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Irish Collar & Elbow Wrestling

  • Salvos Training 416 E 2nd Street The Dalles, OR 97058 USA (map)

Cool, what is it?

As a way of introduction, we will use the words of our fellow BJJ Globetrotter, Ruadhán, who has made it his mission to study long lost grappling arts. It is, after all, because of him that we know about this Irish tradition.

Collar and Elbow ("Coilear agus Uille") was an old Irish wrestling style that, by all accounts, was the single most popular sport in the country throughout the 17th-19th centuries. Historian John Ennis, writing in the Leinster Leader newspaper in 1907, noted that it was "the chief physical sport of the male population from childhood to mature manhood, and every parish had its champion who was kept busy defending his title against would-be usurpers".

Characterized by lightning-fast and intricate legwork - including hooks, trips, blocks, and throws - Collar and Elbow spread abroad with successive waves of Irish immigration, and found particularly widespread popularity in the United States. George Washington himself was reputedly a highly proficient Collar and Elbow wrestler, being able to deal out powerful "flying mare" throws from his schooldays right up until the time he was serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Armies. Ultimately, however, Collar and Elbow suffered a significant decline both abroad and at home (due to a succession of factors including the demographic and cultural devastation of the Great Famine, and the Coercion Acts that made it illegal to hold any sizable gatherings in public space), to the extent that nowadays almost no one in Ireland has ever heard of it. In his 1907 article, Ennis looked back with longing at the lost heydays of the then-forgotten grappling style, ending with a wistful "it is hoped that this eminently scientific and picturesque style of wrestling will be again revived and popularised".

In November 2018, I released a podcast episode on the history, characteristics, and eventual decline of Collar and Elbow. I subsequently spent several months attempting to actually reconstruct the rules and techniques of the style; a process that, on 3rd August 2019, culminated in me holding a seminar and a series of bouts in Heidelberg, Germany - the first competitive Collar and Elbow matches in over 100 years. T

This rule book is the result of both that ongoing research process and firsthand observations from the bouts in Heidelberg. It's intended to act as a guide for anyone who might want to try some Collar and Elbow matches of their own, and it is always intended to be a living document - so any and all feedback is welcome! And if you ever have any questions on Collar and Elbow in general, just drop me a line at any time.

- Ruadhán MacFadden August 2019

Take some time to check out his podcasts at You will also find the competition rules here.

See the bouts from BJJ Globetrotter’s Heidelberg Camp 8/2019 on YouTube “Magnificent Scuffling

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