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Cornish Wrestling and Grappling in America, by a New York City Professor

February 12, 2015

It is one of the most effective choking holds known…”

 

The following short treatise on the Cornish style of wrestling appeared in the Evening Star on June 27, 1903, and was penned by Professor Anthony Barker, President of the Physical Culture Association of America, located at 110 S West 42nd Street, and later at 1164 Broadway, New York City. AnthonyBarkerAdBarker seems to have been running a booming mail-order business in physical culture literature and broadsides, as can be seen in his numerous period advertisements. He also wrote a number of articles on old, rural styles of wrestling.

Barker commented briefly on the tradition of Cornish grappling in America for the magazine Health, in which he noted,

As has been stated in both Graeco-Roman and catch-as-catch-can wrestling, a clever wrestler can very rarely be thrown directly from his feet, to his back on the mat. It is first necessary to “get behind” or above him. There is still one method of doing this while the men are still on their feet, which we have not yet described, and this is by means of “clicks” or trips. The word “click” is an old English wrestling slang or technical word, sometimes spelled “cleek.” You will hear it used by the old Cumberland and Cornish wrestlers, many of whom have come to this country to work in mines. The copper country of Michigan and some of the mining regions of Pennsylvania are still great places for wrestling, the sport being fostered by a love for it which is generations old in these Cumberland, Westmoreland and Cornwall men. At their matches, many of the old and quaint wrestling expressions are still heard. For instance, the referee is called “stickler,” and when, in his movements, he obstructs the view of the spectators, they shout out, “Move around, stickler.” As the spectators are all around and he is in somebody’s view all the time, the poor “stickler” is kept on the move continually.

Following is Barker’s short treatise detailing the techniques of Cornish wrestling, reprinted in full:

Title

“In nearly every man’s life, whether he will or no, a time generally comes when he is dragged into a rough-and-tumble fight. Then, if he knows something of Cornish wrestling, he will be able to take care of himself admirably…”

 

Evening Star, June 27, 1903.

Written by Prof. Anthony Barker.

One of the best ways for a man to fit himself for self-defense through physical culture is to take up the style of wrestling least known in America: the Cornish. In nearly every man’s life, whether he will or no, a time generally comes when he is dragged into a rough-and-tumble fight. Then, if he knows something of Cornish wrestling, he will be able to take care of himself admirably.

The distinctive feature of Cornish wrestling is the canvas jacket which each wrestler wears and on which the different holds must first be secured. For this reason a man learns how he could grab the coat of a man who might attack him on the street or elsewhere and use this apparel of dress to the discomfiture and defeat of its owner. The man who delights in rough-and-tumble exercise, and he is numerous, will find Cornish wrestling just about the acme of his favorite kind of sport. He will also discover that, for all its apparent go-as-you-please methods, it is not lacking in scientific qualities, and that he will get plenty of healthful excitement from the most picturesque of all styles of wrestling.

The coat used for Cornish wrestling can be easily made at home. It is of stout canvas, with no collar, loose, elbow sleeves, and a tail coming well down over the hips. It is built so that it will lack about eight inches of meeting over the chest. The fronts are joined by three pieces of stout rope hooked over buttons, securely sewed, so that hard pulling will not loosen them. The topmost rope is across the nipples, and the space between each rope is eight inches. The sleeves are loose, so that a wrestler can get a hand up and through them for certain holds. The jacket is skimpy in front to prevent holds, the ropes, which fasten the coat on, reducing the chances of holds to a minimum. The tail is long, so that the wrestler can make the coat fit snugly and still further reduce his opponent’s opportunities for a hold by gathering up back of him as much of the tail and coat as he can.

The miners of Cornwall, among whom it originated, formerly wore heavy-soled and spiked shoes, with which they endeavored to cripple one another, and they had no qualms about choking…”

 

Holds on the Jacket.

All holds with the hands are gained on the jacket, which, therefore, plays the major part in this sort of wrestling. Leg wrestling is fair, however, tripping being scientifically employed. The celebrated grapevine, known to every American schoolboy, is found in its perfection in Cornish. Cornish has not become well known in America, owing to the fact that at one time it abounded in cruelties. The miners of Cornwall, among whom it originated, formerly wore heavy-soled and spiked shoes, with which they endeavored to cripple one another, and they had no qualms about choking. Nowadays, however, even Cornishmen refrain from all brutality, and their favorite sport is no longer considered inhuman. In the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania and in the copper fields of Michigan, where many Cornishmen are settled, this wrestling is the favorite pastime, and every holiday brings numerous bouts.

The cross collar hold, described below, is generally barred in present day bouts, but it is given with the idea that some knowledge of it may come in useful at some time or other for purposes of self-defense against a ruffian. It is one of the most effective choking holds known. As in all forms of wrestling, many of the hundred or more holds possible in Cornish can be studied out and gained after a little practice with the three described.

Fig1

Sparring for a Hold.

Roll up the sleeves as much as possible. Gather all the slack of the Jacket in one hand, preferably the left, and hold it on the small of the back. With the legs well apart, so as to give a firm and broad base, form an obtuse angle by bending the body forward. Hold the disengaged open hand at arm’s length with the palm out toward the opponent’s face and about a foot from it. (Figure 1.) Keep the position when sparring for a hold, which consists primarily in grabbing some part of the jacket. Agility and keen sight are necessary to do this effectively.

“Step on the foot nearer you, pull him toward and past you and slam him down on the floor…”


The Crowbar.

Fig2Perhaps you manage to get a hold of your opponent’s sleeve. In that case, shoot your arm up his sleeve and firmly grasp the opposite side of the coat so that your wrist will bear on the opponent’s neck. (Figure 2.) Then, keeping your body out of harm’s reach, grab a wrist of the opponent with your disengaged hand, step on the foot nearer you, pull him toward and past you and slam him down on the floor. Usually you will have to thresh your opponent all around the floor at arm’s length before he will tire sufficiently to be thrown down.

The Cross Collar Hold.

Fig3To execute the cross collar hold get the opponent’s jacket in a wad around his neck and well down on his arms. Run one hand through the crumpled mass in front of the neck and under the chin and grab the jacket at the opposite armhole (Figure 3.) Then put the heel corresponding to the arm under the chin back of the opponent’s leg and try to toss him backward. The opponent will find that, try as he will, his hands will not be of much use to him. He will try backing and breaking away, but a little pressure of the arm on the neck and chin will make him stop. As this hold and the crowbar can be made quite rough by means of choking, it would be better, and would serve the purpose of exercise just as well, not to carry the holds to their ultimate issues, but, once they are gained, count them as points and release the opponent.

The Grapevine.

Fig4This is the most famous of all the Cornish holds, and is oftenest used. It can be secured in a variety of positions. A common way is as follows:

Get the opponent’s jacket bunched around his neck and clasp his head in an arm, the hand of which grasps the jacket by the side of the other hand. Entwine the leg nearer the opponent around his leg close to you in such a position that your toes come in front of his shin bone. (Figure 4.) Push the opponent’s leg out behind from under him, press down with the arms and pull his head under and his shoulders on to the floor. Executed in this fashion the grapevine corresponds in general to the “flying mare” in Cumberland and Northumberland.

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One Comment
  1. oprishki permalink

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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