Brutal Ancient Greek wrestling seeks Olympic return

The ancient sport of Pankration, regarded as one of the most violent martial arts, is enjoying a revival in Russia.

Pankration is an ancient Greek martial art which used to be an Olympic event back in the day of Alexander the Great. Modern Olympic wrestling and boxing are direct descendants of this Hellenic sport, which is not recognised by the current Olympic movement.

Some argue that Pankration is the closest to a no-rule, all-out combat competition, but in actual fact there are strict rules for a sport that needs plenty of dedication and skill. The fighters in the sport need to be truly universal martial artists.

“Pankration is an all-encompassing martial art. Young people choose this sport because it really does have a bit of everything. Plus it's very athletic and dynamic. Combat Sambo is probably the closest discipline to Pankration but we as separate federations we are obviously following different routes,” Sergey Lipatov, president of Moscow’s Pankration federation, said.

First of all the opponents are not allowed to hit in the neck, joint or spinal cord areas. When the wrestler is on the floor, his opponent is not allowed to hit or kick him in the head with his knee, foot or elbow.

Finally, with the exception for suffocation of an opponent with fingers or applying pressure to the eyes, anything goes during a bout of Pankration. The bouts last only five minutes unless one of the fighters finishes with a clean victory.

“The Philosophy of Pankration is to end the bout with a clean victory. That means to get your opponent into a state where he can no longer continue the fight. Modern combat disciplines are based on the number of hits and other point systems. But here you will see most standoffs end with either a knockout or a forced submission,” Dmitry Zarshchikov, Vice-president of Pankration Federation, said.

Pankration made its Olympic debut in the year 648 BC and was a part of the Games for 1041 years. When the modern Olympic Games were founded in 1894, this ancient sport was not reinstated as were other original disciplines.

However, the modern disciples of Pankration are not losing hope and dream that someday they will get a chance to take their rightful place at modern Olympiads.

“When the modern Olympics were established, it was quite difficult to come up with a set of regulations right then and there. Original Pankration is quite brutal and violent. That's why we have boxing and various wrestling styles today. I know that there are attempts to make a mixed fight an Olympic event. I'm not sure what this discipline will be called but I dream it will take the rightful historic name Pankration,” Sergey Lipatov said.

There are numerous Pankration federations around the globe and they are united in pursuing similar goals. In Russia, it's mostly about giving young people an opportunity to lead a healthy way of life and stay out of trouble.

Of course it is also about promoting this fighting style to the masses and eventually earns the right to participate at the Olympic Games. One thing that is probably common throughout the world is that this ancient Greek martial art brings out a sense of national pride, regardless of whatever nationality the fighter might be.