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Swiss wrestling (German Schwingen, colloquially Hoselupf) is the Swiss variant of folk wrestling. It is considered a Swiss national sport, even more prominent than Hornussen and Steinstossen.
The roots of Schwingen in Switzerland cannot be determined. A picture from the 13th century (in the Cathedral of Lausanne) shows the typical way of gripping the opponent. In central Switzerland and in the Swiss plateau, mainly on the northern rim of the Alps, the Hosenlupf (literally: “trouser lifting”) was common in public festivities. The prize at many alp festivals was a piece of trouser cloth, a sheep or other natural prizes.
The first alp herder’s festival in Unspunnen (Unspunnenfest) 1805 brought a revival of Schwingen. At that time, Switzerland had been invaded by France. The goal of this festival was to reinforce the Swiss national consciousness.
In the last third of the 19th century, memorable Schwing festivals and a lively activity of educated gymnastics teachers brought Schwingen to the big cities. Thus the original fight of the herders and farmers became a national sport that reached all social levels. The associations, headed by the Eidgenössischer Schwingerverband (founded 1895), organised the sport by integrating regional peculiarities, improving the abilities of the fighters with teaching books and practices, and creating modern tournament rules.
Despite this extension to urban areas Schwingen is still most popular in the traditional rural areas of the northern alps.
The match takes place in a ring, a circular area with a diameter of 12 meters that is covered with sawdust. The two opponents wear short pants made of jute over their clothes. The wrestlers hold each other by these pants, at the back where the belt meets, and try to throw the opponent onto his back. There are several main throws, with names like “kurz”, “übersprung” and “wyberhaagge”, some of them very similar to judo techniques – “hüfter” is almost identical to koshi guruma, “brienzer” is basically uchi mata. These throws are found in many wrestling systems that have even the slightest emphasis on throwing the opponent, and can also been seen in shuaijiao. A match is won when the winner holds the opponent’s pants with at least one hand and both the opponent’s shoulders touch the ground. By tradition the winner brushes the saw dust off the loser’s back after the match.
The match is judged by three referees, one of whom stands in the ring. The referees give points, with a maximum of ten points for a winning throw. If the match ends without a clear win, the more active Schwinger is awarded the higher number of points.
At a Schwing festival, every Schwinger wrestles six opponents, or eight at the Eidgenössische. The two Schwingers with the highest number of points after five (seven at the Eidgenössische) matches get to the Schlussgang (last round). The matching of the Schwingers is done by the fight court according to arcane rules. Often there are suspicions that the matchings have not been fair, and favor one contestant over the others.
There are no weight classes nor any other categories. Usually, though, Schwingers are big men, over 180 cm tall and weighing in excess of 100 kg, and are mostly craftsmen from traditional professions that require some physical force, like carpenters, butchers, lumberjacks or cheesemakers.
Regional and cantonal Schwing festivals are held outdoors, between early summer and autumn.
The most important Schwing festival is the Eidgenössisches Schwing- und Älplerfest, which takes place every three years. The winner of this tournament is proclaimed Schwingerkönig and receives a bull as his prize.
A list of Eidgenössische tournaments with Schwingerkönig:
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