Mongolia’s Naadam Festival: 3 Manly National Sports

Mongolia: A country that ‘went too far’ in selecting a national sporting event. Mongolians didn’t settle for just one sport, but instead of choosing from a variety, the country managed to keep three. Mongolia even created a whole national festival to celebrate them.

Mongolia’s Naadam celebration

The Naadam festival begins each July 11 and lasts for three days. The festival is celebrated throughout the country, but the main event takes in Ulaanbaatar (the Mongolian capital). The festival celebrates the country’s independence from China in 1921, during the Qing period. Naadam Festival celebrates the country’s independence. Visitors have the opportunity to admire traditional Mongolian attire (deel); eat traditional Mongolian food, such as Mongolian meat dumplings or Khaushuur; and commemorate the Mongols’ nomadic lifestyle.

While the Naadam festival is intended to honor national heritage, the main draw for many is a sport. In the beginning, all three Naadam activities – Mongolian wrestling (archery), horse racing, and Mongolian wrestling (Mongol wrestling) – were intended to help select men for military combat within the formidable cavalry arms of Mongol leaders like Genghis Kan. In the original Naadam, entertainment was secondary and coincidental. Naadam took its current form in celebration of national independence. It was created after Mongolia gained autonomy in the 1920s. Although sometimes called the “three manly games,” today, the festival features women competing in archery and girls riding in horse racing.

Read also: Everything you need to know about Tottenham Stadium

Mongolian archery


In their original form, bows or arrows were used for hunting before being integrated onto the battlefield. However, they became symbolic weapons of war and were largely unchanged until the widespread invention of gunpowder. Archery helped to distinguish individual warriors with sharp eyesight and excellent hand-eye coordination. Although Mongols in the past were horse archers and the Chinese occupied Mongolia in the seventeenth century, systematic pacification was carried out by the Chinese. They were then forced into Buddhist monasteries. From there, they were forced to abandon their horses and could only practice their combat skills in secret with small crossbows in their yurts. Mongolia gained independence in 1991. The new government set out to reestablish Naadam and the Mongol archery tradition.

Culture and traditions

Archery is considered a highly advanced form of mental training and physical exercise. Archers of any age can participate in the competition wearing traditional Mongolian costumes. Khalkaarchery refers to the form used by Mongolia’s majority ethnic denomination of the exact name. It’s located in central Mongolia. Urianghai is another variation that was created in the northeastern part of Mongolia. Tradition dictates that judges must stand next to the target while singing the uukhai. Hand signals are used to indicate scores. The vocal style is determined by the archery technique used. Mergn (or marksman) is awarded to winners. Each subsequent victory earns additional epithets such as ‘Super,’ ‘Miraculous,’ ‘Most Scrupulous,’ through to ‘Nationally Memorable’ and ‘Invincible.’

How it works

All archery categories require you to aim at a ground-based target. This can be made from sinew or hide. There are many differences, including the distance from the target and the bows/arrows used. While Khalka and Birat archery is a separate event, the Urianghai version is for men only. The distance a competitor competes is determined based on gender, age, and category.

Borat archers aim from a range from 35 meters to Uryankhaifrom, a range of 45 meters. Khalah archery requires the greatest distance. The target is located in the z Urkhai (target zone), with men standing at 75 meters and women at 65 meters. They determine the distance in meters for children aged under 18 based on their age. For example, multiply a boy’s and a girl’s ages by four.

Mongolian wrestling


Archeologists found rock carvings that depicted a sport called “Wrestling” in Ulziit, Dundgovi. They were found in Ulziit, Dundgovi, during the Mongolian Bronze Age (2,500 BC – 700 BC), suggesting that early forms of Mongolian wrestling existed before the advent of the ancient Greek Olympics. Mongols saw wrestling as a method of identifying warriors who were strong and flexible.

Culture and traditions

Mongolian wrestling is filled with references to Mongolia’s Mongol past. Participants don traditional costumes (somewhat impractical boots) and perform the ‘eagle dance’ before every match. The traditional bare-chested costumes worn by male wrestlers are because of an old folk tale about a woman that won Naadam as a disguised man. The exposed clothing of the wrestlers is intended to prevent this type of deception from ever again.

How it works

Only those who have a national ranking in wrestling can participate in Mongolia’s largest competition in Mongolian wrestling, Ulaanbaatar. There are local events for children, adults, and men as young as 4. The rules are straightforward: One wrestler will fight another using their strength to force each other down. The bout continues until one wrestler touches the ground with an elbow, knee, head, or knee. At that point, they must accept defeat. Mongolian wrestling doesn’t have any weight classes. So, it’s not unusual to see a thin sixteen-year-old boy grappling with a strong forty-year-old man.

Mongolian horse racing


Many aspects of Mongolian culture are rooted in the long, nomadic history that the Mongols have left behind. These elements range from the temporary yurt-style structures easily erected and collapsed to rural Mongolian living areas. In the past, endurance racing on horses tested individual warriors’ courage and patience. Horses were raised for military purposes, but they also served as companions, transportation, sustenance, and to race. Mongols shared a deep spiritual connection with horses as they were their work animals. This connection exists today between Mongolians and their horses.

Culture and Tradition

Both jockeys and horses undergo months of training leading up to the Naadam festival. The horse trainers have the opportunity to win a series of lavish titles, which accumulate if their horse wins in Ulaanbaatar. Hundreds of thousands of horses race across Mongolia in the festival’s 21 provincial races and 329 soums. Horse trainers can be adults with decades of experience, but jockeys are usually between five- and thirteen years.

How it works

Horses race at the Naadam festival in different categories based on their age. Distances covered range from ten kilometers down to twenty-six kilometers. Jockeys pamper their horses with a piece of gum or a special song in hopes of winning. Timenii ekh, which means “leader of ten thousand,” is awarded to winning jockeys. Horses placed last receive a song that wishes them luck in the next race.

In 2009, the Odyssean Mongol Derby (1,000 kilometers) eclipsed the Naadam horse races in terms of international fame. The race mimics the long postal route of Genghis Kan’s empire, and jockeys travel from all corners of the globe to compete. It is not for the weak-hearted.

Mongolia – Wild Women Expeditions

“Jennifer Haddow is Wild Women Expeditions’ woman behind it – they have been taking women on amazing and life-changing adventures for 25 years. “

Mongolians, it’s the time!

February 12 (Women Travel the World), they offer two itineraries. One horse riding tour and one multisport tour include hiking, kayaking, cultural activities, and beginner-friendly riding.

Mongolia is, in many ways, exactly what you might imagine. There are sprawling, stunning displays of mountainous terrain. The Earth is rumbled by horses. Bubbling hot springs. Temples with intricate details. It is a complex land with intricate temples.

Mongolia is a world of wonders. You can hike the banks of “the Great White Lake,” ride a pony through Agad Sar valley or climb up on a camel to scale a caramel-colored dune.

This place is alive with history: with Ghengis Kan and the famous silk road. This place makes you feel both humbled and amazed to be there. It’s almost as if your feet are in a history book. The essence of Mongolian culture has not changed over the years. It is an experience of wild, beautiful life in harmony with all the animals of Earth. It is a wonder for wild nomad hearts.


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