Ssirum—Traditional Sporting Event

Ssirum (Korean wrestling) is one of the cultural assets of the Korean nation.

Since long ago, Korean people enjoyed playing ssirum during break times on the edges of fields, on the grass, and on riverside or seaside sandy soil.

On folk holidays, in particular, wrestling grounds laid out at scenic spots were thronged with people, young and old, playing the game.

It is well illustrated by the mural painting of the Ssirum Tomb (late 4th century) in Ji’an, China. In the mural dating back to the period of Koguryo (277 BC-AD 668) are seen two contestants, wearing only shorts and gripping each other by the thigh band, and a grey-haired referee with a stick in his hand observing the match.

Ssirum was widely played across the country as a popular sport in the periods of Koryo and feudal Joson dynasty. At that time those especially good at ssirum were called yongsa, ryoksa or himjangsa, meaning men of Herculean strength.

In the past ssirum was played in three events according to the players’ ages and technical skills.

What distinguishes it from wrestling styles of other countries is to use the thigh band.

If one applies a proper combination of manoeuvers largely composed of arm, leg and body tricks, he can easily defeat a heavier rival. Herein lies an appeal of the Korean ssirum. He who forces his opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the ankle is announced as the winner.

Ssirum is now attracting more attention of the Korean people, regardless of professionals and amateurs. Typical event is the Grand Bull Prize National Ssirum Contest held every year on Rungna Island to mark Chusok (15th day of the eighth month by the lunar calendar), a Korean folk festival.

It is also a popular event in various sports games held in Pyongyang and provinces, including National Inter-Provincial Games.