Introduction

Wrestling may be broadly defined as a contest of bodily control. Though all forms of wrestling employ and reward this control in some manner, each style remains distinct. This distinction is manifest in any particular style’s conception, or divisions, of the body itself. Any given style of wrestling will prioritize certain areas of the body for attack. An understanding of this unique prioritization and the reasoning behind it is key to understanding a style of wrestling.

Johann Georg Pascha’s Divisions of the Body

Johann Georg Pascha was a 17th Century German author who wrote primarily on the topics of military strategy and athletic exercise. A proponent of wrestling, Pascha published his Ring-Buch on the subject in 1663. Pascha’s Ring-Buch contains a number of captioned diagrams intended to demonstrate the principles and maneuvers of wrestling and unarmed self-defence. The first of these diagrams, as a preliminary to the subsequent instruction, details Pacha’s divisions of the body.

This model of the body consists of eleven parts, three for each arm, three shared by the torso and legs, and two parts comprising the head. All of these parts are described by Pascha as being “Starcke,” “halbe-starcke,” or “schwache;” strong, half-strong, or weak respectively. The head, from the crown of the skull to the chin, is weak at the top and strong at the bottom, though the precise division is not made clear in the text. The region between the shoulder and elbow is the arm’s “strong,” the forearm between the elbow and wrist is the “half-strong,” and the “weak” extends from the wrist to the end of the hand. The torso, legs, and feet share three divisions. The “strong” extends between the underarm and hips, “the half-strong” between the hips and knees, and the “weak” from the knees downward.

The Diagram of the Body in Pascha’s Ring-Buch

Though not explicitly stated in the accompanying text, the clear concept behind the model is that of mechanical leverage. All wrestlers and wrestling enthusiasts posses an intuitive, if not academic, understanding of leverage and other simple machines as they pertain to the practice of wrestling. Put succinctly, leverage amplifies force exerted upon its long end. The degree of amplification is directly proportional to the length of the lever, and thus the maximum effect is achieved by action upon the lever’s extremity.

Therefore, if one views the body as a system of levers, the logic behind Pascha’s system of divisions becomes clear. The “weak” parts of the body are at the extremities and thus, as discussed above, action upon those parts by an opposing wrestler will be the most forceful. The “strong” parts are those parts that will yield the least amplification to outside forces. The “half-strong” parts are, consistent with the other two classifications, between the “weak” and “strong” parts and have a similarly middling effect.

Pascha’s Ring-Buch demonstrates a simple application of the above described principles in its first pages, immediately following the diagram itself. The book’s second illustration displays a method of escaping from a grip about one’s bicep by, as he caption describes, bringing the “half-strong” of one’s own arm against the “weak” of the opponent’s. The book describes many grip breaks operating off the same principle; some from the inside, some from above, some from below, and so on.

The First Grip Break in Pascha’s Ring-Buch

By applying one’s own forearm to an opponent’s wrist, these grip breaks function through a more efficient application of force. The opponent’s grip upon the bicep, which lies within the “half-strong” part of the arm, is not as effective as one’s own application of force against the opponent’s wrist. The opponent’s resistance to this technique is similarly disadvantaged. In both cases one’s opponent is acting upon stronger parts than the part one is acting upon themselves. Therefore, to match the effect of one’s own efforts, the opponent must physically exert his or her self to a greater degree and will be unable to maintain their hold for an extended period. Once the opponent’s arm begins to move he or she will be forced to release their hold to avoid the wrist coming into a state of hyper-extension.

These same techniques exist in other period sources. Fabien Von Auerswald’s Ringer Kunst, for example, displays a technique almost identical to one shown in the fifth illustration of Pascha’s Ring-Buch. This technique is part of Pascha’s grip-break series, discussed above. Consistent with Pascha, Auerswald refers to it as “die schweche des Arms” or “the weak of the arms.” Prolific 15th Century writers, Ott Jud and Hans Tallhoffer among others, describe similar techniques, though with less clearly related language. As all of these texts predate the publication of Pascha’s Ring-Buch by over a century, one can conclude that Pacha’s conception of the body is a synthesis of extant concepts.

The “Weak of the Arm” From Pascha’s Ring-Buch

“The Weak of the Arm” From Ringer-Kunst

“The Weak of the Arm” From Hans Tallhoffer’s Personal Manuscript

Pascha’s formulation itself is drawn from fencing. Pascha wrote on many military and sporting topics, including the use of the spear and sword. In European fencing traditions, the sword is divided into parts, generally ranging from strong to weak, the forte to the foible in modern fencing. Pascha’s fencing text, Fechten auff den Stoß und Hieb, describes these divisions. The diagram is divided in the same manner as the arms or trunk are in the Ring-Buch save for the existence of a fourth division, the “halbe-schwache” or half-weak.

Diagram of the Sword from Pascha’s Fechten auff den Stoß und Hieb

Outside of the context of Historic European wrestling, leverage has a place in all forms of wrestling. Any manipulation of a physical body, including but not limited to human bodies, is subject to the laws of mechanics. It would be impossible to conduct any sport without the utilization of leverage. Therefore, though Pascha’s model is not used universally by any means, it can still be meaningfully applied to techniques from other schools of wrestling.

In modern Freestyle wrestling, for example, Pascha’s diagram can employed to analyze the stance. The conventional Freestyle wrestling stance and posture defends, by design, the weak and “half-strong” portions of the body. The arms are kept tightly to the sides, the head is inclined upward with the eyes facing forward, and the legs are bent and aligned underneath the inclined torso. The position of the arms prevents easy access to the wrist, and the effect of leverage is lesser upon the retracted arm. The position of the head prevents holds from being secured on the top or back of the head by an opponent. The legs are protected by the torso, never advancing beyond the protection of the body.

A Photo of an Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Match

Clearly Pascha’s philosophies are applicable to other styles of wrestling, even hundreds of years removed, but it does not account for all effective techniques. There are many holds taken about the upper-body, neck, or shoulders that are used commonly and to great effect in wrestling, even though they attack the “strong” portions of Pascha’s conception of the body. This should not be considered an indictment of Pascha’s writing, or at least should not be considered a unique indictment. In the creation of any model of a natural order or structure, imperfections and incompleteness must be allowed.

If Pascha’s model encompassed all possible techniques, it would either be too general to be applied or too byzantine to be understood. In a field so broad as wrestling, a model must be tailored to the priorities of the rules and style in which it is applied. Thus, in order to obtain a full understanding of wrestling, one must understand these various models and their divisions of the body.