Turkish Oil Wrestling

Turkish Oil Wrestling – What Are the Hands Holding!

Oil wrestling is a traditional Turkish sport. Wrestlers are so named because they wrestle with oil on their bodies. It is a sport that requires great strength and mastery as it becomes difficult for the wrestlers to hold each other due to their bodies being oiled.

Turkish Oil Wrestling History

The history of Turkish Oil Wrestling is quite old. According to the legend, during Orhan Gazi’s campaign to seize Rumelia (a part of today’s Thrace region) in 1346, his eldest son Süleyman Pasha marched on a Byzantine castle with 40 soldiers. They take over this place by the raid. When Süleyman was satisfied with his raid, the 40-man unit traveled back to the town of Samona. They celebrated with each other over a bout of wrestling.

This wrestling lasted for hours, and near the end, two men were clearly the finalists. They were brothers: Ali and Selim. However, neither could conquer the other that day. Thus, the band of 40 resumed their journey and came back to Edirne.

At Edirne, the brothers agreed to compete again. They had to know who would be the better wrestler. The brothers locked up again and competed for hours. Sunlight turned into the sunset, and the sunset turned into night. The crowd lit torches, candles, and lanterns to see Ali and Selim grapple. But after hours of struggle, exhaustion claimed them both. That night they both died in their sleep: equal forever. The reason why these wrestlings are called Kirkpinar is that in Turkish, “Kirk” means forty, and “pinar” means spring.

Turkish Oil Wresting
Oil Wrestling has been practiced since the Ottoman period.

Birth of Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festivals

Their friends bury them under a fig tree in the same place and leave. Years later, when they go to the same place, they see a lush spring in the place where the graves of the two wrestlers are located. After that, the people named that region “Kirkpinar” in memory of those who slept there. (“Kirk” means the number forty. “Pinar” means spring.) This is where the name of the Kirkpinar festival comes from and has been held in the city of Edirne for hundreds of years. After the conquest of Edirne, Sultan Murat I established The Wrestlers’ Guild in Edirne, and from now on, it has become a tradition to wrestle every year.

Kirkpinar wrestling has been made for over 600 years.
Kirkpinar Wrestling Tournament has been made for over 600 years.

Who is the “Cazgır”?

In oil wrestling, the person who introduces the wrestlers to the audience and starts the wrestling is called “Cazgır“. Cazgır introduces the names, titles, skills of the wrestlers matched by the referee committee, with appropriate verses and prayers.

Pre-Start “Peşrev” Movements

Peşrev is a warm-up and culture-physics movement. These movements performed in a harmonious way, please the audience and raise the morale of the wrestler. With the peşrev, the wrestler prepares his breath, muscles and heart for the fight that will begin a little later.

After the wrestlers who came before the referee committee to wrestle are presented and prayed by the cazgır, the wrestlers start the peşrew by waving their hands and arms in a harmonious manner, with the signal given by the drums and zurnas that have started to be played.

In the peşrev, after going forward three times and backwards three times, kneeling on the ground with the left knee, the right hand is first touched to the ground, knee, lip and forehead three times. After this ceremony is over, the wrestler jumps into the air and shouts “Come on, bre wrestler!” from time to time. After the mutual “peşrev” movements, the necks are tied, the hands are held and shaken a few times, thus entering the wrestling. You can watch the peşrev video here;

Penalties in Oil Wrestling

  • Insulting the opponent, referee or spectators with words or gestures,
  • Arguing with an opponent during wrestling,
  • Not serious wrestling, chicane,
  • Not listening to the referee’s warnings,
  • The competitions are elimination, the loser is eliminated, the winner continues.

Chief Wrestler / Başpehlivan

He received Kirkpinar’s highest award, the “Chief Wrestler”, and held the title of “Chief Wrestler of Turkey” for one year. If he retains this title for three consecutive years, he becomes the owner of the Golden belt. Wrestler award can be money as well as horse, ox, calf or ram.

Why is Oil Used in Wrestling?

There are cauldrons filled with oil and water on the wrestling square. They are oiled so that the wrestlers have a harder time grasping each other. After the wrestling starts, the wrestlers can take oil and water from the officials walking around the meadow whenever they want.

Ottoman Period - Oil Wrestling Competition
Ottoman Period – Oil Wrestling Competition


Wrestling matches held outside the palace during the Ottoman Empire; It was held at fairs, weddings, for the benefit of a charity or in private places and halls of people who have taken up this profession. Drum and zurna are among the indispensable traditions of Kirkpinar wrestling. Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival was announced to the whole world in 2010 by being registered by our country on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List of Humanity. 

And here is the frequently asked question…

Do Turkish oil wrestlers put their hands inside the opponent’s pants?

In the Olympic standards, grabbing the clothing of your opponent is a foul.

Yet, in Turkish oil wrestling reaching down their pants (kisbet – black pants at the photos), putting hands inside the kisbet is a perfectly normal way to win.

The Turkish oil wrestlers put their hands and arms inside their opponent’s pants to control their opponent. This is a path to victory.

I know some of you are wondering about the hand in the kisbet, just a side note, it’s against the rules to grab something from inside the kisbet. 🙂

Source: Edirne Governorship

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