omdowl Kernewek[1]) is a form of wrestling which has been established in Cornwall for several centuries. It is similar to the Breton Gouren wrestling style. It is colloquially known as "wrasslin"[2] in the Cornish dialect. Historically, this usage has been more widespread with eg Chaucer,[3] Shakespeare[4] and Drayton[5] using the term to refer to West Country wrestling.

The referee is known as a 'stickler', and it is claimed that the popular meaning of the word as a 'pedant' originates from this usage. [6]

The wrestlers in the Cornish style both wear tough jackets enabling them to gain better grip on their opponent. All holds are taken upon the other wrestler's jacket, grabbing of the wrists or fingers is forbidden as well as any holding below the waist. Although all holds are to be taken upon the jacket, the flat of the hand is allowed to be used to push or deflect an opponent.[7][8]

The objective of Cornish wrestling is to throw your opponent and make him land as flat as possible on his back. Three sticklers watch and control each bout whilst also recording down the score of points achieved in play.[9] Four pins are located on the back of a wrestler, two at the back of each shoulder and two either side just above the buttocks. If a wrestler manages to throw his opponent flat onto his back, simultaneously scoring with all four pins they score four points in that single throw and this is called a "Back" at which the bout is then finished and the throwing wrestler is the winner.[10] The sticklers will each raise their sticks when they perceive a Back has been achieved. If two sticklers raise their sticks but one does not, a back is still awarded.[9]


John Cawley throwing Chris French at Demonstration at Robby Richards Museum Opening - CWA Event 13–14 May 2006.

Cornish wrestling has a long history, and Geoffrey of Monmouth suggests Historia Regum Britanniae, of c. 1139 that Corineus wrestled a Cornish giant, Gogmagog or Goemagot upon the cliff top known as Lamm Goemagot.

The earliest written evidence for wrestling in the West Country comes from a 1590 poem entitled "Poly-Olbion" by Michael Drayton, concerning the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It states that the Cornish men who accompanied Henry V into battle held a banner of two Cornish wrestlers in a hitch.

A banner used by the modern Cornish Wrestling Association, based on that allegedly used by Cornish soldiers at Agincourt in 1415. The text above the wrestlers reads "KERNOW BYS VYKEN" ("CORNWALL FOREVER"), and the text below the wrestlers reads "GWARY WHEK YU GWARY TEK" ("GOOD PLAY IS FAIR PLAY").

Cornish, Devon and Breton wrestlers have long taken part in inter-Celtic matches since at least 1402 and these still occasionally continue. In early times Cornish and Devonian wrestlers often had matches against each other though the rules they followed were not the same. One of these was the notable match between Richard Parkyn and the Devonian Jordan.

In the 17th century, historian Richard Carew wrote of Cornish wrestling...

  • "Wrastling is as full of manliness, more delightful and less dangerous (than hurling).... for you shall hardly find an assembly of boyes in Devon and Cornwall, where the most untowardly amongst them will not as readily give you a muster of this exercise as you are prone to require it."[11]

Sir Thomas Parkyns (1664–1741), known as the Wrestling Baronet, was a devotee of wrestling and organised an annual wrestling match in Bunny Park (prize a gold-laced hat). These matches continued until 1810. His book on the subject The Inn-Play: or, the Cornish Hugg-Wrestler was published in 1713 and reprinted many times.[12]

A contest at Bodmin in 1811 attracted 4,000 spectators, but thereafter interest in the sport waned. James Gerry (of Linkinhorne) and Samuel Rundle (Plymouth) fought for a £20 purse and the championship of Cornwall in 1883 at Liskeard. Lasting just over an hour, the match ended in a draw in the 19th round following Rundle tearing leg muscles. Gerry was reported in The Cornishman newspaper to have vanquished all the best men in America as well as many men in Cornwall, Rundle had beaten nearly all the wrestling men in Devon and Cornwall.[13]

In 1927 William Tregoning Hooper (Bras y Golon) agreed with the Breton Dr. Cottonec of Quimperle that there should be annual wrestling tournaments in which both Cornish and Breton wrestlers would compete.

In the 1970s Truro Cathedral School was teaching Cornish wrestling as part of its physical education programme and was the only school in Cornwall to do so.[14]

Governing Bodies

The different regional associations merged into the Cornwall County Wrestling Association ("CCWA") in 1923, to help standardize the rules, facilitate the competing of Duchy championships, mitigate the risk of clashing tournaments and promote Cornish Wrestling throughout Cornwall and indeed Worldwide.[7]

In 1932, the CCWA had financial difficulties and the belts and cups were seized by the bank. As a result, belts and cups were not awarded.

The East Cornwall Wrestling Federation ("ECWF") was formed in 1934 at least in part to hold competitions under more traditional rules.[7]

In 1938, the ECWF and CCWA were united to form the Cornish Wrestling Association ("CWA") and the belts and cups were retrieved from the bank.[10][7]

In 2004 the CWA became affiliated with the British Wrestling Association.

Notable people who were Cornish wrestlers

  • Perhaps the most famous Cornish wrestler was the US President, statesman and soldier Theodore Roosevelt, whose training started when he was New York governor, where he was taught three times a week by Professor Mike J. Dwyer.[19]

Notable Cornish Wrestlers

  • John Goit was a friend of Richard Carew who states (1602) that he had a claim to be the best wrestler in Cornwall.[20]
  • Sir Thomas Parkyns (1664–1741) learnt his Cornish wrestling in Greys Inn in London before authoring one of the first books giving detailed instructions on hand to hand combat.[21]
  • Absalom Bennetts is decribed in 1808 as having won well over 22 tournaments.[7]
  • Charles Dawe from St Gorran was referred to by Thomas Tonkin (1678–1742) as being without equal.[7]
  • Richard Parkyn (1772 - 1855) was a champion wrestler, known as The Great Parkyn.
  • James Polkinghorne (1788 – 1851) was a champion wrestler who had a number of famous contests against Devon fighters, including Flower, Jackman (1816) and Abraham Cann (1826), which drew very large crowds of spectators.[7]
  • Captain Thomas Gundry (1818 - 1888) was a champion wrestler in the early 1800s. His wrestling record comprised at least 25 tournament wins and 5 second placements from tournaments in Cornwall, Devon and London.[7]
  • Philip Hancock was the World Cornish Wrestling champion wrestler in 1884. He was known as "Phep" and came from Mullion in Cornwall.[22]
  • John Carkeek (1861-1924) was the World Cornish Wrestling champion wrestler in 1886 after beating Jack Pearce in a bout lasting over 5 hours. He regularly wrestled in Britain and the USA. He was known as "Jack", was born in Rockland, Michigan, died in Havana and was buried in New York. He also won the Pacific coast championship.[23][24]
  • Sam Ham, who was born in Condurrow near Camborne, was the 1910 Middleweight Cornish Wrestling champion of South Africa.
  • Francis Gregory (1904 - ?), was a famous sportsman (professional wrestler, professional boxer, Rugby player (union and league, including for England), etc) who was a very successful Cornish Wrestler in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1955 he appeared in the first wrestling match shown on British television.[25]

Cornish wrestling throws

There are a number of Cornish wrestling throws that are taught in training classes, but each has many variants.


The following Senior Championships are fought annually in competitions across the Duchy:

  • Heavyweight Belt (Open category)
  • Light Heavyweight Trophy (Under 15 Stone)
  • Middleweight Belt (Under 12 Stone)
  • Lightweight Belt (Under 11 Stone)
  • Featherweight Belt (under 10 Stone 5 pounds)
  • Women's Shield

The following Junior Championships are fought annually in competitions across the Duchy:

  • Under 18s Belt
  • Under 16s Trophy
  • Under 14s Trophy
  • Under 12s Trophy
  • Under 10s Trophy

Cornish Wrestling at the Royal Cornwall Show

The Cornish Wrestling Association (CWA) still features annually at the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Show. The Cornish wrestling tent can be found in the Countryside area very near to the west entrance. In the Cornish wrestling tent you will find an impressive display of Cornish wrestling trophies, belts, history, photos, books and DVDs. The wrestlers perform demonstrations of their style in the Countryside ring, usually twice a day for each of the three days of the show. The demonstrations feature most of the throws and moves of the Cornish style and also feature demonstration bouts usually with a variety of wrestlers from youngsters, girls, lightweights and heavyweights.

Outside Cornwall

Cornish wrestling is Cornwall's oldest sport and as Cornwall's native tradition it has travelled the world to places like Victoria, Australia and Grass Valley, California following the miners and gold rushes. In the city of Grass Valley, the tradition of singing Cornish carols lives on and St Piran's Day celebrations are held every year, which along with carol singing, includes a flag raising ceremony, games involving the Cornish pasty, and Cornish wrestling competitions.[26]

See also


  1. ^ Omdowl Kernewek] Gorsedh Kernow Retrieved 10 June 2010.
  2. ^ Phillipps, K C: Westcountry Words & Ways, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited 1976, p99.
  3. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales, The Knightes Tale, The Reeves Tale, the Tale of Gamelyn, The Tale of Sir Thopas, etc, 1387-1400
  4. ^ Shakespeare, William: As you like it, Act III, Scene II, 1599
  5. ^ Drayton, Michael: Poly-Olbion, 1612, i, 244
  6. ^ Hone, William: The Table Book of Daily Recreation and Information, Hunt & Clarke 1827, p663-664.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Tripp, Michael: PERSISTENCE OF DIFFERENCE: A HISTORY OF CORNISH WRESTLING, University of Exeter as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy 2009, Vol I p2-217.
  8. ^ W, Tregoning Hooper: Cornish Wrestling, The Cornish Review, Porthmeor Press (Penzance) 1950, p30-32.
  9. ^ a b Kendall, Bryan H: The Art of Cornish Wrestling, Federation of Old Cornwall Societies (Cornwall) 1990, p1-32.
  10. ^ a b Guy Jaouen and Matthew Bennett Nicols: Celtic Wrestling, The Jacket Styles, Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (Switzerland) 2007, p91-94.
  11. ^ Carew, Sir Richard (1602) Survey of Cornwall. Reissued: New York, 1969
  12. ^ Hole, Christina (1949) English Sports and Pastimes. London: Batsford; p. 31
  13. ^ "The Wrestling Championship Of Cornwall". The Cornishman (258). 21 June 1883. p. 6.
  14. ^ Peter Berresford Ellis (1974) The Cornish Language and its Literature. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p. 199
  15. ^ a b Longhurst, Percy: Cornish Wrestling, The Boy's Own Annual, Volume 52, 1930, p167-169.
  16. ^ Morris, Charles: Historical Tales, the Romance of Reality, JB Lippincott Company (Philadelphia) 1895, p212.
  17. ^ Sewell, Elizabeth Missing: Popular History of France', Longmans Green and Co (London) 1876, p302.
  18. ^ Trevithick, Ricard, Encyclopedia Britannica Vol XXIII, Maxwell Sommerville (Philadelphia) 1891, p589.
  19. ^ Gov. Roosevelt, a Wrestler, New York Times, 1 December 1899
  20. ^ Richard Carew (antiquary): The Survey of Cornwall, 1602, p76.
  21. ^ Sir Thomas Parkyns: The Inn-play or Cornish Hugg Wrestler, J Bailey (London) 1713, p18-19.
  22. ^ Wrestling Champion - Death of Philip Hancock, West Briton.
  23. ^ Wrestling Challenge - A wrestling challenge to whom it may concern, West Briton, 30 November 1886.
  24. ^ Wrestler Jack Carkeek, The Sunday Leader, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, 21 December 1890, P7.
  25. ^ The Longsdale Book of Sporting Records, Seeley, Service & Co Ltd, 1937, p427.
  26. ^ "Grass Valley's St Pirans Day Celebration". Archived from the original on 16 February 2009. Retrieved 2011-08-19.

External links

Google Translate »