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Korean wrestling added to UNESCO’s intangible heritage list

Traditional Korean wrestling was recognized Monday as an «intangible cultural heritage of humanity» by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, after being jointly nominated by North and South Korea for listing.

South Korean President Moon Jae In hailed the decision made by UNESCO’S Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius, saying, «This is the first time that the South and the North have listed an intangible cultural heritage together.»

«As such, it will be much easier to spread the originality of Korean traditional culture worldwide if the South and the North work together,» he added.

The two Koreas separately nominated the sport — known as «ssireum» in the South and «ssirum» in the North — for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The two bids were combined into one after a historic inter-Korean summit in April.

Unlike martial arts involving kicking or striking, Korean wrestling involves two opponents gripping each other by waist belts and deploying various techniques to send each other to the ground within a circular, sand-covered ring.

According to South Korea’s nomination form, «The great attraction of ssireum lies in the thrill of the diverse actions — grappling, pushing, throwing, and turning — that all take place within a split second.»

«When a smaller player throws a much larger competitor, evoking a ‘David and Goliath’ event, the excitement of the audience is redoubled,» it says.

The winner of the final game is typically awarded an ox, symbolizing agricultural abundance, and parades around the neighborhood riding the animal in celebration.

Ssireum is enjoyed by all Korea people regardless of differences in social status, region, gender, or age, and serves «as a symbol of Korean traditional sports and of Korean cultural identity,» it says.

The UNESCO committee also recognized that the sport has the social function «enhancing community solidarity and collaboration,» while also offering «a means of improving mental and physical health.»

All — Kyodo News+

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