Irina Rodina and Olesya Kovalenko

Photo from the web site BudoGirlsРусская версияDespite the fact that women have been wrestling and fighting since very old times (Spartans, circus strongwomen etc.), during centuries wrestling and combat were considered as absolutely not women’s deals. And it seemed to be not without good reason. Even existing of a few female combatants disproved rather than confirmed this opinion. At the height of the popularity of circus wrestling in early 20th century, sport experts noted low technical and physical groundings of female wrestlers; actually many considered women’s wrestling as a vaudeville act. Some “tectonic” shift should have been happened in human mind to have women practice wrestling in a mass scale and to take women’s wrestling seriously. And it happened in the last quarter of the 20th century when women began wrestling for real, at once in various combative sports, first of all in Judo, Sambo and then in freestyle wrestling.Despite the fact that women have been wrestling and fighting since very old times (Spartans, circus strongwomen etc.), during centuries wrestling and combat were considered as absolutely not women’s deals. And it seemed to be not without good reason. Even existing of a few female combatants disproved rather than confirmed this opinion. At the height of the popularity of circus wrestling in early 20th century, sport experts noted low technical and physical groundings of female wrestlers; actually many considered women’s wrestling as a vaudeville act. Some “tectonic” shift should have been happened in human mind to have women practice wrestling in a mass scale and to take women’s wrestling seriously. And it happened in the last quarter of the 20th century when women began wrestling for real, at once in various combative sports, first of all in Judo, Sambo and then in freestyle wrestling. 

Unlike ladies wrestling of the past, modern female wrestling matches no longer look like shows, exotic spectacles, and comic entertainment – such shows moved to the entertainment industry (pro-wrestling, mud-wrestling, catfighting, etc.) In wrestling championships and tournaments, female athletes come out on the mat and grapple in full physical contact, in full strength, using all arsenals of techniques typical for a particular sport. They use throws, takedowns, pins, clinching, holding, locking, and leverage as well as joint locking and chokes (Sambo, Judo). 

In other words, a qualitative leap took place in female wrestling and martial arts. And it happened because of boldness, courage and diligence of particular female enthusiasts who set an example for hundreds and thousands other girls attracting them to the mat and tatami. In 1990s, some female athletes made up their mind to come out into the “no-hold barred” rings and cages. The ultimate combat sport, considered as a prerogative of the bravest and the most valorous men, the activity which delighted the “weaker sex”, all the sudden turned out to be doable for itself. Two strong resolute ladies are engaged in the close quarters and fight “to the end”, to the submission of one of them, using almost all means – strikes, grabs, throws, chokes, holds. 

A few words about developing particular wrestling forms – Judo, Sambo, freestyle and more. 

Jigoro Kano, the inventor of the sport of Judo was also a founder of female Judo. He personally examined his wife Sumako in Judo technique. The book by Irving Hancock “Physical training for women with Japanese methods” appeared to be the impetus for the development of women’s Judo. The book was translated into French in 1906 and in 1910 “strong ladies of France” taught in self-defense classes, which were called “jiu-jitsu”. Interestingly, Judo practicing became popular among British suffragettes; as early as in 1913, they formed a group “Bodyguard” in order to defend the movement activists from men’s physical resistant. The Sunday issue of the journal “New York World” as of May 29, 1904 said: “These women learn a special art of self-defense and they advanced so far that are able to lift and throw a person weighting 200 pounds (90.5 kg) without any problems. They would instantly topple an opponent swiftly running toward them just by one touch of a knee, wrist or a cheek using his own strength against him.” 

Women’s’ Judo got a boost after the first world women championship in 1980. In fact, women’s Judo became an icebreaker having broken the ice of distrust to women’s wrestling. 

The Judo ancestor Jiu-Jitsu must also be mentioned here, which is similar martial art form. 

Sambo (Russian acronym from Unarmed Self-Defense) was created in Russia in the early 20th century as a combination of different wrestling techniques – from oriental martial arts to fighting styles of Russian Empire. The first female Sambo class was founded by Yuri Leontiev in Russian far East in 1968; in 1981 a Sambo school Sambo-81 was opened which would play a significant role in women’s Sambo development. In 1985 women’s Sambo was officially recognized by Soviet authorities. 

Even when Judo and Sambo were already considered as acceptable for women because body contact was indirect – through the clothing (kimono), freestyle wrestling was still seen as “masculine sport” because the wrestlers grasp opponents directly by body parts. Nonetheless, eventually female freestyle wrestling (called just ‘women wrestling’) turned out to be acceptable for women and got unprecedented popularity. Since 1989, the International wrestling federation FILA has held world women wrestling championships. In 2004, women wrestling became an Olympic sport. 

Another combative sport became exceptionally popular among women in the last decade of the 20th century – submission wrestling. In fact it is a combination of freestyle wrestling and Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. In order to win a match, a wrestler must force an opponent to capitulate (submit) or make it impossible for him/her to continue competing. 

FILA and IOC support only three wrestling forms – Judo, Sambo and freestyle wrestling. Besides them and other mentioned combat sports, women practice amateur Sumo and various folk wrestling styles (like Kurash, Gouren, Schwingen, etc.) 

Japanese wrestling Sumo is an ancient traditionally super weight men competition, which has had long traditions not to allow women even appear at a wrestling ring (“dohyo”). The main goal of a contest of two Sumo wrestlers (“Sumotori”) is to push an opponent out of a dohyo or to force him to touch the ground by any part of a body except a sole of the foot. During past years Sumo from activity for select people became a popular sport; championships were organized in three categories (instead of one – superweight). For some reason, Sumo appears to be a very good sport for women. Women bravely stepped in this world and showed their worth quite successfully. 

According to heavyweight Sumotori Olesya Kovalenko, this form of wrestling is the most natural for women since in a spontaneous skirmish they often use shoves and pushes. At the same time, she consider Sumo very sexual activity. 



In 1990s women captured the last “male stronghold” – “no-hold barred” fighting which are banned in some countries. In fact, whatever they called, no-hold barred” fighting is a combination of submission wrestling and striking techniques. There is no weight categories in this “ultimate” combat sport, combatants just fight “to the end”. For these forms, many wrestling techniques are effective, especially ones of Sambo, Judo and submission. That’s why female Judoists and Sambists became pioneers here. Two mighty Russians – Svetlana Gundarenko and Irina Rodina were first illustrious “sport brawlers”. 

They represent a new, unknown before, female type – robust, roundish, feminine woman who is also an inborn fighter – physically and mentally strong, capable to battle “to the end” with any opponent – throwing, striking and breaking her, suffering pain. At the same time, these women are not men’s clones. Character, suppleness, passion, improvisation are more important on the women’s mat that brute force. 

Irina Rodina from Russia (born in 1973) is one of the most dangerous female all-round fighters in our time. Irina Rodina is a formidable wrestler (5’6″/231lbs) competing in heavyweight categories in Judo and Sambo as well as in “no-hold barred” fighting. She has been competing internationally since 1990. Her record is outstanding – eight-time world champion, two-time European champion, two-time world cup winner, repeated Russian champion in Sambo and Judo. Besides, she successfully battled in “no-hold” barred championships (freestyle fighting) in Japan and in 1996 she became a champion in Vale Tudo UTT championship. In the freestyle fighting her inborn combative talent was especially shown – she defeated fighters practicing in various combative sports – boxing, kickboxing, MMA, etc. In her interview before a match in 1996 she said that whatever martial art or combat style her next opponent was profound in, she would prefer the wrestling techniques – to grab an opponent as soon as possible preventing her from delivering strikes, to take her down and then to crush her at close quarters. A fighter finding herself in Irina’s hug doesn’t have any chances – in fact nobody is capable to withstand Irina, even another celebrated superheavyweight Judoka, Svetlana Gundarenko who lost Irina in Judo contests. 

Being a pioneer of the real female wrestling, Irina Rodina presents a good example of a woman whose passion for combating, dueling, wrestling is as natural as for many men. Impressively robust Irina didn’t lose flexibility and speed which are necessary for delivering fighting techniques. Like Christy Martin, Irina Rodina looks feminine but there is no masculinity in her figure at all. Nonetheless, very few men would have guts and capability to go against her in a single combat.
Irina Rodina wins 80kg world Sambo title
Beautiful style!
 

Another outstanding female Hercules of modernity is Olesya Kovalenko (also from Russia) which is considered as “the strongest woman in the world”. She started her athletic career in Judo and then began practicing Sumo in which she scored enormous successes. Being not the heaviest woman on dohyo (her weight is just 265lbs and height 5’11”), she is a six-time world champion and fifteen-time European champion in the heavyweight and absolute categories. 

Sumo is a standing wrestling, in which no par-terre struggle is used – it makes it more suitable for women. At the same time, Sumo is an old wrestling style of robust guys and women practicing the sport are usually mighty and powerful (but all very feminine). A bout in Sumo usually lasts seconds, so a wrestler must concentrate upon wrestling and have instant response, quick wit and dexterity. Olesya Kovalenko has all these qualities. 

This feminine lady is transformed on the Dohyo – she moves dexterously and acts with lightning speed, her moves are precise and techniques filigree. In Sumo, any mistake, even minor leads to inevitable defeat and Olesya practically doesn’t make mistakes. Although Olesya is a very solid woman, the most of her opponents are heavier her and Olesya splendidly use her opponents’ mass and momentum in order to get them out of balance. 

Unlike other sumotories of both genders, Olesya does not follow a special diet, trying neither to loose weight nor to gain weight – by that she doesn’t allow a heavier opponent to suppress her down and slimmer ones to use her resourcefulness. Actually she has just one weakness – to Siberian ravioli. 

Besides Judo and Sumo, Kovalenko had a chance to be a referee In the gladiator fights and to participate in them. Olesya is truly a feminine Hercules!
Olesya Kovakenko, a Queen of the tatami 

Owing to such athletes as Irina Rodina and Olesya Kovalenko, our concepts what a woman may and should be, changed substantially.
July 2008Exclusive of the Female Single Combat Club

References
Evolution of Women’s Judo, 1900-1945. EJMAS 

History of wrestling. WrestleGirl 

Sambo. Wikipedia 

Judo. Wikipedia 

Sumo. Википедия 

Jiu-Jitsu. Wikipedia 

Submission Wrestling. Wikipedia 

Kurash. Wikipedia 

Irina Rodina. Wikipedia 

Irina Rodina. Sport biography (in Russian). Judo-Profi 

“Hall of Fame. Sambo (in RUssian). Our Pride 

Brief information about Irina Rodina (in Russian). Info Sport 

Interview with Irina Rodina (in Russian). Judo-Profi 

Olesya Kovalenko (in Russian). People 

Olesya Kovalenko: “I am the most slim in Sumo!” (in Russian). Web site DDD 

Russian Sumo Federation 

Heavyweight female wrestling episodes
Training bout in the wrestling gym of Coach Shannyn (USA) 
between Jenna P. and Monique

Women’s Junior Freestyle Finals 190 pounds
Miriam Moreno pins Roxan Perez

Women’s Junior Freestyle Finals 220 pounds
Ronny Elor pins Pamela Abshire

Sumo Super-heavyweights
Freestyle wrestling

Photo by Danilelle Hobeika from the web site Amateur Wrestling Photos

Photo by Danilelle Hobeika from the web site Amateur Wrestling PhotosJudo

Photo from the web site Budo Girls

Photo from the web site Fighting StyleSubmission wrestling

2005 ADCC, 6th World Submission wrestling Championships, 2005, Long Beach, California, USA Photo by Julieta Okot. Amateur Wrestling Photos

Photo from the web site Female MuscleSumo

Photo from the blog SUMO Women

Photo from the blog SUMO WomenSambo

“No-holds” barred fighting

Photo from the web site NHB Women

Heavyweight Svetlana Gundarenko fights with Kyoko Inoue. ReMix World Cup, 2000. Videoclip – in order to wathc it click on the imageIrina Rodina

Irina Rodina (right) accomplishes a hold

Left: Irina Rodina in Sambo uniform
Right: Irina and another celebrated Judoka, her compatriot-lightweight Lubov Bruletova




Irina Rodina – repeated champion of the world, Europe and Russia
Irina Rodina presses Erin Toughill in 1996
Videoclip from the website Erin Toughill 

Poster: Mom, enroll me in Judo!Olesya Kovalenko
Olesya prepares to a bout
Olesya delivers a hold
Olesya delivers a hold
Олеся на пьедестале (справа от нее – Вероника Козловская)
Olesya Kovalenko (right) defeats American wrestler Katherine Hurley who got a leg trauma during the fight. 2005>> History of Female Combat>> History of contemporary female combative sports
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Последнее обновление: 31 июля 2012Last updated: July 31, 2012
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