Quite the fight

Sep 08, 2018, 09:25 IST | Dalreen Ramos

Despite a bronze and gold at the Asian Games, an Uzbeki martial art called kurash is losing favour to judo in Mumbai

Quite the fight
At the Asian Games 2018, Pincky Balhara (right) won a silver medal while Malaprabha Yallappa Jadhav (left) picked up a bronze. Pic/PTI

As we wade through a crowd of students at Thakur College in Kandivali, and slowly approach a corner, we hear unfamiliar grunts, loud exhales, and hisses. But even more alien to us is the sound of the word "kurash", defined as a traditional form of Uzbeki martial arts, which finds some recognition in the room we step into.

While judokas wrestle before us, boxers deliver punches behind - it's a mix of the martial arts all in one space. We meet Gaurav Pandey, MK Ali Rizvi and Darshana Lakhani, part of the team behind the Mumbai Kurash Association (Suburban), an organisation formed in 2016 after a national-level tournament they organised in Kalina with around 400 participants from across the country and 12 international delegates. And where Jagdish Tytler, credited with introducing kurash to India in the 1990s, was chief guest.

Raj Kumar Gupta and Nitesh Dhawal
Raj Kumar Gupta and Nitesh Dhawal

The sport in the state was helmed by the Maharashtra Kurash Association that ceases to exist after the dissolution of its committee when its president resigned. With no formal body to preside over the state, the association and players are looking for some direction. The game has also failed to make it to the revised District Sports Office (DSO) list, which translates into a missed opportunity for potential players who might want to strictly specialise in kurash. "If one starts to play a sport, and suddenly after a couple of years, they see it losing recognition, why would they bother taking it up again? So they resort to the more popular options like judo. Once it's in the DSO list, students themselves will take interest," Risvi explains.

Raj Kumar Gupta and Nitesh Dhawal

Kurash involves frequent stoppage in contrast to other forms of martial arts. Both players must stand throughout the game and throwing the opponent off their feet on the back results in a win. A full point is termed as "halal", and there are different weight categories for both men and women. Thus, it is in stark contrast to judo where ground movement is allowed. "So, it becomes easier for a judo player to adapt to kurash. A sportsperson who specialises in the latter requires more training," says Lakhani. Which is why when we reached out to the kurash association in Thane, it wasn't suprising to hear them decline to speak to us on the sport, maintaining that their focus was judo.

In kurash, when a player throws an opponent off their feet on the back, the game is won, as demonstrated by judo players Rutuja Surve and Natasha Singh
In kurash, when a player throws an opponent off their feet on the back, the game is won, as demonstrated by judo players Rutuja Surve and Natasha Singh

Both Pincky Balhara and Malaprabha Jadhav who won medals at the recently concluded Asian Games were judokas, who didn't have money to pay for their kits. As Pandey describes it, that is the reality in Mumbai, too. "In addition to the cost players have to bear, there are venue costs, and referee and certificate charges," he states. But like in every sport other than cricket, the biggest challenge comes with drawing an audience.

Gaurav Pandey and Darshana Lakhani
Gaurav Pandey and Darshana Lakhani

That remains Pandey's mission. "People need to come and cheer players even at the smallest of events. Only then will there be investors. There is a growing market for sport, and now one can even make a career out of it after retirement."

MK Ali Rizvi
MK Ali Rizvi

Early beginnings
The earliest mentions of the sport are present in the writings of Herodotus in 5th century BC in Histories, where he analyses customs and traditions of Central Asia. In the 14th century, Amir Timur, the infamous Turco-Mongol commander who never lost a battle, prescribed kurash training to his soldiers.

Quick comparison
* Kurash doesn't have a belt grading system like in common martial art forms such as judo, karate or taekwondo.
* Owing to a similar style of play, many judo players gravitate towards kurash in tournaments.
* As compared to the other forms of martial arts, kurash involves very little injury due to the stoppage involved (although you can throw your opponent in more than 60 different ways).

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