Ssireum is conducted within a
circular ring, measuring approximately 7 meters in diameter, which is
covered with mounded sand. The two contestants begin the match by kneeling
on the sand in a grappling position (baro japki), each grabbing a belt
(known as a satba), which is wrapped around his opponent's waist and thigh.
The wrestlers then rise while retaining their hold on the other's 'satba.'
The match is awarded to the wrestler who forces the other contestant to
touch the ground with any part of his body at knee level or higher. Unlike
sumo, pushing your opponent outside of the ring does not warrant a win, just
a restart. Normally, professional ssireum is contested in a
best-out-of-three style match.
There are 3 judges, a chief referee and three sub referees. The chief judge
is positioned inside the ring, whereas the sub referees are located on the
outside of the ring, one to the right and others to the left. If an unfair
judgment is called or the chief referee is unable to render a decision, the
sub referees can request a revocation of the decision or a rematch. In
addition, they can recommend the cessation of the match when an injury
occurs. The referees’ decisions throughout the competition are absolute and
held in the highest regard, meaning that athletes cannot challenge any
judgments declared during the match.
Today there are also women Ssireum wrestlers. Women wrestle only among
themselves but follow the same rules (except that men are topless whereas
women wear tops).
There are 4 weight classes in professional wrestling: flyweight (Taebaek),
lightweight (Geumgang), middleweight (Halla), and heavyweight (Baekdu),
named after the four famous peaks in Korea.
Traditionally Ssireum was contested with the top portion of the trousers
rolled down to provide grip. The use of "satba" was invented with the birth
of professional Ssireum in the mid-20th century. There is a movement to
restore this traditional method of grip, in the spirit of maintaining its
cultural and traditional roots, but it has met with some resistance as the
use of "satba" has become entrenched in the modern form.