21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
News Analysis now
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories
Dreamscapes Two
More Original Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living



The International Writers Magazine: Olympics

• James Morford
Everyone knows that many Olympic Games events derive from the Olympia in ancient Athens. Tests of skill in the javelin throw or the long-jump date back to the Games origination in 648 B.C. But how many know that the most popular sport at the ancient Olympic Games was neither in track, field, nor in some aequesterian event, but what the Greeks called Pankration (in English “all powerful”).


Known by everyone, even revered in Greek city states, the pankration champion was famous for decades. A brutal sport, pankration was a combination of boxing and wrestling mixed with what today we call “martial arts.” Indeed, a combatant could be killed during competition. Nothing was disallowed except biting and gouging the eyes, nose and mouth. Men died through choke holds and, as you might well imagine, non life threatening injuries were common, broken limbs and fingers nothing out of the ordinary.

There were no weight or height divisions in Pankration, a fact that when skill levels were about equal, obviously gave the larger man the advantage. A contestant could concede by tapping a finger on the ground or raising an arm, but many, even though in terrible pain, refused to do this, spurred on by the chance for salvaging a victory and thus winning cash or a government appointment, or perhaps having a chance of winning election to high political office, having his image painted on a vase or maybe live to see a statue erected in his honor, and be lauded by poets for all time. Pankration was a heady wine for the young Greek male.

There is no actual record of how Pankration began, however it is only common sense to think it started in Greek military techniques. Ground warfare in ancient Greece was performed by the Hoplite (infantry) and in battles of spears, swords and shields. This often meant hand to hand combat. Since a soldier did not always stay on his feet while fighting, wrestling had long been taught the Greek soldier. This had to have led to a form of martial arts, and that in turn led to intra-mural tournaments, and pankration soon became the most popular event in all Greek athletic festival. A highlight of its popularity came in 200 BC when a boys division was added to what by that time had become a regular event at the Olympic Games.

At the Olympic Games there were two types of pankration: “ano pankration” which is similar to kick-boxing and “kato pankration” where combatants throw on another to the ground. The pankratiasts competed nude in a wrestling pit, their bodies slicked by oil. There would be a referee who enforced the rules by using an iron rod. The combatants fought without benefit of time outs or any kind of rest, the equivalent of rounds as in boxing did not exist. You fought until either you or your opponent gave up, passed out, or died. There were no victories by decision and therefor no judges except the public spectators who usually hollered for more action and more blood.

The combatants trained in an ancient type gymnasium or ¨palaestra.¨ The room contained ¨korykos¨, suspended from a ceiling bags filled with meal or fig seeds. These bags were to be kicked and pounded. For many a kicker though, tree trunks were used instead of suspended bags. and practitioners built up so much kicking power they could kick through a shield. Practice sessions saw men pairing off to be taught progressive techniques they had to learn before indulginge in sparring. Some protective equipment was used during these sparring sessions such as amphodtides or a type of ear guard. To toughen one´s physique, bags were thrown at a trainee by his assistants, or after being hit or kicked by the trainee, would rebound into a man´s head or stomach.

Over the years, effective pankration offensives moves were developed. An actual match usually began by the opponents sparring with their fists. Short hooks to the head and body along with straight punches, what we would now call a jab, were used. These opening maneuvers were called ¨krocheirismous¨and every combatant had his favorite type. From the city-state Silkyon, a man was nicknamed ¨fingertips¨ because at the beginning of a match he would attempt to break all his opponent´s fingers. Chancery was another opening gambit. You grabbed your opponent´s hair, pulled his head down, and with your other hand hit him with an uppercut. Some of the opening techniques are seen today in wrestling, and during the ancient games brought fame such as that given a combatant named ¨Jumping Weight¨, who would twist an ankle while attempting to push a man off his feet.

Pankration Sooner or later in most matches both combatants would wind up on the ground and attempt choke holds, or different kinds of scissoring techniques on the body. Such term as ¨Flying Mare¨ were used in the anciet Olympics. This emphasis of fighting on the ground quite naturally led to wrestling technques having priority over the standing ones. This disgusted one time Pankration combatant, the philosopher Plato, who realized less emphasis on standing techniques meant less importance such an event had for military training.
Naturally Pankration, being so important to the Greeks, led to the development of myths about the participants, often portrayed on vase paintings and described in poems of tribute. Polydamus of Scotussia was reputed able to stop a moving chariot by seizing one of its wheels, and said to have killed a lion with his bare hands. He was said to have supported a crumbling mountain cave, holding it up while his companions scrambled for safety. Once the last man had escaped, the cave collapsed on Polydamus, killing him.

Pankration ended at the Olympic games when the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a devout Christian, in 435 A.D. issued an edict banning Pagan Structures. Since the Games had been dedicated to the Pagan God Zeus, this spelled doom for the sport in the Olympic Games .

In Pankration one can see the beginning of the martial arts, and because of the Olympic events, the systematic organizing of sport as public entertainment. But there is something else: Pankration saluted winners, but not losers. The praising of a gallant but losing warrior or athletic contestant had not yet taken hold in the world. There are some exceptions, the Spartan defense at Thermopylae being a notable one. Victory, however, was the dominant motif and the essence of Greek competition. One likes to think of the ancient Olympic Games where bronzed athletes performed on rock-filled plains under a blistering sun competing for the sake of competition. Such a view came later as a by-product of Romanticism. To the Greeks, in Pankration as in battle, you were only honored for victory. Victory meant the spoils were yours. Losers were forgotten. Trying hard and fighting with honor did not count. The olive laurel symbolized victory, not the thrill of competition.

© James Morford August 2012
So far from God, Corruption in Mexico - James Morford
Corruption in Mexico resembles that cliché about the weather, everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it.

Share |
More comment


© Hackwriters 1999-2012 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.