THE GAMES OF DYGYN
The Sakha people remember the historical times when their leader Dygyn decided to unite his people, physically and ideologically. To achieve that he organized Ysyakh, a lavish cultural festival, during which he held athletic competitions. He invited the strongest, smarted, the most sharp-witted people from all the uluses (local counties). These were the competitions for the warriors. The strongest and the fastest were awarded the highest honors.
This tradition has been preserved by generations. These warrior competitions are held each year at the Ysyakh Tuymaada and are called The Games of Dygyn (or the Dygyn Games). They are one of the main attractions at the Ysyakh Festival.
The strong Yakut athletes from different uluses compete to earn the right to be called the winner of the Dygyn Games. Previous champions’ names are passed on from mouth to mouth with great respect and the athletes are celebrated as national heroes. The all-around championship includes six disciplines: national jumping, mas-wrestling, archery, khapsagai wrestling, running, and carrying a stone. The Dygyn Games at the Ysyakh festival is the main sports event of the year and the athletes prepare for the games year-round.
Usually, the Dygyn Games are held over two days. This way it gives time for athletes to rest and also make sure that more people get a chance to watch this spectacle. On the day 1, the competitions are held in national jumps of kylyy, ystanga and kuobakh. The Sakha national jumps constitute a kind of a triathlon: kylyy — 11 jumps in a row on one foot, ystanga — jumps by alternating feet, and kuobakh — jumping with both feet together. After the jumps, the next competition is the mas-wrestling, a kind of a seated tug-of-war duel using a baton-sized wooden stick.
The day 2 begins with archery, then they wrestle in khapsagai, after which they run the race. The most captivating competition of the Dygyn Games is the last one – lifting and carrying as far as possible a stone weighing 115 kilograms. Some strong men manage to carry this block to a distance of 70-80 meters and some even reached 100 meters!
Like in ancient times, the winners earn the highest honors from all the guests of the festival, as well as expensive prizes.
Khapsagai is a Sakha martial art of standing wresting. A wrestler needs to unbalance the opponent using various techniques and try to force him to touch the ground or the mat with any part of his body. Even a random touch is considered a defeat. Khapsagai is fought only in a standing position hereby differing from all the other types of wrestling styles like freestyle or classic wrestling. The fight is 5 rounds of 1 minute on a ring or a round mat of 10m in diameter.
The wrestlers are allowed to grab any part of the opponent’s body (arms, waist, legs) though it is forbidden to grip the fingers or the head with both hands. The most common techniques are sweeps and high throws by capturing a leg of the opponent.
The outcome of the fight is the victory of one fighter over the other, as well as a defeat of both fighters for a passive fight. A clear victory is awarded if the wrestler forces the opponent to touch the mat or the ground with any part of his body. If both wrestlers simultaneously touch the mat with any part of their body, then by decision of the judges, the fight resumes again, but the attacked wrestler receives a warning.
At the end of all round, if both of the opponents have received no warnings or have equal warnings, while fighting was too defensive, then additional 2 minutes time is allocated and the fight continues. If the round ends in a draw (an equal fight) after two additional minutes, then both wrestlers are declared defeated. If one of the opponents received the first warning during the overtime, then the other wrestler is awarded an automatic win.
The competition for the absolute championship does not have age or weight limitation and follows the Olympic principle of elimination at each match. The duration of each match in the finals is 10 minutes and no the winner has been determined, then an additional 2 minutes is given.
Age groups and weight categories:
Pre-teens: 11-12 years old – 35kg, 40kg, 45kg, 50kg, over 50 kg.
Young teens: 13-14 years old – 40kg, 45kg, 55kg, over 55 kg.
Middle teens: 15-16 years old – 45kg ,50kg, 55kg, 62kg, over 62 kg.
Older teens: 17-18 years old – 50kg, 55kg, 62kg, 70kg, over 70 kg.
Men: 19 and older – 55kg, 62kg, 70kg, 80kg, over 80 kg.
Veterans: over 40 years old – 60kg, 70kg, over 70 kg.
Such a distribution by age and weight categories contributes to a wide exposure and involvement in this sport from an early childhood to veteran age. As a result, close to 2000 young athletes participate in the “Bootur Games” competitions for young wrestlers and up to 300-400 participants take part in major Republic-wide competitions among adults.
The similarity of the khapsagai with the freestyle wrestling has served as a springboard for Sakha athletes in achieving great results in the national Russia-wide, international competitions and the Olympic Games.
One of the most popular sports among the indigenous people of Yakutia is the mas-wrestling. To a casual observer it might look like a simple form of physical exercise, but it requires a lot of muscle strength in the arms, legs, back, and abdominals.
In mas-wrestling athletes sit down facing each other with their feet resting on the board (a footrest) located on the middle line of the site. At the starting position the opponents grab the ‘mas’ – a baton-like wooden stick or pole – just above the footrest and parallel to it. At the whistle of the referee, the opponents begin to pull the ‘mas’ and the one who pulls it out of the opponent’s hands, wins.
The competition is held on a large 4mx5m platform on top of which there is a 2mx4m hard mat or a board. The footrest is 2m long, 24 cm high, and 5 cm wide. The upper edge of the footrest is rounded, and it must be tightly secured to the base. The ‘mas’ is made of a finely smoothed larch or birch tree and it’s 50 cm long and 3.2-3.4 cm in diameter.
Each match consists of three attempts and the athlete with 2 successful pulls wins the match. After the first bout, the competitors swap places and the hand positions on the baton. Before the first and the third meeting, the referee conducts a coin toss to decide the hand positions.
The official mas-wrestling competition is held in 7 weight categories: 56kg, 62kg, 68kg, 74kg, 82kg, 90kg, and over 90 kg. As in ‘khapsagai’ wrestling, there is also an absolute championship in mas-wrestling where the age and weight restrictions are removed, and a strike-out system is followed.
The mas-wrestling does not require an expensive equipment as competitions can easily be arranged outdoors in the summer or indoors on a small platform in the winter. Competitions are held for men, women, children and veterans.
«Kyrynaastyyr» — movement forward on a plank position. It is carried out in different ways: ‘jumping’ on alternating hands without bending knees or pushing (jumping) with both hands and feet at the same time and touching ears before landing back. The winner is determined by the covered distance.
“KYLYY”, “YSTANGA”, “KUOBAKH” JUMPS
Jumps are the most popular athletic sport among the indigenous peoples of Sakha. Kylyyjumps (jumps on one foot) are very similar to the way a Siberian Crane jumps on one foot; ystanga jumps (jumps on alternate feet) remind a leaping deer (in modern sports literature this exercise is called “jump in a step”), kuobakh jumps (translated into Russian as «hare’s jumps») is a jump on both feet together. Perhaps our ancestors observed the traces of these birds and animals on the sand, clay and snow. At first, they simply imitating their movements but later began to arrange competitions.
It is interesting to note the number of jumps performed. Since the ancient times, in jump competitions during Ysyakh, participants jumped 8,10 or 12 jumps. For our ancestors, the number of jumps was associated with the rhythm of the movement of the moon and other celestial subjects. They believed these numbers brought happiness. Another important and interesting fact is that these jumps were cultivated into a traditional sport only among Sakha people.
«Kylyy» — eleven non-stop jumps from a run on one foot. Landing is on both feet. If the jumper made a landing on one leg, then the jump is disqualified.
“Ystanga” — eleven alternating jumps from a run — from foot to the other. Landing is also performed on both legs.
“Kuobakh” — eleven jumps on two feet from a spot or from a small run (5-9 meters run). Both feet a place together before the jumps and it’s is not allowed to separate feet during the jumps.
“TUTUM ERGIIR” (PINWHEEL)
The indigenous peoples of Yakutia «invented» games and competitions peculiar only to them. For example, sports such as Sakha jumps as a type of competition is unique to them and nowhere else in the world.
A game of «Tutum ergiir», or Pinwheel, is a very difficult physical exercise in terms of coordination and flexibility. It is only cultivated in Sakha culture. The exercise is performed as follows: with a simple wooden rounded stick of different lengths (20cm, 50cm, 70cm, or 80 cm long and 2.5cm to 3 cm in diameter) the athlete puts one end of the stick in a hole in the middle of a circle on the floor. Then he grabs the other side of the stick with one hand about 12-15cm away from the floor. He put the other hand above where he feels comfortable. The goal is to turn 180 degrees to come back to the starting position without changing the initial grip, without sagging and crossing his legs, to perform the “turntable” at hand and return to its original position. According to the rules, the participant should not touch the ground with any part of the body apart from his feet. The competition stops if any of these rules are violated. The competitor who performs the most turns without violating the rules, wins.
«Khalbas kharata» is a balance exercise. There is a tight rope tied on two pillars at the height of one meter. The rope is 5-6 cm thick and 3-5 m long. The two participants sit on the pillars against each other. At the signal of the referee, they move along the rope towards each other. Their goal is to bring the opponent off the rope and make them touch the ground with any part of the body before they fall down themselves, or even better, stay on the rope.
Since the ancient times the art of horsemanship continues to be a connecting bridge between a man and the nature. It gives an opportunity to experience the true pleasure of communication and close contact with the horse — a sacred, beautiful and very intelligent animal.
In Yakutia, until the mid-40s of the last century, the horse was used as a transport for household needs. The Sakha horsemen were faced with a task of raising sturdy, strong and fast horses. A new stable and a hippodrome were built in the town of Yakutsk in 1935 under the leadership of Stepan Arzhakov and according to the Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
In the autumn of 1937, Mikhail Sitnikov, the head of the People’s Commissariat for Land Management, brought 10 stallions of the Oryol breed from the Oryol region to breed and improve the working qualities of local horses. Thus, a new horse breed called senchers was born in cross mating it with the Sakha horse. These horses were stronger and faster than original breed. Since then, every year they Sakha people organize horse races in the central hippodrome of Yakutsk every spring, summer or autumn.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the region saw a rise in imported pure bred racehorses from Budennovsk region, Don region, and all the way from England. With increase in riding breeds, horse races began to wear a more modern look. High profile races such as Derby, Criterium, Vstupitelny, Otkritie, Probny and YASSR took place at the hippodromes of Yakutia.
From the second half of the 2000s, the races gained even more significance with special runs such as ‘the Head of Yakutia’ or races sponsored by the Chairman of the Government or the the Government itself, the Head of the City of Yakutsk, OKS, Sterkh, Summer, Autumn’s Favorite, Stepan Arzhakov.
In 2013, the Republic of Sakha organized the first regional horse racing event with the participation of horses from other Siberian regions and the Far East. This was the first time in the history of Equestrian Federation of Yakutia where participants were not all local breeders.
Currently, the equestrian sport is developing rapidly in Sakha Republic. Every year there are more and more new European or Central Russian race breeds are bred on the territory of Yakutia.
There are more than 20 hippodromes operating in the Republic today. The Djehegei hippodrome in Us Khatyn area was refurbished in 2013 with a new large modern stadium for 10 thousand seats and improved race tracks.
Horse races at the Republic’s level are held under the auspices of the Equestrian Federation of Yakutia which was established in 1997 and is headed by the Mayor of Yakutsk. The Equestrian Federations have also been established in the Khangalassky, Megino-Kangalassky, Ust-Aldansky, Namsky, Nyurbinsky, Tattinsky, Suntarsky, Churpchinsky, Verkhnevilyuysky and Vilyui districts.
The board games “Khaamyska” (with pebbles), “Khabylyk” (with sticks) are popular games among Sakha people.
The game consists of 5 cubes that are made of solid wood. They are a size of a dice, appx. 1.5-2 cm. One of cubes, which is bigger than the other four, is called the “rooster”. The player throws up the “rooster” in the air and picks up the agreed number of cubes from the table while also managing to catch the “rooster” on the fly. The most popular version of the game consists of 5 games:
1st game: the player picks up the pebbles in his palm and carefully scatters them on the table. The rooster is thrown up and 4 cubes are picked up one by one, while also catching the “rooster” on the way down.
2nd game: the player collects the cubes in pairs.
3rd game: the player picks up the cubes with one stroke according to the 3 + 1 scheme.
4th game: the player collects all 4 dice at the same time.
5th game: holding all 5 dice in the palm, the player tosses the «rooster» up and then quickly knocking each dice on the table before catching the “rooster”. In the case of an unsuccessful attempt, the game stops and passed to the next player. If the attempt is successful, then the player has a point, and continues the game. The player that passes all five games without mistakes and scores the most points, wins.
The sticks are made of smoothly sanded wood. Each stick is18-20 cm long, 10 mm in width, and up to 2 mm depth. There are total of 30 to 40 pieces. There are five sticks that are made with special 2 to 6 cuts called “teeth” in ascending order. The player, holding the sticks in his palm, gently tosses them all up and then catches them with the back of his hand. Then he tosses those sticks up in the air and he must catch an odd number of sticks or at least one with the “teeth”. All the caught sticks are placed with pairs, and one extra (as there are odd numbers) is put aside to his collection. If the player caught an even number of sticks then he loses his turn and the game passes to the next player. Once all the sticks are collected by the players, the game stops. The player with the most amount of sticks is the winner.