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Traditional Korean wrestling (Ssirum/Ssireum)


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Inscribed in 2018 (13.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
© Ms CHOE Jin Hyang, National Heritage Information & Technology Exchange Company, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2017

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Ssirum (wrestling) is a physical game practised popularly in all regions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where two opponents try to push each other to the ground using a satpa (a fabric strap connecting the waist and leg), their torso, hands and legs. Ssirum is distinguished by the use of the satpa and the awarding of a bull to the winner. Since ancient times, Koreans have practised Ssirum for physical training purposes during breaks from work and, especially, during big contests on folk holidays. On folk days, when Ssirum takes place, lots of people (old and young) gather around the ring: wrestlers compete using diverse techniques; spectators enthusiastically cheer on their favorites; and the winner rides a bull in celebration. As an exercise of the whole body, Ssirum fosters the cultivation of the body and mind. It also encourages mutual respect and cooperation, contributing to the harmony and cohesion of communities and groups. Pyongyang, the capital city, plays a central role in enacting, protecting and transmitting Ssirum, comprising a number of communities, organizations and institutions concerned with the practice, including the Korean Ssirum Association. Koreans start learning Ssirum from family members and neighbours from childhood, and it is taught by educational institutions at all levels.

Republic of Korea
© The Cultural Heritage Administration, 2016

Republic of Korea
Ssireum, or traditional wrestling, is a popular form of entertainment widely enjoyed across the Republic of Korea. Ssireum is a type of wrestling in which two players wearing long fabric belts around their waists and one thigh grip their opponents’ belt and deploy various techniques to send them to the ground. The winner of the final game for adults is awarded an ox, symbolizing agricultural abundance, and the title of ‘Jangsa’. When the games are over, the Jangsa parades around the neighbourhood riding the ox in celebration. Ssireum games take place on sand in any available space in a neighbourhood, and are open to community members of all ages, from children to seniors. They are played on various occasions, including traditional holidays, market days and festivals. Different regions have developed variants of ssireum based on their specific backgrounds, but they all share the common social function of ssireum – enhancing community solidarity and collaboration. As an approachable sport involving little risk of injury, ssireum also offers a means of improving mental and physical health. Koreans are broadly exposed to ssireum traditions within their families and local communities: children learn the wrestling skills from family members; local communities hold annual open wrestling tournaments; and instruction on the element is also provided in schools.