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Getting To Grips

Saturday October 16, 2010

Getting To Grips

National Sport

What's the national sport of the Canaries? Whilst more modern games such as football obviously enjoy enormous popularity they can hardly be described as homegrown.

And whilst there are other indigenous contenders vying for contention, such as Vela Latina (sailing) and Juego del Palo (stick fighting) no sport quite matches Lucha Canaria - Canarian Wrestling - in terms of both tradition and longevity.

Wrestling was first practiced in the Canary Islands even before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400´s. It is even possible that the sport was introduced as a bi-product of trade between the islands and Rome, as that empire had a famous appetite for wrestling.

North African Roots

But most evidence suggests that the roots of Lucha Canaria lie in North Africa. And that the practice was carried into the islands by Berber tribesmen, the ancient ascendants of the Guanche, who populated the Canaries at the time of the Spanish invasions.

The first recorded accounts certainly date back to this period of conquest, noting how the Guanche would often wrestle in order to resolve conflicts, such as disputes over land rights.

This custom was evidently so novel that Canarian wrestling demonstrations were soon being given back on the mainland for the amusement of King Juan of Castille during the 1420´s. The best wrestlers were lauded as sporting heroes, the David Beckhams' of their day - and particular moves and holds were chronicled and recorded.

Island Tradition

As a result the sport was enthusiastically adopted by the Spanish who populated the Canaries and became enmeshed in island life. Making wrestling the traditional centrepiece of most fiestas and celebrations for centuries to come.

Lucha Canaria remained totally unregulated right up until the 1940´s, which basically meant that rules and the number of participants were simply agreed before the start of a bout.

But the codification of the sport helped it gain greater acceptance with the upper classes who for a time considered it a somewhat vulgar practice, so in turn smoothing its evolution into a professional sport with a governing code and body, the Canarian Wrestling Federation.

Wrestling with the Rules

Today, bouts take place between two teams of 12 men aside, traditionally within a sand circle called a Terrero.

Traditionally, combatants used to wear a uniform consisting of a short-sleeved shirt and trousers that are rolled up at the middle of the thigh. Today the shirts are more modern, displaying each teams colours, but the rolled shorts remain, as this is an important gripping point for many of the sport's key moves.

As in Sumo, the wrestlers adhere to a code of honour and mutual respect that involves formally greeting each other with a handshake and bow prior to each bout. The combatants then lean into each other's right shoulder, grasp their opponents shorts with their right hand and place their left hands palm down on the ground.

This is the classic opening stance of Lucha Canaria. At a signal from the referee the bout begins and both wrestlers attack. Each wrestler is basically aiming to throw his opponent to the floor. Bouts are fast and furious - usually over within a couple of minutes maximum - and the loser is the wrestler who is forced to touch the ground with any part of his body, other than the soles of his feet.

The overall objective in competition is to beat all of 12 wrestlers on the other team at least once. Unlike other codes there are no weight divisions - instead the combatants are graded by their merit and ability. Any wrestler felled twice is out of the competition. So there is a great deal of strategy involved as each team works out which of their team should take on which opponent.

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