Ssireum is a contest of physical strength and technique in which two contestants complete in direct contact against on anothor. Simply put, it is wrestling, or a form of wrestling found only in Korea. As each country has sports unique to its own culture, such as the United States having its own style of rugby called football, Korea has its own style of wrestling called Ssireum.
In the beginning, Ssireum was practiced as combat for self-defense against attacks and a part of rituals carried on from the ancient tribal states. With the advancement of civilization the formation of specific rules governed the combat and allowed Ssireum to develop into a major national sports for physical competition and entertainment.
According to the literature, the contest of Ssireum was called various other names such as Gakjo, Gakhi, Sangbak, Jaenggyo, Gakgi, with each naem explaining how the methods of conducting Ssireum have been developed. Gak, a commonly used prefix in the foregoing names seems to have originated from the combative act names seems to have originated from the combative act performed by horned animals such as oxen when competing each other for the superiority of physical strength.
Chinese people used to call the Korean combat Koryogi or Yogyo, but in Korea, it has been unanimously called as Ssireum since approximately 1920. No historical documents explain the origin of the word Ssireum but there is one theory that it originated from the verb Ssirunda which means to struggle against each other to display physical power. Another theory claims that it might be possibly evolved from the word Silum, which refers to Mongolian-style wrestling.
Ssireum is not a sport which is restricted to a few athletes only but is an indigenous folk sport that anyone. Whether a participant or a spectator, can enjoy. Long time ago, our ancestors held Ssireum contests as an annual sports event on Dano Day (Which falls on May 5 by Lunar Calendar), Jungwonjol (which falls on July 15 by Lunar Calendar), Chusok (Korean version of Thanksgiving day which falls on Mid-August by Lunar Calendar) and Daeborum (which falls on January 15 by Lunar Calendar). Traditionally, the champion of these contests wqs awarded an ox as the first place "trophy". Most probably, this tradition is attributed to the fact that most of the Ssireum participants were peasants and agriculture was the dominant industry at that the time. Of course, it is believed that the ox was an appropriate in that it encouraged the winner to do farming even more strenuously.
Originally, there were two different styles of Ssireum: right sided Ssireum which prevailed in part of Gyunggi province, and Honam province of southern Korea, and left side Ssireum which was widely forved in Hamgyung province, Gyungsang provice and Choonchong province. Depending on the way the Satba was fastened the styles of Ssireum differed among provinces. The styles included Strap Ssireum , in which the Satba is fastend around the thigh, and the current style, in which the Satba is tied around both the waist and thigh. In 1994, the Korean Ssireum federation, under the direction of the president. Mr. Hong sup Kim deliberated the unification of Ssireum style. As a result of a heated discussion, left sided Ssireum was unanimously adopted as the official style to be used by all competitiors.
The contest of Ssireum game involves two contestants grasping, pulling, lifting, tangling, twisting, pressing, turning, and tumbling, as each competitor attempts to throw the opponent to the ground. The major distinction between Ssireum and other combat sports, like judo or wrestling is the objective: if a competitor can force any part of the opponent's body above the knee to touch the ground, the competitor wins the bout. Because Ssireum is practiced by grasping the strap tied around the waist and thigh, propping, pulling and lifting opponent in a posture of the waist bending 90 degrees, it normally requires considerable muscular strength and muscular endurance. It is equally important, however, to tactfully take advantage of his opponent's next body movement. Thus the technical aspects of the sport are at least as important as raw strength. In addition to the physical technical requirement for competing in this sport, Ssireum gives abundant opportunities to improve one's mental capacity and form better character by surmounting psychological conflict. The sport also provides a social component. Through training, Ssireum competitors have opportunity to interact with teammates which provides an opportunity to learn to cooperate with others, set common goals and worth as a team to accomplish the goals.
Also the real charm of Ssireum consists in utilizing perseverance and fierce fighting spirit because you can not expect to win the bout unless you bear up to the last moment.
From the viewpoint of recreation, Ssireum as a folk sport, is as entertaining to its participants as it is to the spectators. Naturally, a sport or recreation event that fails to arouse popular interest will never attain the status prevail. Of favorite pastime of the public, Ssireum, in fact, is one of the most popular spectator sports in Korea. The opportunity to participate in Ssireum throughout Korea is due to its popularity and inexpensiveness. The costs to build a Ssireum ring and purchase the competetion uniforms are low, which help make it popular and an easily enjoyed sport. Availability of Ssireum sites adds more value to Ssireum as a recreation than anything else. A mere sand box or a patch of ground on a lawn is more than enough for Ssireum. We can even practice Ssireum in the garden or at a corner of school playground, too.
As described thus far, Ssireum is a brilliant national sport, which has long been enjoyed and cherished as a folk sport. Through Ssireum, we improved our physical strength and fitness as well as a sound culture and healthy life styles can be achieved by all Korean people. In conclusion, Ssireum is our national sport which symbolizes the national spirit of Korean people.