Scottish Backhold Wrestling

I love wrestling. I love grappling. I hate it when redneck Yanks boo MMA fights when they go to the ground. Get with the program, fucking wankers!

I grew up watching MMA and the UFC, and particularly enjoyed the grappling aspects of it. Maybe it came from watching Scottish Backhold wrestling events, which are a staple at most Highland Games. Having trained in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Judo for a couple years now, I will attempt to use this post to shed some light on this unique style of folk wrestling and how it differs from the more mainstream grappling styles out there.


Both contestants start with what is known as an ‘over-under’ clinch, with a right underhook and a body lock, as seen below.

backhold over under

Wrestling begins from here, and a contestant can win by two methods:

  1. Your opponent’s hand-to-hand grip breaks (but you retain your grip).
  2. You force any part of your opponent’s body (with the exception of the feet of course) to touch the ground. In the event that both wrestlers fall to the ground, the one who touches the ground first loses.

Technique differences from Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling

Grappling is grappling, only the rules determine stylistic outcomes. In most wrestling styles, a ‘pin’ is a win; in international styles, one wrestler has to pin both of his opponent’s shoulder blades to the mat for at least 3 seconds. In Scottish Backhold, forcing any contact of your opponent’s body parts to the mat other than the feet is a fall

In freestyle wrestling (and to a certain extent, folkstyle and college wrestling in the USA), ‘shots’ are emphasized.

For those not in the know, shots are basically single legs and double legs in which a wrestler will grab an opponent’s legs with his arms. It is called a ‘shot’ because typically a wrestler will ‘shoot’ to reach his opponent’s legs via an explosive forward lunging motion.

wrestling shot

However, obviously due to the rules that you must maintain your body lock on your opponent at all times in Scottish Backhold, shots don’t apply. Conceptually then, it would appear to be similar to Greco-Roman wrestling, in which attacks to the lower body are not allowed.

While it is true that many Greco-Roman techniques are applicable for Scottish Backhold, under the Greco-Roman ruleset, leg-on-leg attacks, such as trips and footsweeps, are disallowed. In Scottish Backhold, trips and footsweeps are part of the staple techniques.

Backhold3   Anton Doherty & Ryan Dolan    backhold1

Lack of grip fighting and entries

As mentioned, Scottish Backhold wrestlers already start in an over-under clinch position, which means that there is no need to grip fight in order to enter the clinch in the first place. This is a MAJOR difference from the other wrestling styles; if you watch high level Greco-Roman, Judo, or even Freestyle matches, a large portion of the match is spent trying to enter into positions such as the clinch. In addition, the over-under clinch is just one variation of the clinch and is the only one contested in Scottish Backhold whereas in Freestyle and Greco-Roman, there are numerous other clinch options such as double-unders, double-overs, Russian grip, collar-elbow, etc.

So there you have it folks, a quick rundown of Scottish Backhold wrestling and some of its key differences between other internationally recognized grappling styles out there. I hope you found this informative. Check out an example of some matches below.


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