Boli Khela or Bali Khela as it is known, is a form of traditional wrestling native to Bangladesh. This form of grappling is typically seen in the Chittagong region and has been a popular folk sport for decades. In some districts of Bangladesh and India it is considered the national contest. Yet this sport is widely unknown outside of the country, even within the grappling community. This combat sport encompasses grappling through the techniques of clinch fighting, throwing, takedowns, submissions and pinning. Known to be one of the oldest traditions in the Chittagong, this sporting event is always included in special ceremonies and holidays during the Bengal year.
The Bengali language translates the style’s name as ‘game of the powerful person’. Boli meaning wrestler or powerful person, and Khela meaning game. The style was introduced in the early 20th century by a man named Abdul Jabbar (not Kareem! Although that would have been awesome). His vision was to develop a sport in which the youth of the country would learn combat skills in order to oust the British imperial rule that held the territory. The style was to be unarmed in order to be portrayed as self-defense. Broad interests in the sport began during the time of World War I, but had subsided after the conclusion of the second. A more recent resurgence of interest in the game has begun in the region that has kept it alive as a cultural tradition and identifier since its inception.
So how is this game played? The grappling area is denoted by either a large circle or square area, much like every other style of grappling and wrestling. The Boli Khela ‘mat space’ if you will, must be at least 14-20 feet across. Rather than using mats like we see at grappling tournaments, Boli wrestlers train and compete on packed dirt floors; this causes matches to become pretty sandy. The matches last 25 minutes long which is an immense challenge by any grapplers standards; furthermore in the finals of a tournament the competitors can agree that the match will be extended 10-15 minutes.
Every year it seems as though new practitioners are joining the ranks of Boli wrestlers. The excitement and history of the sport attract newcomers as well as fans and tourists to Bangladesh. All over the world people are grappling; some are wrestling in the traditional styles of Greco and freestyle, while others are participating in cultural styles, or traditional martial arts. Whichever style of wrestling you choose to study is better than studying none, but always increase your knowledge of grappling as a whole, because that is the common thread through which we can all coexist. For everyone that bleeds, cries, sweats, loses and wins on any type of grappling area we are all cut from the same cloth…the toughest cloth there is.