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Yakutia's national sports: the most agile and strongest among tundra people

Where can I get a master of sport in Yakut national jumping?

22 february 2023

In early February, Pokrovsk, Yakutia, hosted an international competition in the traditional Yakut wrestling, hapsagay. The tournament brought together athletes from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Buryatia, Altai and Tyva. The winner was Aydin Mongush, European sumo champion, two-time winner of Nadym in wrestling khoresh (Tuvan national wrestling) and holder of the title of Chaan-Moge (Elephant Man). Dozens of athletes came to the competition, it was covered by the media, and the prize fund amounted to RUB 2.5 mn. The world of national wrestling is an integral and full-fledged part of Russian sport—many famous wrestlers entered the international arena precisely from it. Yakutia, on the other hand, has a few more traditional sports in reserve, which are now actively developing in the region.

Traditional sports are, at their core, regional disciplines similar to GTO (Ready for Labor and Defence) physical training standard. Their Yakut version is hapsagay wrestling, which was the basis of warrior training. The rules require you to force your opponent to touch the ground with any part of the body other than the feet, grabbing clothes, throwing and reaps. The strongest wrestlers were revered among their fellow tribesmen as bogatyrs who proved their strength and agility not only before people but also before the gods. Hapsagay has been an integral part of almost all gatherings and events, including Ysyakh, the central festival of the Yakut calendar cycle, and is represented in epics and myths. Up to 20 competitions of different levels are held each year.

Today, hapsagay is included in the All-Russian Sports Register, which means its recognition at the federal level, access to state support measures and the possibility of obtaining official titles. Along with it, mas-wrestling, Yakut national jumping and tutum ergiir were added to the register. These sports are far more exotic than the usual Hapsagay wrestling.

Mas-wrestling is, at first glance, unassuming and requires little skill. Two athletes pull a stick over a barrier with their legs against it while sitting on the floor. You need to keep your own balance and disrupt your opponent's balance. As stated on the website dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the YASSR, this kind of entertainment has been practised by Yakuts since ancient times. It requires no special equipment or space, but it does allow you to exercise your body and willpower. An additional advantage of mas-wrestling for the tribal society of the ancient Yakuts was that it was difficult to injure them during such a duel, which preserved the lives of warriors and did not give rise to quarrels. According to Yakutia Daily, mas-wrestling federations already exist in 50 countries.

Tutum ergiir is a more sophisticated attraction. This is a special discipline in which the athlete must show overall fitness and endurance. The exercise will require a special implement—a wooden board with a small hole and a stick, about 25 cm long. The competitor must place the stick in the hole and make a maximum number of revolutions around their axis. It requires a lot of self-control, skill and stamina.

As for the Yakut national jumps, things are not as simple as they seem. There are complex rules under which jumper competitions are held. An athlete must complete all jumps 11 times in a row without stopping at 12 marks. There are three types of jumps: kylyy (crane dance) is a one-legged jump; ystanga (galloping deer) is a jump from foot to foot, and kuobakh (hare jump) is performed with two feet simultaneously. The athlete performs all actions from a running start. Despite the seemingly 'theatrical' nature of the national sport, it has gained recognition throughout Russia. Since 2011, the Yakut national jumps have been part of the programme of the Russian Athletics Championships.

In all of the Yakut national sports described, one can qualify up to the master of sport, and inter-regional and federal competitions are held. It is very common for athletes to perform at national festivals in the Sakha Republic, and the competitions turn into regional festivals. Now the centre for the development of traditional sports is the Republican Centre of National Sports named after V. Manchaara in Yakutsk, where there are classes for adults and children. It is also where the rules for judging, holding events and assessing athletes' qualifications are drawn up.

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