Latvian-American strongman Martins Licis is the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic champion, the 2021 Rogue Invitational champion, and the 2019 World’s Strongest Man. While taking a break from competitive strongman to heal from lingering injuries, “The Dragon” recently visited inner Mongolia to explore ancient Mongolian wrestling techniques.
On Aug. 20, 2023, Licis published a video on his YouTube channel documenting his experience in Mongolia, including Mongolian wrestling and other Eastern traditions. Check it out below:
Mongolian Culture Do’s and Don’ts
Licis and his team consulted with Lavell Marshall, a world-class grappler and Chinese wrestling champion who has traveled the world to hone his sport’s best techniques and customs. Marshall told Licis not to tap Mongolian wrestlers on the shoulders or head, as this blocks their “Hima,” or “flying horse spirit,” from soaring.
Licis was careful not to disrespect any customs of inner Mongolia, hiring tour guides and locals to ensure their “Western ignorance” didn’t impact the many events they attended. They first went to a festival that “was rich with folk music, traditional garb, customs, and prayers,” Licis narrated over the video, though he struggled to understand “exactly what we were witnessing.”
After enjoying the food, spectating a parade of white horses, and touring the festival honoring the dead and the history of Genghis Khan’s empire, Licis moved to the main event: Mongolian wrestling.
The Rules of Mongolian Wrestling
As Licis explained, the rules behind this type of wrestling are straightforward. Combatants grab their opponent’s arms or vests to grapple them to the ground. Leg sweeps are legal. If one challenger touches the ground with any body part above the knee, their opponent wins.
There’s no time limit — some matches last over an hour. The wrestlers wear a Jangga, a colorful ribbon necklace that is a sacred symbol of Mongolian wrestling. If a wrestler is wearing one, it symbolizes that they’re the “elite of the elite.” Most wrestlers acquire a Jangga through winning, though they can also be passed down when another wrestler retires.
When matches last too long, randomly determine who will be given a “dominant grip,” of which there are many. The officials yell, “Go,” and if the defender escapes the grip or the one with the advantage fails to ground the defender, they’ll swap positions and restart. This continues with increasingly dominant grips until one contestant falls.
The Mongolian Wrestling Tournament
The two-day event Licis witnessed began with 512 competitors. On day two, the field was cut in half. Athletes competed two challengers remained, which ended in a multiple-replay review to determine the ultimate victor after a narrow fall looked like either competitor might have had the upper hand.
Wrestlers are nearly cherished as minor deities and held in the highest regard.
Licis aims to create the first-ever strongman event in Shanghai later this fall, influenced heavily by the centuries-old customs stemming from Mongolian wrestling and other Chinese athletic traditions.
Featured image: @martinslicis on Instagram