Blog

19th-Century Anti-Stalling Rules for Collar and Elbow Bouts

Modern combat sports like Judo and Sambo have fairly strict rules in place to prevent stalling in matches. Rules that forbid, for example, overly defensive grips or taking an excessive number of steps backwards without engaging. Collar and Elbow was no different. The grips were set in stone (right hand on collar, left on elbow), and the first written rules for the style specifically included a point intended to tackle the two most common methods of stalling – namely, stiff-arming an opponent away, and bending forwards with your upper body in order to keep your legs away from his attacks.

James, Ed. “Manual of Sporting Rules: Comprising the Latest and Best Authenticated Revised Rules“. Ed James (self-pub.), 1873.

Predictably, competitors still attempted to pull the odd bit of gamesmanship when things weren’t going their way, but all in all the rules and the referees enforcing them seemed to do the trick.

Cox clung to defensive tactics throughout, and it [wasn’t] long before Dufur became very aggressive. The sagging back of the former was very much complained of by the partisans of the Marlboro man, but it was not clear that he had transgressed any rule of the sport; still the referee frequently reminded him to ‘straighten up’.

Boston Post, June 28 1878

Another short breathing time was taken, during which McLaughlin called the referee’s attention to the fact that Martin persisted in keeping his arms stiff, when the rules expressly provide that in Collar and Elbow wrestling the men shall stand breast to breast and give their arms free play. The referee acknowledged the justice of the complaint, and instructed Martin to keep within the rule.

St. Louis Globe, Mar. 27 1876

Canvas jackets were again worn, each man taking hold at his opponent’s collar and elbow. Dinnie at once went on the defensive, standing well out, and lowering his head so to watch the other’s legs that he lost inches of his height. In a little while Cannon complained of this. ‘Stand up to your work, man,’ said he, but without avail. He then appealed to the referee, who, in reply, remarked, ‘Stand up, Donald, and let us see some wrestling.’ Dinnie quietly smiled and obeyed orders.

Sportsman (Melbourne), Mar. 9 1887

Essentially, as tempting as it might have been for a wrestler in a tight spot to stiff-arm and run down the clock, anyone attempting such a strategy (as the gentleman on the left here appears to be doing) would ultimately do nothing more than put themselves at risk of a caution or outright disqualification.