Schwingen – The Pinnacle of Swiss Wrestling

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Switzerland is famous for many things. From its exhilarating Christmas markets, mouth-watering chocolates to luxury watches, you will have more things to remember about this country. But topping it all is its traditional take of modern wrestling, which allures thousands of fans worldwide.

Yes, we are talking about the national sport of Switzerland, known as Schwingen. This traditional wrestling is an integral part of Swiss sport and draws much attention inside and outside the arena. In short, it is one of the most celebrated and famous sports events in Switzerland.

So how did the sport originate? What are the rules of Schwingen? What are the different techniques that wrestlers use in Schwingen? 

If you are an avid fan of Schwingen, you probably know the basic details about Swiss wrestling. However, if you want to learn in-depth about this sport, you have landed on the right page. This article will help you understand the history, traditions, rules, and techniques of this age-old sport that has become one of Switzerland’s top events.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

Schwingen – A brief history

Although we cannot determine the roots of this traditional sport, many experts believe that it originated in the 13th century. The Cathedral of Lausanne has a picture from the medieval period which depicts wrestlers gripping each other in the wrestling clinch. 

While you can trace back its origin to the 13th century, the sport became evident during the early 17th century. The Alpine culture elevated Schwingen as a unique form of wrestling. While it remained a region-specific sport throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, efforts made by gymnastics teachers during the 19th century laid the foundation for modern Schwingen heritage.

Early Schwingen Art
Early Schwingen Art

The sport set its foot in major Swiss cities, and many events, such as Schwing festivals, introduced Schwingen to larger audiences. During this time, fights between farmers and herders grew popular among the masses, thus paving the way for Schwingen to become the national sport of Switzerland.

Since then, Schwingen has garnered much attention and appreciation throughout the country. Additionally, you can find various institutions imparting knowledge on improving fighting abilities through practices and books.

Schwingen – Traditions

Although modern Swiss wrestling has no gender barriers, Schwingen was traditionally a male sport. For instance, the picture depicting a wrestling match in the Cathedral of Lausanne portrays two mercenaries gripping each other while passing their time. 

This tradition continued for hundreds of years as the sport grew in popularity. However, as Schwingen scaled new heights, women schwingers took to the arena to fight for the coveted title, which shows the rise of female wrestlers and communities, such as the Women’s Schwingen Association in the 19th century.

As the sport matured, different titles emerged to dignify the achievements of each wrestler. For instance, Schwingerkonig or Schwinger king is the title given to a wrestler who wins the Eidgenossische. This title also comes with various privileges, including a guest of honor invitation at every Eidgenossische or national tournament.

Generally, you can divide Schwingen wrestlers into two groups – Pure Schwingen club (Sennenschwinger) and sports clubs with Schwingen wrestlers (Turnerschwinger). These clubs have unique dress codes, making it easy to identify them. 

For instance, Sennenschwinger or Pure Schwinger Club members wear a bright blue shirt and dark trousers during a match. Likewise, Turnerschwinger members sport white t-shirts and pants to represent their club. This identification allows viewers to identify the fighters in a match.

So what is the prize money for Schwingen? Unlike other sports where winners receive cash as their prize, Schwingen wrestlers get cowbells, livestock, or furniture instead of money. 

They also get titles, such as Eidgenossen (confederated) and Bose (wicked). The jury awards these titles to the best and good schwingers as per their performance at the national level. 

What are The Rules of Schwingen?

Like most traditional or modern sports, a Schwingen match takes place in a circular area. The organizers cover this ring with sawdust that has a diameter of 14 meters. 

Unlike other wrestling types, players don’t fight with areas of bare skin exposed or semi naked. Instead, they wear short jute pants over their regular clothes, allowing wrestlers to grip each other. It differentiates Schwingen from other wrestling sports and dignifies the rich traditional heritage of this sport that has been alluring masses for centuries.

So what are the rules of Schwingen? Like most wrestling sports, a Schwinger wins after his opponent’s shoulders touch the ground. Here are the rules followed in a Schwingen match.

  • Competitors must wear jute shorts over their regular clothes. 
  • The burlap shorts must have their back slit to allow the wrestlers to grip each other.
  • The match lasts for 10 to 12 minutes with only one round.
  • Wrestlers cannot step out of the ring during the match.
  • A wrestler must force his opponent’s shoulders to touch the ground while holding the burlap shorts with at least one hand to win. However, if the opponent gets back on his feet, the judges award ten points for a successful throw.
  • If neither Schwingers wins the match, the judges award the win to the more active wrestler or declare the match as a draw.

A Schwinger match consists of three referees, one standing inside the ring. The other two referees keep a close eye on the wrestlers’ movements and look out for any foul play committed during the match.  

The match rules may change depending upon which competition a wrestler is competing. For instance, a Schwingen match during the Alpine Games Festival or the Federal Wrestling has more than one round, and the wrestlers have to compete with other fighters in eight rounds over two days. If you win all the rounds, you get the winning title of “Wrestling King,” which lasts for three years. The winner also gets a bull and other items as his prize.

So are there any criteria to become a Schwingen wrestler? Schwingen has no limitations for competing, as the sport does not have any weight categories or other requirements. However, as the sport requires strength, stamina, and physical force, most competitors are craftsmen from different traditional professions. 

Schwingen wrestling events are an outdoor affair and are more likely to be held during autumn and early summer. 

What are the Different Techniques that Wrestlers use in Schwingen?

Schwingen is very similar to other wrestling and martial arts techniques, especially forms of belt wrestling like SSireum and Glima. You can compare many of the techniques and throws with various martial art forms, including judo or any other sport where you earn points by throwing your opponent.

In short, learning these techniques is very crucial for wrestlers to excel in Schwingen. They also have to master their combinations to reap benefits from their tactics. 

Although the sport started with fewer fighting tactics during its early days, you can now find more than 100 throwing techniques in Schwingen’s wrestling manual. However, many wrestlers focus on excelling in throws, such as the Bur, Brienzer, Kurz, Ubersprung, Wyberhaagge, and the Hufter.

Let’s learn more about some of these techniques in detail.

Hufter

As we mentioned earlier, Schwingen wrestlers employ similar tactics to judo to defeat their opponents, and one of these techniques is Hufter. It is an identical fighting move as judo’s Koshi Guruma, where wrestlers try to get a commanding grip on their opponent’s head.

In Hufter, a wrestler tries to bend down his opponent to put his right arm around his head. This position allows the wrestler to have a commanding grip over his opponent, helping him overpower his contender. 

While in this position, the wrestler tries to get his right hip inwards and takes a few steps to circle and gain momentum. This action allows the wrestler to lift his opponent, and with a last clockwise body rotation, he can throw his opponent on the sawdust.

If the attacker uses other wrestling combinations and holds his opponent on the ground, he wins the round. However, he will have to ensure that his opponent’s shoulders touch the ground to win the match. 

Brienzer

Brienzer is almost identical to judo’s Uchi Mata technique, where an attacker tries to destabilize his opponent using different combinations. It is one of the significant throws used in Schwingen and is also the common technique preferred by many Schwingers.

In Brienzer, a wrestler uses his inner thigh to move inward diagonally, destabilizing his opponent. He then uses his back thigh to throw his opponent to the ground. This technique requires strength and timing, and wrestlers have to use different combinations to perform this throw precisely.

This technique is very effective in Schwingen and often provides desired results for the attacker. However, attackers have to think about their moves in advance and wait for the perfect timing to lift their opponent and pin them to the ground with their shoulders touching the sawdust. 

Why is Schwingen Termed as City Boys Against Farmers?

As we mentioned earlier, Schwingen was traditionally a leisure sport based in specific regions. However, the 19th century saw its rise to the point that it became the national sport of Switzerland. The idea of associating Schwingen with farmers and city boys sparked as the sport moved to the big cities.

Since the traditional sport involved wrestlers from different professions, including carpenters and farmers, the modern version saw city wrestlers join the league. Hence it became famous as the sport between farmers and city boys or Sennenschwinger and Turnerschwinger.

Schwingen Wrestling
Schwingen Wrestling

While Sennenschwingers are wrestlers from rural and alpine areas, Turnerschwingers come from various city sports clubs with a Schwingen unit. The wrestlers from the rural areas wore dark trousers and a blue Edelweiss shirt. Likewise, city wrestlers wore white clothes during a game.

However, as the rules evolved, Sennenschwinger didn’t need to wear an Edelweiss shirt, and they could go with any blue-colored shirt. Additionally, they wear traditional attire known as Sennenkutteli for award ceremonies over their white shirts.

Likewise, Turnschwingers also have a dress code, and they follow an all-white approach, which is the traditional theme for all city sports clubs. These groups participate in all Schwingen levels and events, including the Schwingfest, which consists of various disciplines, such as wrestling, throwing stones, and weightlifting.

How Many Rounds are in a Schwingen Match?

Although a typical Schwingen match consists of a single round of 10 to 12 minutes, you can have more rounds depending on the event. For instance, Eidgenossische or the national tournaments have eight rounds in total, and each player has to go through those rounds to win the title.

Here are the rounds involved in national tournaments or other events.

  • Anschwingen – It is the term given to the first two rounds of a Schwingen game in national tournaments or other events. These rounds decide the initial phase of the match and are crucial for players to tally up some early points.
  • Ausschwingen – It is the term given to the third and fourth round of a Schwingen match. Each round allocates players with six minutes to improve their points. Many wrestlers try to score more points during the third and fourth rounds.
  • Ausstich – It is the term given to the final two rounds that decides the match’s fate. These rounds are like playoffs, and each round consists of seven minutes.
  • Kranz-Ausstich – National tournaments consist of eight rounds, and Kranz-Ausstich is the term given to the 7th and 8th rounds of a Schwingen match. These rounds offer players eight-minute each to showcase their skills and combinations to win the challenge. The win comes with a Kranz crown and a chance to compete for the coveted title Schwingerkonig.

So how do the judges decide which player wins the title Schwingerkonig? After completing their rounds, two players with the highest points will compete in a final battle or Schlussgang to win the coveted title. It usually happens on the event’s final day, with the arena packed with thousands of spectators. 

This match decides who will win the title of Schwingerkonig or the king of Swiss Wrestling. However, if both the players could not beat each other as per the mentioned guidelines, the highest point-getter wins the title. The judges can even pick a player other than the final two players based on his performance throughout the event.

Final Thoughts

While Schwinger may be a traditional sport, it has evolved. So many wrestlers are constantly evolving their tactics and skill set to match this growing evolution. 

As for the future, the sport has immense potential, and we believe this traditional sport will become one of the top-grossing sports in the world.

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