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Collar-And-Elbow Wrestling
Also known as Irish Wrestling, Irish Celtic Wrestling, Scuffling, Irish Scuffling, Square-Hold Wrestling, Box Wrestling, Irish-style Scuffling, Coraíaocht (generalised).
Focus Grappling
Country of origin Republic of Ireland Ireland
Creator Various
Famous practitioners

Edward MacLysaght
George Washington
John McMahon, Viro Small, Henry Moses Dufur,

Pat Connelly,
Ancestor arts Irish Fighting Arts/Irish Martial Arts
Descendant arts Catch wrestling
Olympic sport no

Collar-and-elbow wrestling is a style of folk wrestling native to Ireland that can be traced back to the 17th century but it has ties to the Games of Tailtinn between 632 BC and 1169 AD.[1] Though originating in Ireland, the style flourished in America. Collar-and-elbow features an array of trips, mares/throws, hip-locking, shin kicking, pinning combinations, and submissions.


Origins in Ireland[edit]

The origins of Irish collar-and-elbow are not known; according to historian Edward MacLysaght, it was an organised sport as early as the 17th century in which the more prominent wrestlers were able to earn a living.[1]

Douglas Hyde tells of a wrestling bout that took place in Connacht in his Amhráin Cúige Connacht ("Songs of the province of Connacht"). A young wrestler known as Laidir (the strong) took up the challenge issued by the champion of the town of Sligo. This man had been living at the expense of the town, as was the custom of the day, and had killed several men in earlier bouts. He was a greatly feared man and not overly loved by the people of Sligo. Odds were ten to one that the challenger would fall. The two met on the public greens in front of the mass of townspeople. Laidir latched onto his opponent and hurled him to the ground, breaking his neck. The astonished crowd, silent with awe for a moment, cheered their new champion. Of course, the new champion had nothing to fear from the law as this was a legal contest with an unfortunate ending.

United States[edit]

Although collar-and-elbow was seen as a common man's sport in Ireland, it was considered a gentlemen's pastime in several areas of the colonies. It was part of the curriculum at the Reverend James Maury's Academy in Fredericksburg, Virginia. George Washington, at the age of eighteen, held a collar-and-elbow championship that was at least county wide. Twenty-eight years later, in command of the Continental Armies, he demonstrated his wrestling skill by dealing flying mares to seven volunteers from Massachusetts. Washington was not the only grappling president of the United States. Zachary Taylor, William Howard Taft, Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge also practised at one time or another the style of collar-and-elbow.[2]

In the late 18th century, the style came to Vermont with some of the Irish settlers and had a home in the church. It flourished in the Vermont area for over 100 years and, during that time, spread across the globe as it mixed with other styles. In the mid 19th century, rules were loosely created to ban the use of biting, butting and scratching. These were known as the "Dufur" rules named after their originator, and famous Collar-and-Elbow champion, Henry Moses Dufur.

Collar-and-Elbow found much success in mixed-style competitions against styles such as Lancashire wrestling, Greco Roman Wrestling, and others. Often these matches were contested best "3 out of 5 falls". The fall stipulations would have been agreed upon by both competitors. Example: John McMahon (Collar-and-Elbow Champion) vs. William Miller (Well-known Greco Roman Wrestler). Two rounds "catch as you can", above the waist with jackets. Two falls "catch as you can" without jackets, tripping allowed—and if a fifth fall become necessary, the competitors would coin toss to determine who chooses. But this was never exclusive. In the latter days of Collar-and-Elbow's popularity, matches consisted of "2 out of 3 falls". One fall jacket Collar-and-Elbow, one fall Greco Roman, and one fall Catch As You Can.

Some of Collar-and-Elbow's techniques exist today within Catch wrestling, in addition to Freestyle wrestling and wrestling in general. Collar-and-Elbow's influence can also be seen in modern Professional Wrestling's use of the Collar-and-Elbow tie up, which is utilised as the initial starting position in a majority of Professional Wrestling matches.

Irish martial arts are known to teach "Collar-and-Elbow" techniques within their "Coraiocht" curriculum. "Coraiocht" translates as "wrestle". In the case of IMA, the term is used in general referring to grappling, not the old-style of Irish backhold wrestling by the same name, which also exists within IMA's "Coraiocht" training.

While Collar-and-elbow in Ireland competitions seemed to hold more focused on standing based jacket techniques, in America it utilized more non-jacketed techniques plus many ground based pins and submissions.

Edward Gallagher was in particular considered a fine Collar-and-elbow wrestler, who was considered the driving force behind collegiate wrestling in the state of Oklahoma.[3] He released two manuals, "Wrestling" wherein collar-and-elbow was adapted for Olympic competition rules[4] and "Amateur Wrestling" wherein he had adapted it after exposure to Judo and Catch-as-catch-can.[5]

The Magnificent Scufflers by Charles Morrow Wilson in 1959 was seen as more a documentation on the history, evolution and characteristics of Collar-and-elbow more than an actual instructional manual but also mentioned that Collar-and-elbow had borrowed many techniques from way of catch-as-catch-can, showing that it had clearly become more well-rounded in its later days.[2]

Characteristics and rules[edit]

It was the smaller man who usually excelled in this style; it is said that practitioners would utilise balance and speed to achieve positioning so that strength could then be applied towards the leverage gained. It was practised both with and without jackets with double sewn seams. Footwear was banned from being worn in competition early on due to the kicking and tripping techniques employed. The wrestlers who practised this style referred to themselves as "scufflers" and "trippers". An impromptu scuffling match was known as a scuffling bee.[1]

While there is no evidence showing that the Irish style of collar-and-elbow wrestling in Ireland was a groundfighting game, the Irish who came to the United States in the late 18th and early 19th century had a style that included a fairly large amount of ground wrestling, which goes against the mould of other indigenous styles. Wrestlers work for a throw, then a pinning combination. The beginning stance is the foundation of the style as well as the origin of its name. The wrestlers face each other, grabbing the elbow with the left hand and the collar area with the right hand. This very stance forced the scufflers to use technique rather than a bull rush on their opponent. The initial "Collar-and-Elbow" grip/tie up could not be intentionally broken and instead must be broken by the opponent. Once/if the grip is broken, the competitors were then allowed to catch any grip possible. The collar-and-elbow grip also varied depending on the competitors. Which hand gripped which area was strictly preference caused by the competitors dominant side. The beginning of the match was often a test of strategy and balance. The scufflers would try to circle each other clockwise while a series of unbalancing manoeuvres, including kicking and tripping, would be played-out by both combatants. This stage of the match could last a very long time, indeed, there are accounts where the standing portion of the match had lasted over an hour. Inevitably a take-down would occur. A flying mare or a snap mare was a common takedown. A mare was a throw in which the feet of the thrown opponent actually were higher than his head. Ground wrestling began after one or both of the scufflers hit the ground. Half-nelsons and various grapevines and other ground control techniques were then employed. A match was originally won only when all four points of the body (both shoulders and hips) were pinned to the ground for the count of five. In the late 19th century, the requirement to win was lessened to a three-point touch. The Irish style of Collar-and-Elbow originally resembled that of Cornish Wrestling. The American style featured, or possibly evolved to feature, a wide array of pinning techniques and submissions performed with and without a jacket.

It appears that many of the techniques had names derived from things found in their work environments. Mares, Windmills, Grapevines, etc.

Common terms[edit]

  • "Scuffler"/"Tripper" – title given to practitioners of Collar-and-Elbow.
  • "Mare" – refers to any throw which causes the opponents feet to go over his head.
  • "Grapevine" – refers to any type of technique which "entangles" the limbs of an opponent.
  • "Grass Down" – refers to an opponent being thrown to the ground.
  • "Points Down" – refers to an opponent being pinned to the ground.

Common techniques[edit]


  • The Trippett – similar to ko uchi gari.
  • The Loose Leg – similar to o uchi gari.
  • Howard's Hank – similar to ko soto gake.
  • The Flying Hobby – similar to harai tsurikomi ashi.
  • The Buttock – Also called the "Cross Buttock". Similar to o goshi.
  • Flying Mare – Similar to ippon seoinage
  • Snap Mare – Similar to Flying Mare, only grasping the opponent's head rather than arm, sometimes done on one knee.
  • The Double Touch – Speculated to be a method of blocking an attempted leg sweep.
  • The Blackguard Snatch – Speculated to be more than likely a means of unbalancing than an actual takedown.
  • The Whip (or Irish Whip) – Used alone as an unbalancing technique; used in combination with a quick leg trip.
  • The Back Heel – Similar to o soto gari.
  • The Hip-Lock – Head and Arm hip throw
  • Outside Lock – Similar to the Hip Lock, but the arm is grabbed with both hands
  • Inside Lock – Similar to Uchi-Mata
  • Arm and Leg Hold – Similar to Fireman's Carry Takedown
  • The Octus – Similar to sprawling, only standing upright
  • Leg Trip - Similar to Deashi Barai
  • Double Leg Hold - Alternate name for the Double Leg Takedown
  • Heave to Rear - Similar to Ura-Nage
  • Scissor Sweep


  • Collar Sleeper – similar to cross lapel choke.
  • Sleeper Hold – similar to rear naked choke.
  • Nelson and Crotch – Multiple variations, similar to various cradle pins.
  • Bridge (grappling) – "Bridging Up" refers to being on your back, and pushing yourself up on elbows and feet to prevent pinning and to quickly rise back to feet.
  • The Hip Bump – Mentioned in "The Magnificent Scufflers" as a standing technique possibly similar to o soto gari. Other grappling styles mention it as a means of rolling an opponent off of you.
  • Overarm Hook – Mentioned in "The Magnificent Scufflers" as a way to counter a leg takedown.
  • Forearm Hook – Mentioned in "The Magnificent Scufflers" as a type of takedown.
  • Body Scissors – Similar to the Guard in Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Back Body Scissors – Similar to Rear Mount in Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Double Wristlock – Similar to the Kimura Lock
  • Scissored Armlock – to scissor one's legs around the opponent's arm in hopes of keeping the shoulder down
  • Double Leg Grapevine - Method of straightening out the opponent's legs to pin down his "hips". Often combined with an arm lock or arm hold of some sort to establish a 3 Point Pin via both hips and 1 shoulder.
  • Head Scissors – Also done with a Double Arm Lock
  • Full Nelson
  • Half Nelson – Also a Far Half Nelson and Near Half Nelson as Variations
  • 3/4 Nelson
  • Standing Toe and Ankle Hold
  • Reverse Full Nelson
  • Reverse Half Nelson
  • Double Leg Nelson
  • Cross Arm Ride – Similar to Rear Mount, only attack's legs are scissored around one of opponent's and alternate arm is grabbed.
  • Inverted Half Nelson – Similar to Side Mount, only with an arm around the head and blocking the far arm.
  • Key lock - Similar to the Americana

See also[edit]