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Thread: Why did the pin-fall get chosen as the main way to win a match in (Western) amateur wrestling?

  1. #10
    Redshirt DoubleGrapevine's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
    Virginia/D.C. area (by way of Illinois)

    Default Re: Why did the pin-fall get chosen as the main way to win a match in (Western) amateur wrestling?

    Thanks to all you guys for your help in answering my questions. I was able to look into some other reference works on wrestling/grappling and on the various folk wrestling styles a bit more as well, and in addition to what you guys have said I've come up with some hypotheses. I'm no wrestling historian like ideamark, so much of this is just speculation.

    In various wrestling styles around the world, you essentially have five sorts of victory conditions that increase in their level of control and physical force (from the Encyclopedia Britannica):
    1. Win by breakstance - Wrestlers grip each other by the collar, shirt, jacket, belt, or other parts of clothing, and the first wrestler to break the stance loses (e.g. possibly a victory condition in Irish "collar and elbow" wrestling, Scottish "backhold" wrestling, etc.).
    2. Win by toppling - Wrestlers may grip each as in the first example, or choose not to, and the first wrestler to fall on any body part besides the feet loses (e.g. a victory condition in Glima, the national sport of Iceland that evolved from the wrestling styles of the Vikings; Cumberland and Westermorland wrestling; etc.).
    3. Win by touch-fall - A wrestler seeks to get his opponent to fall on his back, on his shoulders or scapulae, on his hips, or on some other body part, and hold him there for a very brief instant (e.g. a victory condition in Schwingen, an Alpine wrestling style that is one of the national sports of Switzerland; Cornish wrestling; the touch-fall required until recently in freestyle and Greco-Roman; etc.).
    4. Win by pin-fall - A wrestler seeks to gain the same position as in a touch-fall, but in this case demonstrates total control by pinning his opponent on the mat for a specified amount of time (e.g. a victory condition in catch-as-catch-can wrestling and in judo, American folkstyle, etc.).
    5. Win by submission - A wrestler seeks to disable his opponent by causing pain, discomfort, immobilization, or the risk of losing consciousness so that the loser concedes defeat vocally or by tapping out (e.g. a victory condition in judo, jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts, and catch-as-catch-can wrestling, etc.).

    All of these victory conditions emphasize both control for the winner and risk for the loser in various degrees, with the breakstance demonstrating the greatest level of risk involved and the least level of control and the submission the least risk and the most control (but also the most violence). By risk, I mean the potential for a wrestler to lose his stance or hold, lose his balance, fall to his vulnerable side, etc. Some wrestling styles use two or more of these options for an automatic win.

    The touch-fall gained by holding the opponent's two shoulders on the mat, was probably chosen early on as the ultimate goal in Greco-Roman and freestyle because of these factors:
    1. Ground wrestling was strongly discouraged or even barred in some wrestling styles where the win was by toppling or breakstance. Even in some wrestling styles where the win was by a touch-fall, ground wrestling was banned or discouraged. So sports officials probably wouldn't want such a limitation for amateur wrestling on the global scale.
    2. If you were wrestling for a touch-fall, some wrestling styles were notoriously difficult to gain such a victory in (in Cornish wrestling for example, you had to have your opponent flat on his back with at least three out of four pins (the four pins were both shoulders and both hips) touching the ground simultaneously in order to win automatically). Having the touch-fall limited to the shoulders probably gave international wrestlers more of a break and also more leeway to use more techniques.
    3. Since the two international wrestling styles have always emphasized risk more than control, the touch-fall with the shoulders being held for an instant was probably the better choice than a pin-fall in emphasizing risk for the loser.
    4. Wins by outright submission would probably be too brutal for amateur wrestling to eventually gain acceptance around the world. It was popular in some wrestling styles, especially in British and American catch-as-catch-can, for wrestlers to use "hooks" (submissions), because when people were betting on wrestlers, you could imagine that people debated when or whether a wrestler's two shoulders were held to the mat, whether the referee was being fair, etc. But often, such "hookers" who used submissions were willing to cause lasting damage in order to get an opponent to give up, so amateur wrestlers probably didn't want the submission to be a legitimate way to win outright.

    As for the pin-fall in American folkstyle, it was closely related to Greco's/freestyle's touch-fall. The pin-fall was probably also seen in the catch-as-catch-can wrestling done in carnivals, fairs, and in early American professional wrestling as well as in the rough and tumble bouts done for recreation throughout the country. (I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other folk wrestling styles from Europe and around the world also played a role in the development of the pin-fall.)

    I also read in a book by Renzo Gracie (Mastering Jujitsu, p. 174) that the pin in wrestling may have roots in ancient battle tactics. He brings up the speculation made by some people that if you had someone pinned to his back, it would allow either the person pinning him or his comrades to thrust through the other person with a sword or a dagger. Gracie suggests that this is probably unlikely, as you can very well with enough skill thrust through a person without getting him on his back.

    Gracie also suggests that the wrestling pin could have originated from hand-to-hand combat as well. The idea would be that if you had a person pinned on his back, you could have inflicted real damage if you were in a real fight (e.g. grounding and pounding an opponent as seen in UFC). Maybe, but I think this is also unlikely, as any standing-only boxing match would give you the impression that you don't have to pin someone or even go to the ground to inflict real damage in a fight.

    I suggest that the pin-fall gained by holding the shoulders or scapulae on the mat for a few seconds was chosen by us in America for the following reasons:
    1. In addition to wanting to allow ground wrestling, wanting to have an easier victory condition and freedom for more techniques (limiting the pin-fall to the shoulders or the scapulae, as opposed to trying to get the whole back or at least three out of four pins (the shoulders and the hips) to be held to the mat as in other styles), and in shunning brutal submissions (even though amateur wrestling in general is not without its rough side, and allowed some submissions early on to get the pin), American wrestlers probably wanted to have a victory condition that was close to the touch-fall in Greco/freestyle, while at the same time remaining faithful to the tradition of pin-falls seen in catch-as-catch-can wrestling, and in the professional wrestling that was gaining popularity in the late 19th/early 20th century. This would allow folkstyle to be a disctinctly American sport, and not just a copy-cat of international or European wrestling styles (which I guess is one of the reasons why if you look at the early NCAA wrestling rules, flying and rolling falls, allowed in international wrestling, were not considered falls in folkstyle).
    2. As opposed to someone being put on his shoulders only for a brief moment and calling a fall (the touch-fall), the pin-fall would probably provide more suspense somewhat for the spectators. For example, in the 1930s, if the defensive wrestler got out of a pinning situation before the three seconds were silently counted by the referee, it would probably provide more excitement for the fans to see what the two wrestlers were going to do next, seeing that one of the wrestlers could've gotten the fall but didn't. A weird speculation, but it could be true.
    3. Folkstyle has always emphasized control more than risk, with time advantage and all. Pinning the shoulders to the mat would, as Spider and M Richardson suggested, signify the pinnacle of control when the bottom wrestler is in a vulnerable position, because:

    If a wrestler is simply on his stomach being ridden by the offensive guy, he's broken down, but with enough skill and timing he could possibly get off his stomach and get to his base, with his weight being supported on his hands or knees, and might even escape and get to his feet or gain a reversal.

    If a wrestler is on his back in a near-fall situation however, the best he could do is use his head and feet to bridge, which could be pretty risky when you have the other wrestler trying to control you. The offensive wrestler, if successfully gaining control for the pin, gradually puts pressure on the defensive wrestler's shoulders or scapulae, most likely by settling on the defensive wrestler with his weight. So, it would be pretty hard for the defensive wrestler to support his own weight and the weight of the offensive wrestler while he's on his back and has no hands and knees to get easily to his base. The defensive guy would also have to do his best to bridge out while at the same time not giving further advantage to the other guy to stick his shoulders to the mat for the time needed for a pin-fall.

    Meanwhile, the offensive wrestler is doing his best to keep his opponent on his back and get both his shoulders or scapulae held down (most often making sure that his weight is being borne by the defensive wrestler), and if he controls his opponent long enough or gets in a really good pinning combination, the defensive wrestler eventually becomes helpless. The average defensive guy simply gets tired or frustrated in his efforts or realizes that he's just stuck and that it would be useless to try to get out of the hold, and just quits fighting back the pin. (Or the defensive guy simply gets surprised that he's in a pinning situation and gets pinned before he has time to react.) Gaining more and more control, the offensive guy eventually sticks his opponent's shoulders to the mat until the referee calls the fall.

    So I guess pinning the shoulders or scapulae was chosen as the ultimate way to win because it was the most harmless (as opposed to some submissions) and efficient way (as opposed to some of the other wrestling styles) to win while still dominating and subduing an opponent, which would probably fit well with folkstyle's emphasis on control.

    Just my own speculations. If I'm wrong about any of this, please feel free to correct me.
    Last edited by DoubleGrapevine; 10-28-2008 at 01:05 PM.

  2. #11

    Default Re: Why did the pin-fall get chosen as the main way to win a match in (Western) amateur wrestling?

    All I can say is, like, wow...

    Thanks, DoubleGrapevine, for sharing your research.

    (And, to clarify: I'm not a historian. I just play one on TV.)


  3. #12
    Round of 12
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    Apr 2007
    Norwood, Pa.

    Default Re: Why did the pin-fall get chosen as the main way to win a match in (Western) amateur wrestling?

    In Karate children are taught the same kata as adults, but adults are given a different understading of the motions than children. For example, in Nahanci Shodan kata there is one position that is supposed to be a stance for punching (try that stance against a street boxer and eat a lot of fists), it's not, it's a a variant of a Russian, lots of kicks/stomps to the leg from a Russian tie s the whole kata (with some temple strikes thrown in). Imagine how dangerous that would be for a child to know. Okinawans didn't want 10 year olds with broken legs after all. Combatives all exhibit this dichotomy. Same activity, different applications. Wrestling minus cruel submissions is folkstyle, add submissions and you have a mans game you can make money at without risking your hands/livlihood.

  4. #13
    Redshirt DoubleGrapevine's Avatar
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    Virginia/D.C. area (by way of Illinois)

    Default Re: Why did the pin-fall get chosen as the main way to win a match in (Western) amateur wrestling?

    Quote Originally Posted by oc View Post
    Wrestling minus cruel submissions is folkstyle, add submissions and you have a mans game you can make money at without risking your hands/livlihood.
    So are you saying that wrestling with just pins and no submissions is simply a boy's game and not a man's game? Haha.

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