Breaking the Hold

A key aspect of many traditional wrestling styles is the concept of the fixed hold. In contrast to modern styles like BJJ, Judo, and Sambo, in which you’re (mostly) free to take any grip you like, traditionally it was much more common for a style to centre around one set-in-stone grip (or “hold”) that both competitors were required to keep throughout the entire bout. It is quite typical to read accounts of old wrestling challenges in which the challengees’ response amounted to “Sure, what hold will we use?”.

The Northern Pacific Farmer, Jan. 27 1881

An over-under “hug” clinch is still a common hold (Scottish Backhold, Cumberland and Westmorland, Sardinian S’istrumpa), as is a belt grip (Icelandic Glima, Central Asian Alysh) or a trouser grip (Lucha Leonesa). Collar and Elbow’s was exactly as it the style’s name suggests – right hand on the collar of the jacket, left hand on the sleeve just above the elbow. And once you had it, you could not let go. You could use your arms to push, pull, twist, and generally off-balance your opponent while you worked to trip or throw them, but if you released your grips either by design or by accident you conceded a fall. So wrestlers couldn’t “accidentally” catch their balance mid throw, then just say “Whoops, let’s start again”. You had to work within the rules of the game.

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

Here are some examples of that particular rule in action:

At Indianapolis, December 16, the Turkish wrestler Hali Adali nearly met with a reverse. Duncan C. Ross, who was in Australia some years ago, pulled the Eastern champion over in the Collar and Elbow bout, and, not understanding the style, Adali broke holds. Ross got the fall.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Feb. 11 1899

The wrestling up to this point had been in the Cumberland style, but the remaining two falls were in the Collar and Elbow style, sack jackets being put on by the competitors. The excitement now became intense, each effort of the wrestlers being heartily applauded. The Maori was very determined throughout, and after five minutes’ play threw his opponent very cleverly. The remaining fall lasted more than an hour. The Maori got a fall, but he let go his hold, and the fall was given against him.

Marlborough Daily Times (New Zealand), Mar. 19 1886

After the men had wrestled for two hours and thirty-five minutes, the tall man caught a right inside lock on the Vermonter, which the latter neatly broke, and in a twinkling twitched his adversary so nearly on to his back that he broke his hold to save himself and lost the fall as a consequence.

Boston Post, June 28 1878

Modern Collar and Elbow bouts include this crucial rule too. Take your grips, work your trips and throws, but your hands have to stay in place!