The Yagli Gures Tradition in Kirkpinar and the Last Master of Kispet-Making

BAŞARAN F. N., Gurcum B. H.

FOLK LIFE-JOURNAL OF ETHNOLOGICAL STUDIES, vol.49, no.2, pp.103-124, 2011 (AHCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 49 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Doi Number: 10.1179/043087711x12950015416276
  • Journal Indexes: Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.103-124
  • Keywords: oil wrestling, kispet, handicrafts, traditional clothing, cultural preservation
  • Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University Affiliated: No


Yagli Gures (oil wrestling) is one of the most highly regarded traditional activities in Turkey. It embraces spiritual principles including a modest style of living, which is based on a religious and a cultural background, but also relates to the physical and mental aspects of life, as it requires work to develop strength of body and mind. Wrestling as a sport has certainly been a feature of many ancient civilizations, but in Turkey it had a particular importance, as it was originally practised almost as a lifestyle by Oghuz Turks long before they accepted Islam. Among many styles of wrestling, the most important style is oil wrestling, which was used to condition the Sultan's yeniceri (Janissary). In 2010, the 649th oil-wrestling tournament (the Kirkpinar Wrestling Games) was organized between 21 and 28 June, and 1493 pehlivans (wrestlers) from different cities competed in a seven-day elimination tournament, which became more interesting because of the visit of a traditional Japanese Sumo wrestling team. Evidence from Ottoman chronicles and documents indicate that the Kirkpinar Games have been held every year since 1362 and Guinness Book of World Records accepts this as the world's oldest continuous sporting competition. The athletes compete for the title of Baspehlivan (chief wrestler) and for the golden belt. During these matches a pehlivan wears the kispet, strong leather breeches reaching from the waist to below the knees, leaving his upper body naked. Being a special traditional garment without zipper, buttons, or hooks, cords are used to hold it in place. For this reason, the pehlivan wraps cords around his knees to block the opening of the cuffs, in order to prevent his opponent being able to tackle him from the rear and bring him down by grasping and pulling the cuffs of his kispet. Many national and international visitors, famous and master pehlivans, celebrities and representatives of government attend this event, together with the sponsors of the ceremonies, and many aspects of the activities of the festival-like tournament are all recognized parts of the annual Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Games. However, the research presented here reveals that there is only one master of kispet-making left, who is about to retire from his craft, and that the future for perhaps the most ancient traditional craft of Anatolia appears to be bleak. As time passes there may be no one to make this important traditional garment with the same level of craftsmanship, faith and skill as the past masters, and this is not a garment that can properly be produced by mechanical means.