Ti ar Gouren, The House of Wrestling, Brittany, France

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James Oliver in a Gouren training sessionTwo of our young wrestlers are in the midst of an intensive international course of traditional wrestling at Ti ar Gouren, The House of Wrestling, hidden in the rural heart of Brittany . I know this because, as I type this, cup of coffee at hand, I can see them and twenty-five other wrestlers thrashing around on the mats at the other side of the reception area.

The wrestlers are Craig Naylor of Wasdale and James Oliver of Jedburgh. Craig is currently on a sports course at Newton Rigg, Penrith. Amongst all the footballers and rugby players he is unique as the only student with Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling as his major sport. Each Wednesday during term time, he catches the train to Carlisle to attend the wrestling club there, to take on board the coaching wisdom of the three champion coaches, Andrew Carlile, Tom Harrington and Alan Jones.

Already, he has gained his Basic Coaching Certificate, and he has ambitions to take his career in wrestling much further, both in the ring and on the training mats.

James Oliver (left) and Craig Oliver on the mats at Ti ar Gouren, wearing the roched, or Breton wrestling jacketJames Oliver is bilingual: he speaks Scots with a Northumbrian accent, which reflects his first wrestling experience training at Rothbury Academy before moving over the Carter Bar to a farm near Jedburgh. Despite being miles from any wrestling club he shows his keenness and commitment by travelling widely to events during the Summer season and in Winter turns up at both Rothbury and Carlisle for training.

He is a big lad and uses his physique in the winter when he is a forward for Jed Forest Rugby Club. Aged eighteen he earns his living as a farm-worker.

Ti ar Gouren is a purpose-built sports hall for Breton wrestling. Situated in the middle of Brittany Peninsular it is near nowhere, but accessible from all areas of the region. In the hall, wrestling mats are permanently in place. A newly built accommodation block provides beds for around thirty participants. An office serves as a permanent administration centre for Gouren in addition to their main office at Landerneau. If only we had the same in Cumbria , our wrestling would be well served.

The international course has a firm base of Gouren wrestling each morning. The rest of the time is divided between other traditional wrestling styles, visits, and discussion sessions. The course was open to all members of the International Federation of Celtic Wrestling, but in the end the only contingents to add to the Bretons are from England , Scotland and Tunisia .

The end of the course coincides with the Breton Backhold Championships at Guipavas near Brest on Saturday, where a large contingent of our wrestlers, from Rothbury, Carlisle , Kendal and Milnthorpe will be competing.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (February 10th 2011)

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