Historically, Georgia has been famous for its physical education; it is known that the Romans were fascinated with Georgians' physical qualities after seeing the training techniques of ancient Iberia.
Among the most popular sports in Georgia are association football, basketball, rugby union, wrestling, and weightlifting. Other famous sports in 19th century Georgia were horse polo and lelo, a traditional Georgian game later replaced by rugby union.
Lelo or lelo burti (meaning literally in Georgian "Field Ball") is a Georgian folk sport, which is a full contact ball game, and very similar to rugby. In fact, even within Georgian rugby union terminology, the word lelo is used to mean a try, and the popularity of rugby union in Georgia has also been attributed to it.
Lelo was played in Georgia from ancient times and is still played on occasions in rural areas. A field ("Lelo") would be selected and
"In earlier times, the lelo teams would consist of a few dozen players each, and the field would sometimes have to be crossed by a stream, which the players would have to ford in pursuit of the ball."
Sometimes the playing field was between two water courses. The two teams, usually consisting of the male population of neighbouring villages, would face each other. The number of players from each side was not set traditionally, but included any able men each village could summon. A large, heavy ball was placed in the middle of the field and the goal of the game was to carry it over the river to the "half" of the opposing side.
"The game took place over a wide area sometimes stretching for several kilometres on very rough ground. The contestants would have to contend with spurs, hills, valleys, woods. cascading streams and marshes. Their task was to get a ball into a certain place, say, over the settlement boundary or to the foot of the mountain. Any means necessary could be employed to drive the ball forward — feet or hands. Sometimes they would play the game on horseback."
During the Soviet Period, lelo became standardised:
"Nowadays lelo is played according to strictly defined rules on a proper pitch of 90-135 m in length and 60-90m in width. The match ball is round and made of leather, filled with grass, horsehair or sheep's wool. It weighs 2.5 kg and is 85-90 cm long."
This standardised version features fifteen-a-side teams (as per rugby union), and forward passing (in contrast to rugby football).Players are allowed to knock the ball out of opponents' hands, but unlike American football the blocking of opponents without the ball is not allowed. The pushing and tripping (or hacking) of opponents is also disallowed, and players are not allowed to jump on them. The object is to get the ball into the goal mouth, which is known as a mak.
Players are also only allowed to carry the ball for five seconds before passing. The game consists of two halves of thirty minutes, with a ten minute interval.
The Lelos (as they are nicknamed) are the national rugby union team of Georgia. One standard cheer of Georgian rugby union fans is Lelo, Lelo, Sakartvelo
Wrestling remains a historically important sport of Georgia and some historians think that the Greco-Roman style of wrestling incorporates many Georgian elements. Within Georgia, one of the most popularized styles of wrestling is the Kakhetian style. However, there have been a number of other styles that are not as widely used today. For example, the Khevsureti region of Georgia has three different styles of wrestling.
Khridoli is an ancient Georgian martial art, which includes fighting with bare hands and different types of weapons. The culture of martial arts played the decisive role for Georgia in pulling through centuries of wars and attacks. Georgia endured the whole eras, in which numerous small and big countries and nations vanished without a trace. In course of 3500 years, Georgian warriors were successfully withstanding enemies attacking kingdoms of Georgia and later united Georgian kingdom.
Along with their native fatherland, Georgian mercenaries succeeded in many other countries as main military forces and high rank commanders: Mamlukis in Egypt, Kulemens in Iraq, Kulis in Iran. Same can be said of Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Russia. Due to permanent military actions, Georgian warriors were always on high alert.
Until the beginning of 20th century, in every region of Georgia there were special areas for competitions in martial arts and other sports similar to old Olympic games.
The competitions used to be held like military maneuvers in which several thousand men fought by the rules of saldasti (a special boxing style with additional use of swords and other combat weapon made from wood).
Diversity and multiform features of fighting styles practised in various regions of Georgia had crucial influences on formation of Georgian Martial arts and its rich culture.
Each part of Georgia had its unique military traditions. More than 30 styles of wrestling and boxing have been practiced in Georgia, as well as, wide range of armaments and combat rules Along with rich traditions in martial arts, Georgians also possessed â€œWarrior Codeâ€ counting 365 rules.
Due to the constant military readiness, the rules were in action all over Georgia and actually defined the code of conduct and way of life for all Georgians. Unfortunately, in XIX century, traditions of Georgian martial arts were posed to serious danger. After the occupation, the Russian Empire started repressing all aspect of Georgian cultural heritage, and especially, military traditions. Moreover, after the second occupation in 1921, Georgian martial arts along with the whole Georgian State went under control of Russian Bolsheviks.
Georgian wrestling and boxing turned into major basis for creation of Russian sambo. In course of 70 years, revival and practice of Georgian martial arts was strictly banned. Under heavy censorship, Georgian scientist were only allowed to conduct minor studies of ancient martial arts style that somehow helped Georgian martial traditions no to perish completely.
Since 1980-ies, several initiative groups started functioning in order revive Georgian martial arts. In 1989, Georgian Martial Arts Department was created at the Rustaveli Society. Later in 1990, Federation of Georgian Martial Arts – Khridoli was formed. The first president was Levan Kikaleishvili, the Head of the Hall – Kakhaber Zarnadze, consultants – Alexander Dorsavelidze, Guram Kajaia. Many old and new groups working with the same goal started joining the Federation: Nikolz Abazadze, David Abazadze, Vaso Kakhutashvili, (club Chauki); Nodar Lursmanashvili(club Tori); Nukri Mchedlishvili, Lado Metskhvarishvili, Manuchar Beselia(club Iberieli Mglebi); Zura Chachanidze, Giorgi Kokoshashvili(club Khogais Mindi); David Alania, Paata Ochigava(club Kiborji – later it was renamed to Kolkha); Giorgi Ambardanishvii(club Dzlevai); Bakhva Chabukiani (club Dahkari); David Gulbani(club Lemi); Archil Gogoladze(club Kartli). Later, the Federation members opened additional clubs: club Davitiani in Kutaisi by Nika Chachava; club Samtskhe in Akhaltsikhe and Adigeni by Zaza Chilingarashvili; club Odishi in Senaki bu Zaal kantartia.
In the promotion of Khridoli significant role was played by the former leaders of the Federation. Namely, Tengiz Shervashidze, Koba Chumburidze and Zurab Lejava, as well as, Vice President Zurab Kakhabrishvili and consultant Givi Kakhabrishvili.
Revival of Georgian martial arts would not be possible without the generation of our grandfathers – old men, especially in mountains, who have preserved various techniques and styles of Georgian wrestling and boxing, usage of weapon and different tricks and feints.
Rules of Khridoli: The rules of fighting in Khridoli originated thousands of years ago, and have developed since; for example the moves that are hazardous for the oppeonents’s life such as arm breaking doesn’t exist in modern Khridoli. In the past the masters of Khridoli had to know wrestling, boxing and fencing as well.