Khutulun: Wrestling Warrior Shero

This post originally appeared on one of my favorite blogs, Sheroes of History, and was written by the blog’s founder Naomi Wilcox-Lee. I hope you enjoy it and check out the other great women on the site.

Khutulun wrestling a challenger, a miniture c. 1410

Khutulun wrestling a challenger, a miniature c. 1410 (source)

I first read about KHUTULUN in an article called ‘7 of the Most Amazing Women You’ve Never Heard Of’ which is what first started me thinking about doing this blog. And indeed until that point I had never heard of this wrestling, warrior, princess.

Khutulun lived in a country called Mongolia over 800 years ago. Her name means ‘moonlight’, and her father, Kaidu, was a powerful ruler whose kingdom stretched far and wide across Central Asia.

Now Khutulun had some pretty impressive relatives; she was great-great-grandaughter of the fearsome invader Ghengis Khan, and niece to the equally ruthless Khublai Khan. And while it seems she certainly carried the family gene  for fearlessness, her family connections didn’t do her or her father any good – in fact it was her cousin Khubilai Khan who repeatedly tried to invade the land her father ruled over.

She learned how to ride a horse and use a bow & arrow from a young age, as did many young Mongolian boys and girls, and by the time she was grown she became used to bravely riding into battle with her father. Throughout her life she rode into battle alongside her father, fighting of her cousin’s armies.

The explorer Marco Polo once wrote about Khutulun and her signature battle move. He described how she would ride into the midst of the battle on her horse and snatch up a soldier before riding off with him (and presumably disposing of him elsewhere!) Marco Polo said she grabbed these men “as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird”!

Off the battlefield Khutulun became known for her incredible athletic ability as a wrestler, and has gone down in history as the woman no man could beat at wrestling!

Her mother and father really wanted Khutulun to get married, but it seems she wasn’t too keen on the idea. She made an agreement with her father that if any man could beat her at wrestling, she would marry him. The word spread across the kingdom and many men started arriving to take up the challenge. To compete the men had to bet a number of horses, most would maybe give about 10. If Khutulun won the match she could keep the horses, but if the other guy won, he could marry her. As more and more men walked away defeated by the strong princess the number of horses they said they would give her started to go up! Khutulun became very, very rich (with horses!) One day a man offered a thousand horses to wrestle her!  By this time she had beaten loads of men who had all walked away without their horses and without a bride! By the time this suitor offered the 1000 horses to wrestle her, Khutulun’s parents were pleading with her to just let him win!

She was worried about upsetting her parents, so she agreed to let him win. Well that was the plan; huge crowds gathered to watch the match, and it seemed like finally she may have met her match; they wrestled too and fro with Khutulun using all her strength! The match went on for much longer than normal and it looked like maybe this new suitor would win. But Khutulun was proud of her strength and knew she was a great wrestler, in the end she couldn’t just let this stranger win, and just like the many men who had come before him, he was defeated by the awesome Warrior Princess.

Eventually Khutulun was allowed to choose her own husband, and she remained an undefeated wrestler. Today when Mongolian men wrestle in the traditional way they must wear a top with a completely open front – so that their opponent can be sure they are a man! And everytime they win a match they honor Khutulun by raising their arms in the air and bearing their chests.

Check out Sheroes of History video about Khutulun.

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