Sunday, August 22, 2021

No Holds Barred: Antonio Graceffo on Mongolian Wrestling 

 On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with the writer, author, professor, and wrestler, Antonio Graceffo.

We spoke with him by phone Saturday, August 21.

Antonio Graceffo was born in Brooklyn, raised in Tennessee, and has been living for many years in Asia -- hence his moniker, the "Brooklyn Monk". He is currently located in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, where he teaches, writes, and wrestles.

In Mongolia, wrestling is a major sport in which many boys train and compete from a young age. The main style of Mongolian wrestling is known as Bokh. It is one of the main sports at the annual Nadaam festival. Since the 13th century and the days of Genghis Khan, the Nadaam festival has featured wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Although the coronavirus pandemic forced the festival to be cancelled this year, it is normally held each year in mid-July.

"The first official Nadaam was inaugurated by Genghis Khan himself," said Antonio Graceffo. "Each year when they celebrate Nadaam, it is not only the first anniversary of the first Nadaam, but it's also the anniversary of the foundation of the Mongolian empire."

While the main festivities are held in Ulaanbaatar, there are many local Nadaam festivals.

"Simultaneously, there are Nadaams happening in every province and every district of the country," he said.

"So arguably, Nadaam is the largest wrestling competition in the world, if we were to take all the Nadaams together across the whole country of Mongolia."

We discussed the long history of Mongolian wrestling, the rules of Bokh, why many Mongolians like Asashoryu and Hakuho have dominated Japanese sumo for many years, how urbanization and globalization are affecting Bokh with its rural roots, the growing challenges faced by Mongolian and many other indigenous styles of wrestling in today's sports and media environment, and much, much more. (Photo courtesy of Antonio Graceffo.)

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