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The Hero with a Thousand Holds

Sep 25, 2019

The Caucasus mountains, a 750-mile-long chain of rock and ice stretching between the Black and Caspian seas, have traditionally been regarded as one of the great cultural boundaries between Europe and Asia. Nestled among its towering peaks and valleys are a tapestry of diverse peoples, many of whom speak languages unrelated to anything else on Earth. And stretching out on the southern side of these mountains lies Georgia – an ancient nation at the crossroads of East and West, with a history rooted in the earliest days of Christianity, in the movements of empires and armies, and in their ability to remain proudly distinct through it all.

Visited by, traded with, and occasionally subjugated by the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongols, the Timurids, the Persians, and the Russians, modern Georgia is an independent, sovereign country that boasts several UNESCO-listed cultural practices: an entirely unique writing system, a polyphonic musical tradition, a millennia-old method of wine-making, and a wrestling style whose name (“Chidaoba”) originally derived from a term meaning “a struggle between a man and a beast” but that ultimately came to embody the highest ideals of Georgian knighthood. In this episode, we look at this land of highlanders, saints, and poets, the role that Chidaoba plays in their conceptions of “Georgian-ness”, and how the widespread practice of this hallowed wrestling style has elevated their small nation to the status of a world superpower in grappling sports like sambo and judo.