Schwingen: Swiss Sumo Westling without the Semi Naked Fatness

By Jack Berglund

Its been a while since my last proper post as I’ve been busy moving my life across the Atlantic to Switzerland.  I’m now getting settled in Zurich and finally got the chance to start writing about my experiences.

Taking the role of Mr State the obvious: Switzerland is a mountainous country.  Wherever you are, it seems like you can always see a mountain looming somewhere on the horizon.  This more than anything has shaped the people who live here and the way they live.  Only recently has it become easy to travel from valley to valley let alone from one end of the country to the other.  This has enabled switzerland to evolve and preserve a vast array of traditions that have died out in many other countries. Schwingen, swiss mountain wrestling, is one of these traditions.  Think Japanese sumo wrestling, with skinnier participants taking place high on the mountain grazing pastures. As a bonus, the wrestlers wear substantially more than the oversized sumo ‘thongs’.  A few weeks ago I travelled up into the Apenzell region to discover what happens in this most Swiss of events.

As we walked up from the car towards the mass of people further up the hill, the sound of yodelling filled the air.  Not the cartoon style yodel that most people (including me) imagine, but a kind of singing specially adapted so it travels across the pastures.  Until you experience it, its very hard to explain but it sounds very otherworldly and combined with the stunning mountain scenery really takes your breath away.  The festival is centred around three sawdust circles with seating all the way up the mountainside.  After the yodelling came some flag tossing (I’m sure it has a more elegant official name) and then alpine horn playing.

The wrestling itself takes place simultaneously on three rings so the action is pretty much continuous once it starts.  The goal is to get your opponent on his back by seemingly any combination of lifting, throwing or shoving.

Despite all the violence, everyone was friends at the end of the day:

Reflecting on a great day out, I realized I’d been in a photography lull. From time to time, the motivation to take pictures seems to disert.  There are many articles talking about how to find your motivation: new techniques to try, the latest equipement and new ways of thinking.  In this case, finding something truely unique that I’d never seen pictures of, returned my photography mojo.

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