An ISP Retrospective

During the Independent Study Project period I kind of stopped writing this because I was busy researching, writing, or worrying like hell. So I never really talked about all the stuff I learned about Mongolian wrestling. Since I wrote about thirty pages on the subject, I’m not going to say everything but here’s the many points that I ended up figuring out.

Mongolian wresting has been part of the culture for a very long time and competitions are used as a form of worship or celebration for whatever ideology is popular at the time. Originally it was just a local tribal tradition about rejuvenating the land. Chinggis Khaan made Naadam into a massive nationalistic event. The buddhist clergy made Danshig Naadam into a religious event. The Soviets made it into a Socialist event. And the democrats made Naadam into a nationalistic event again and made the Pan-Mongolian tournament to honor the community of Mongolians in Russia and China. Each of these eras left its mark on the sport, leaving behind symbols, redefining symbols, and reorganizing the way the sport is played. Most of the symbols for example come from the original tribal tradition and shamanism. 

There’s a lot of significance placed on hierarchy and respect. The entire organization of Naadam depends on wrestlers being ranked beforehand, and everything from the dances to the hats mark what rank a wrestler is. There’s also an emphasis on success and failure. Loss in Naadam is final, without matches to determine third or fourth place. 

Wrestling is also surprisingly central to Mongolian culture. Literally all men wrestle. They’ve sent wrestle abroad to become champions of Judo and Sumo, to the annoyance of the Japanese. At the same time, Mongolians are very concerned about foreigners becoming good at Mongolian wrestling. I’m curious what would happen if a foreigner won Naadam. It reminds me a little of the book Player of the Games in which a society based on a complex board game is destroyed when a foreigner wins.

As for the project, I just got my grade and commentary from my advisor and I agree with him. The research is very good and I can do a lot with what I have, but I didn’t do enough in depth analysis. There’s systems of symbols I never explored, including sky, and fire. There’s more to talk about in terms of national and ethnic identity. But I will hopefully be doing a thesis on it so I’ll have a chance to do it properly.


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