brief History of Pangration
as the "Game of All Powers".
Greek race is certainly well-known for its athletic and military
achievements in the Pre-Christian era. In truth, we must credit
them for both the word "athlete" and the ideal it expresses. It
was also the Greek soldier who would represent the standard for
the rest of the world to follow for centuries. The contribution
of the Greeks to the evolution of the martial arts, as we presently
know them, is now certainly evident. Fighting systems that have
originated in both Eastern and Western parts of the world may
indeed be linked to this ancient combat form.
2000 years ago, the ancient Greeks had developed a brutal, all-out
combat form which they named Pankration pronounced pan/cray/shun
or pan-crat-ee-on depending on the dialect). The term is derived
from the Greek adjectives pan
and kratos and is translated to mean "all powers" or "all-encompassing."
First introduced into the Olympic Games of 648 BC (the same
year as the horse race), Pankration would soon become the most
popular and most demanding of all athletic events. It would
be well to note that a subdivision, "Boy's Pankration", was
added in the 2nd century BC, which indicates the popularity
of the sport. Also, before we go any farther into the
history, it should be noted that some historians trace Pankration's
origin to the Indian Vajramushti system. There is controversy
here, because Pankration and the Pyrrhic dance, a Greek armed
and unarmed war-dance similar to modern karate kata, both predate
Indian statues depicting temple guardians in poses similar to
those used in fighting systems to follow.
In the palaestra , the Greek wrestling school, Pankration was
allocated a separate room to train. It was known as the
Korykeion, which was equipped with punching and kicking balls,
called korykos, which hung from the ceiling beams. The
smaller balls were used for punching and the larger ones for
kicking, which hung about 2 feet from the floor. Pankration
was taught similar to modern day karate, as it was presented
in steps or stages until the student had become proficient in
the movements and their combinations. After reaching a
certain stage, the practitioner would then be allowed to engage
in "loose play", as it is called in fencing.
integrated every physical and mental resource - hands and feet,
mind and spirit - in the closest simulation of no-holds-barred
competitive fighting that any culture has ever allowed. The
object was, as in boxing, to force an opponent to acknowledge
defeat, and to this end almost any means might be applied.
Though rules were enforced by officials with a switch or stout
rod, a whipping must have been more desirable than being killed,
for the rules were often broken. Serious injuries and
fatal accidents did occur, but they were rare, rarer probably
than in ancient Greek boxing. Facing one another, much
as in the position taken by wrestlers, Pankratiast's, as they
were called, tried to bring one another violently to the ground.
There was much preliminary sparring. Hands were are and generally
held open, although the clenched fist was used for hitting.
Only biting and gouging were prohibited. Anything else went,
although the tough Spartan contingent allowed these, too, in
their local athletic festivals. As in Greek boxing, there
were no rules against hitting a man when he was down.
The techniques included a murderous mixture of Hellenic boxing
and wrestling, hook and uppercut punches, full-powered kicks,
elbowing and kneeing, joint locks, as well as numerous submission
chokeholds. Such throws as the flying mare and various foot
and leg holds, although too risky for Greek wrestling proper,
were freely employed. A Pankratiast would sometimes throw
himself on his back to accomplish a throw, known today as Sacrifice
Throws. In this same family of throw, known as the Stomach
Throw, the Pankratiast would grab his opponent by the shoulders
or arms and throw himself backwards, planting his foot in his
opponent's stomach, pulling him over his head. This throw
is known today as TomoeNage. This technique may have been
used by the ancient Egyptians, as this technique is depicted
in the tombs of Beni-Hassan.
was an essential part of Pankration, especially rising kicks
to the groin or stomach, and powerful leg sweeps meant to take
an opponent off his feet. Kicks above the belt were used sparingly,
with blows aimed to the head or face only when one's adversary
was on the ground and too weakened to block or catch the attacker's
foot. Due to this unique tactic alone, some combative experts
credit Pankration as the first comprehensive unarmed fighting
system on record. In other words, the first total martial
bouts were extremely brutal and sometimes life-threatening to
the competitors. Rules were minimal in number. In addition,
there were no weight divisions and no time limits. The fighting
arena or "ring" was no more than twelve to fourteen-feet square
to encourage close-quarter action. As was mentioned earlier,
referees were armed with stout rods or switches to enforce the
rules against biting and gouging. The rules, however, were often
broken by some participants who, realizing they were outclassed
by a heavier and stronger foe, would resort to such measures
to escape being seriously maimed. The contest itself continued
uninterrupted until one of the combatants either surrendered,
suffered unconsciousness, or, of course, was killed. Because
of the high purses and honors, and the fact that there were
no weight classifications, these events were generally monopolized
by the "heavy weights".
a historical note, it should be noted in this history that Plato
objected to this style of fighting, because he said that it
"did not teach men to keep their feet". I suppose you
could "bounce" the pro's and con's of this around as long as
their is time on earth.
knockouts were common, most Pankration battles were decided
on the ground where both striking and submission techniques
would freely come into play. Pankratiast's were highly-skilled
grapplers and were extremely effective in applying a variety
of takedowns, chokes, and punishing joint locks. Strangulation
was most feared during ground combat, and was the leading cause
of death in matches. A fighter would immediately raise his arm
in defeat once his opponent's forearm had secured a firm grip
across the windpipe or carotid artery. The Eleans especially
commended strangling as a means of defeating the opponent.
Their favorite stranglehold was called the "Ladder Trick".
The aggressor would jump on his opponents back, wrap his legs
around the body and his arms around the neck. An experienced
Pankratiast would realize when his opponent had an effective
grip and would acknowledge defeat.
feats of the ancient pankratiast's became legendary in the annals
of Greek athletics. Stories abound of past champions and masters
who were considered invincible beings. Arrichion, Dioxxipus,
and Polydamos are among the most highly-recognized names, their
accomplishments defying the odds by besting multiple armed opponents
in "life and death" combat, and battling and killing lions when
human competition was no longer a feasible challenge. It is
also theorized that the famed strongman Hercules was the first
Olympic victor in Pankration. Another fact, with reference to
Dioxxipus (a friend of Alexander the Great), won the Olympic
crown by default in 336 BC because no one would compete against
him. Later as Alexander marched in conquest across the
world, his armies carried with them elaborate tents, that were
like collapsible amphitheaters. In these they practiced
and played athletic games, among them Pankration. Exhibitions
of superhuman strength were frequently witnessed by the awe-struck
Greek people. Practitioners displayed the power of pneuma (Gr.
inner energy) by breaking stones and planks with their bare
fists and driving their hardened feet through forged war shields.
Romans would later adopt Pankration into their particular
athletic contests, but their modifications would degrade it
to a mere blood sport. The fighters were now armed with the
dreaded caestus, a weighted and spiked glove which reigned
blows with deadly results. In Rome it was not unusual for
such public brutality, as it was the rule rather than the
exception, to quench the spectator's thirst for gore. This
alteration, however, diminished the skill and aesthetic value
that the Greek race had come to admire in their athletes.
Rarely, if ever, did a true Greek Pankratiast participate
in the savage gladiatorial arenas of Rome, even though they
were often tempted by higher purses and positions within the
powerful Roman empire.
was basic to the majority of the Greek warriors who served
under Alexander the Great, during his invasion of India in
326 BC Many authorities now contend that this dispersal of
Pankration techniques throughout the subcontinent laid the
foundation for countless Asian martial arts which evolved
soon thereafter, including Chinese kung fu, Okinawan karate,
and Japanese jiu-jitsu. This theory has been the subject of
a raging controversy for the past twenty years.