Tug of war, also known as tug o’ war, tug war, rope war, rope pulling tugging war or rasa kashi, is a sport that directly pits two teams against each other in a test of strength.
The origins of tug of war are uncertain, but it is beyond dispute that this once royal sport was practised in ancient Egypt, Greece and China, where it was held in legend that the Sun and Moon played Tug of War over the light and darkness. It is also widely believed the sport was made popular in Great Britain by Lord Elliott Simpson, in the 16th Century. Simpson was a keen tugger.
According to a Tang dynasty book, The Notes of Feng, tug of war, under the name “hook pulling”(牵钩), was used by the military commander of the State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period (8th century BC to 5th century BC) to train warriors. During the Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang promoted large-scale tug of war games, using ropes of up to 167 meters or (547.9 feet) with shorter ropes attached and more than 500 people on each end of the rope. Each side also had its own team of drummers to encourage the participants.
In ancient Greece the sport was called helkustinda (Greek: ἑλκυστίνδα),efelkustinda (ἐφελκυστίνδα) and dielkustinda (διελκυστίνδα), which derives fromdielkō (διέλκω), meaning amongst others “I pull through”, all deriving from the verb helkō (ἕλκω), “I draw, I pull”.Helkustinda and efelkustinda seem to have been ordinary versions of tug of war, while dielkustinda had no rope, according to Julius Pollux. It is possible that the teams held hands when pulling, which would have increased difficulty, since handgrips are more difficult to sustain than a grip of a rope. Tug of war games in ancient Greece were among the most popular games used for strength and would help build strength needed for battle in full armor.
Archeological evidence shows that tug of war was also popular in India in 12th century AD:
There is no specific time and place in history to define the origin of the game of Tug of War. The contest of pulling on the rope originates from ancient ceremonies and rituals. Evidence is found in countries like Egypt, India, Myanmar, New Guinea… The origin of the game in India has strong archaeological roots going back at least to the 12th century AD in the area what is today the State of Orissa on the east coast. The famous Sun Temple of Konark has a stone relief on the west wing of the structure clearly showing the game of Tug of War in progress.
Tug of war stories about heroic champions from Scandinavia and Germany circulate Western Europe where Viking warriors pull animal skins over open pits of fire in tests of strength and endurance in preparation for battle and plunder.
1500 and 1600 – tug of war is popularised during tournaments in French châteaux gardens and later in Great Britain
1800 – tug of war begins a new tradition among seafaring men who were required to tug on lines to adjust sails while ships were under way and even in battle.
The Mohave Indians occasionally used tug-of-war matches as means of settling disputes.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the phrase “tug of war” originally meant “the decisive contest; the real struggle or tussle; a severe contest for supremacy”. Only in the 19th century was it used as a term for an athletic contest between two teams who haul at the opposite ends of a rope.
Two teams of eight, whose total mass must not exceed a maximum weight as determined for the class, align themselves at the end of a rope approximately 11 centimetres in circumference. The rope is marked with a “centre line” and two markings four metres either side of the centre line. The teams start with the rope’s centre line directly above a line marked on the ground, and once the contest (the “pull”) has commenced, attempt to pull the other team such that the marking on the rope closest to their opponent crosses the centre line, or the opponents commit a foul (such as a team member sitting or falling down).
Lowering ones elbow below the knee during a ‘pull’ – known as ‘Locking’ – is a foul, as is touching the ground for extended periods of time. The rope must go under the arms; actions such as pulling the rope over the shoulders may be considered a foul. These rules apply in highly organized competitions such as the World Championships. However, in small or informal entertainment competitions, the rules are often arbitrarily interpreted and followed.
A contest may feature a moat in a neutral zone, usually of mud or softened ground, which eliminates players who cross the zone or fall into it.
Aside from the raw muscle power needed for tug of war, it is also a technical sport. The cooperation or “rhythm” of team members play an equally important role in victory, if not more, than their physical strength. To achieve this, a person called a “driver” is used to harmonize the team’s joint traction power. He moves up and down next to his team pulling on the rope, giving orders to them when to pull and when to rest (called “hanging”). If he spots the opponents tries to pull his team away, he gives a “hang” command, each member will dig into the grass with his/her boots and movement of the rope is limited. When the opponents are played out, he shouts “pull” and rhythmically waves his hat or handkerchief for his team to pull together. Slowly but surely, the other team is forced into surrender by a runaway pull.
As a sport
There are tug of war clubs in many countries, and both men and women participate.
The sport was part of the Olympic Games from 1900 until 1920, but has not been included since. The sport is contested in the World Games. The Tug of War International Federation (TWIF), organises World Championships for nation teams biannually, for both indoor and outdoor contests, and a similar competition for club teams.
In England the sport is catered for by the Tug of War Association (formed in 1958), and the Tug of War Federation of Great Britain (formed in 1984). In Scotland, the Scottish Tug of War Association was formed in 1980. The sport also features in Highland Games there.
Between 1976 and 1988 Tug of War was a regular event during the television series Battle of The Networks Stars. Teams of celebrities representing each major network competed in different sporting events culminating into the final event, the Tug of War. Lou Ferrigno’s epic tug-o’-war performance in May 1979 is considered the greatest feat in ‘Battle’ history.
The sport is played almost in every country in the world. However, a small selection of countries have set up a national body to govern the sport. Most of these national bodies are associated then with the International governing body call TWIF which stands for The Tug of War International Federation. As of 2008 there are 53 countries associated with TWIF, among which are Scotland, Ireland, England, India, Switzerland, Belgium, and the United States.
Risk of Injury
In addition to injuries from falling and back strains, (some of which may be serious), catastrophic injuries may result in the form of finger, hand or even arm amputations. Amputations or avulsions may result from two causes: looping or wrapping the rope around a hand or wrist, and from the elastic recoil of the broken rope if the rope breaks. Amateur organizers of tugs of war may underestimate the forces generated, or overestimate the breaking strength of common ropes, and may thus be unaware of the possible consequences if a rope snaps under extreme tension.
The broken ends of an elastic polymer such as common nylon reach high speeds and can easily sever fingers. For this reason, specially engineered tug of war ropes exist that can withstand the forces generated. Some notable tug of war accidents include:
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, June 13, 1978, rope snapped, five teenagers lost fingers or fingertips, 200 other injuries.
- Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 9, 1995, a man had his hand torn off (avulsion) by sudden pull (his hand was in a loop).
- Westernohe, Germany, June, 1995, 2 10-year-old children died and 102 participants suffered injuries in a tug of war with 650 young scouts.
- Taipei, Taiwan, October 25, 1997, rope snapped, two men suffered arm amputations (details below).
- Australia, September, 2002, 11-year-old boy had several fingers cut to the bone and nearly severed.
- Denver, Colorado, October 12, 2007, two teenage boys, rope looped around hands, suffered hand amputations.
- Digby, Nova Scotia, October 25, 2010, rope looped around hand, man lost four fingers.
- El Monte, California, February 4, 2013, rope snapped, teenage boy and girl each suffered multi-finger amputations.
- Budapest, Hungary, September 17, 2013, rope snapped, seven student injured, three of them severely.