Khutulun, the Wrestling Khan

Before we get into the historical figure, there is a bit of context that we need to address: namely, Bökh, or mongolian wrestling. It’s a tradition that spans back thousands of years, and is still very popular in Mongolia. It is considered as the main part of the “three manly skills”: horseback riding, archery, and the aforementioned wrestling. Depending on the region, the goal is to get the opponent to touch the ground with their knee, elbow, or upper body, or alternatively, anything but the feet. The Inner Mongolian version doesn’t allow for grabbing the opponent’s leg, while the Mongolian version does. In all versions, strikes, locks and strangles are forbidden. There are no points – one throw, and you’re out.

They also use jackets that cover only a part of their upper arm and the back, allowing for more secure grips. That shit looks like it’s taken straight out of Mad Max, and I definitely want one:

a studded leather jacket that covers the back and has sleeves only on the upper arm, leaving the shoulders bare. The front has only a belt at the waist, leaving the abdomen and chest exposed.
Badass Mongolian Wrestling Jacket

Now, I figure y’all want to see what this manly wrestling looks like. No worries, I gotcha covered:

Now for a bit of historical context. Kaidu was a Khan (Mongol title for a leader) in the 13th century. He was a great-grandson of Genghis Khan, and a cousin to Kublai Khan. Kublai and Kaidu didn’t get along very well, and waged war one against the other.

But, he is not the focus of today’s story. No, that would be his daughter, Khutulun. Her father let her train in all of the “manly” arts, and she quickly came to excel at them. It seems that she had quite the warrior’s physique, with Marco Polo describing her as “So well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess.” With a description like that, it is small wonder that there were a ton of suitors.

However, Khutulun wouldn’t have any of it. Marrying meant she would lose a lot of her freedom, and is likely the reason she didn’t want it. So she put forth a simple condition: she would marry any man that could beat her in a wrestling match. However, the entry fee was a hundred horses.

An illustration of a woman, Khutulun, and an unnamed man wrestling
Khutulun, medieval illustration

And they tried. Many, many tried. So many that Khutulun ended up with a herd of 10,000 horses. Since these noble animals were a symbol of power and prestige, it directly impacted the social standing of her father, and he was immensely proud. However, since she refused to marry, rumours started to spread that she was having an incestuous affair with her father. Seeing that this was a Very Bad Thing, she took a husband without wrestling him. Who this husband was is unknown, and the stories are as numerous as the horses Khutulun won.

Her father saw her as the most fit candidate to take over the title and position of Khan. Naturally, her brothers objected to this, and eventually managed to convince their father Kaidu to put a male successor on the throne. Sadly, shortly thereafter, Khutulun’s story ends. She did get a position as a commander in the army, but was found dead under mysterious circumstances. So mysterious, in fact, that many speculated that she was still too great a threat to the newly appointed Khan…

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