What is ssireum?
Ssireum is one of the national sports of North Korea and has existed in one form or another since the 4th century. Bouts usually take place on sand in a circle 7 meters in diameter. Contestants tie a belt known as a satba, around their waist and thigh. Each wrestler must keep both hands around their opponent’s belt at the waist at all times. Should your opponent step out of the ring or any part of their body apart from their feet touch the ground you win.
The history of ssireum.
As mentioned before ssireum has been a Korean sport for about 1700 years. There had been different regional styles for tying the belt, but in 1994 an official method was codified and all wrestling in North Korea now uses the same style. Traditionally a lunar New year activity, in 1947, the National Ssireum Championships were inaugurated. This tournament is generally held in August, and the winner receives an enormous bull with a gold bell around its neck.
Not to be confused with Collision in Korea!
Officially known in North Korea as the Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace, this was a pro wrestling event (the kind with storylines and theatrics), organized by the WCW (World Wrestling Championship) and New Japan Pro Wrestling following the initiative of Antonio Inoki. Inoki was a Japanese wrestler who was trained by the famous (even in North Korea!) Wrestler Rikidozan, who was born in Japanese, occupied Korea in South Hamgyong. The event was broadcast on American pay per view over two days in 1995, with Antonio Inoki winning the feature bout over American Ric Flair.
Can I try Korean Wrestling in North Korea?
Yes, you can! Just book one of our tours that visit the Mt.Chilbo homestay in North Hamgyong, such as our Real Deal Tour. At the homestay, you can get your belt on and wrestle with local villagers.
Advice for budding Korean wrestlers:
Be aware that the locals are pretty good at this, and there is a small risk of minor injury, so be careful when you wrestle.
It’s a nice gesture to buy some beers for your local opponent(s), Korean wrestling is thirsty work.
If that little side trip about Collision in Korea caught your interest, you can buy an English language biography in North Korea by Rikidozan. Called I Am A Korean, it’s available in the foreign language bookshop in Pyongyang.
Check out our upcoming North Korea tours by clicking here.