Recently I came across the oldest book on martial arts (wrestling) and physical culture published in Finnish. The book is called “Handbook in Wrestling and Athletics”, and it is written by Carl Allén in 1904. He published the book both in Finnish and in Swedish during the same year, and I am not 100% sure whether the Finnish version is a translation or originally written by Allén.
The book details a systematic progression teaching Greco-Roman, or French, or French-Finnish wrestling, includes a short history of wrestling (with some faults regarding the medieval era, which were corrected by another Finnish writer on wrestling only 8 years later in his book, where Fabian von Auerswald and even Dürer is mentioned. How well the author knew these works is unknown however) and a separate section of athletic training and physical culture including short advice on diet, bathing, sleep and such.
The attached image shows a map of muscles on a man holding up a heavy bell. I will post a full PDF of the work here later on, after editing it together. These maps are copied from Sandow’s System of Physical Training, published ten years earlier.
Allén’s athletic system is based on Eugene Sandow’s works (as Allén readily admits), and consists mostly of lifting Sandow’s grip dumbells, specified to be of 1,5 to 2 kilograms in weight. A 24-day program of exercising is also laid out, to be then repeated with heavier weights or sturdier springs. If someone knows where to get spring-grip dumbells today, please do let me know!
Interestingly, Allén also describes lifts with a barbell, explaining one-handed snatch and bent press, and the ‘almost-ancient’ form of three-phased clean and jerk, where the bell is first brought atop the stomach before being cleaned to shoulder level. He also did the jerk without squatting or splitting, but instead stepping back with one foot to make sure not to lose balance. Truly special, although technically inferior to a more ‘later’ way of lifting where the barbell is only moving directly upwards. Well, I’m sure Mr Allén still lifted more than I do, so I won’t go further to comment on his technique. It is still interesting to see how these were the times when this skill was so new as a science, and was bound to be refined and developed greatly during the next 50 years or so (after which all the interesting aspects, like one-handed lifts, had been dropped from Olympic lifting).
The wrestling style is typically old-style Greco-Roman, very heavy on neck bridging for both offense and defense, which at the time was considered to be one of the strongest aspects of Finnish wrestlers. The book also has a section on illegal holds, that do not include anything related to leg-takedowns, but show a face-lock stopping airflow through nose and mouth, a few choke-holds and a ‘stomach-twist’, which was supposed to prevent the opponent from continuing after a while, even though it didn’t immediately stop the match (the matches might have gone on for hours at a time, being slit in 15-minute rounds with 1 minute of rest in between). As pointed out by Risto Rautiainen, it is also important to notice that these illegal-holds were ‘pure’ of any ju-jitsu influence, since it is highly unlikely that there would’ve been any contact from Japanese fighters yet at that time, although this was to change very quickly after this book was published.
As a launcher for an ongoing project of interpreting medieval and renaissance era wrestling techniques we held a workshop last weekend in Joensuu with the local historical swordsmanship group run by Risto Rautiainen.
Given that Risto is a dedicated fan of all things related to wrestling – and a rather good wrestler himself as well – there couldn’t have been a better place for such a workshop.
The workshop was rather successful in my opinion, and while there is a lot of work to do before we have a working historical wrestling curriculum, I think this was a good start.
The basic themes for us were firstly to add practice of actual throws to the training, differing from the more casual takedown training in that both feet are taken off ground calling for a more challenging fall. The wrestling mats were necessary for such practice.
This is an interesting subject, and something that provides for a lot of material to practice. Most takedowns can be done also as throws, depending on the way the opponent moves in, the distance between the fighters and the size/strength difference as well. Throwing a resisting opponent takes determination and most of all speed in execution, but practicing them safely requires a lot of practice and trust from the training partners. A bad landing can cause severe injury, and executing the throw requires balance from the thrower. Balance both physically and mentally – if there is no ‘place’ for the throw it will fail or be dangerous, and physically if you lose your balance while throwing you place both yourself and your partner in great risk. Hence we practiced carefully and avoided any training injuries (despite yours truly demonstrating how not to land a few times – a testimony that neck bridging actually works).
We also looked into different modes of wrestling: friendly, competitive and limited in all sorts of ways. I always find it necessary to explain people how most of the actual training falls between drill and actual fighting or competitive wrestling (or other form of combat for that matter). With the right mindset and understanding of context progress is made easy. If one is always fighting they are also fighting against their own progress, if one is thinking too much they become tense and at the same time, if one is too loose or distracted they do not focus and do not learn and place themselves in risk of being injured.
I also stressed the need to keep oneself safe while practicing or fighting – this is one form of very realistic training, a surprising shift of balance during drill might require for quick reactions – not in countering your partners actions, but in making sure you yourself land safe regardless of what happens.
We also did some dagger training on Sunday following a revision to the throws practiced during Saturday. Below is a video from Saturday showing some of the exercises and demonstrations from Sunday. It is a shame we didn’t get Saturday on film, but at least we got this much.
The wrestling material was primarily drawn from Fiore (see a somewhat dated interpretation here), Codex Wallerstein (thanks to Cory Winslow getting me going with CW) and, of course, Master Ott (thanks to Jessica Finley for the clas on WMAW and to Christian Tobler for translating Ott’s teachings in the von Danzig manuscript).
The big question for us is whether or not we should approach this wrestling as something where all of this material can be combined, or whether there is reason to separate out various teachings. At this point, as long as we stay honest and aware of what sources are used, we can mix and match keeping in mind that there may at some point be reason to isolate certain sets of techniques from each other. Figuring out the context is difficult, as there clearly existed wrestling techniques for playful/competitive context and serious fighting as well. The basic skills are universal, but which techniques rely on groin shots or eye gouges in order to work, or more importantly, which rely on their lack of, is an important consideration.
In any case, Risto’s students did a good job surviving through the total of eight hours of relatively strenuous training, and Risto didn’t mind being thrown by me at least 200 times during the weekend. Without the sacrifice, the seminar wouldn’t have been possible! Also thanks to Matias from filming and driving the car, even though he was unable to participate much due to turning ill just before the trip.
Last weekend I was invited to teach a dagger, wrestling and longsword seminar in Linköping, Sweden. I enjoyed enormously getting together with Håkan, Gunnar, Henrik and all the others from Rost (although Gunnar now resides in Borås and is starting his own group down there).
Our training group was small but with good energy! Well done to the abovementioned, and also to Tobias, Niklas and Aleksander who all did a good job!
I’m looking forward to more training with the Rost people in the future, and though things have been a bit silent since I last visited Rost I’m sure the training will pick up more speed!
Special tack for Tobias for capturing some of the seminar on film. Here are a few video clips from the training!
(Don’t like Vimeo? Watch on Youtube instead!)