Some parents may dream of their child becoming a doctor or lawyer. But in Mongolia, parents of sons wish for the day their boy becomes a wrestler.
Photographer Ken Hermann explored why wrestling was so highly respected by the Mongolian culture and what he uncovered was a story filled with layers of history, courage, strength, and brilliant colors, which he used to create the series Bökh, meaning "Mongolian wrestling." The Danish photographer was joined by British art director Gem Fletcher to produce a short film to coincide with the captivating images that tell this intriguing story.
"This ancient tradition is the cornerstone of Mongolian culture dating back centuries to Genghis Khan's reign when he used it to keep his soldiers battle-ready," as stated on Hermann's website about the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire.
"Khan famously compared wrestling to war, explaining that in both you face enemies who are stronger and more powerful than you, and you must attack," it continued. "It's a sentiment these young wrestlers keep very much in mind."
As do their families, who urge the young men to follow the ancient traditions of becoming a wrestler to ensure the status and marker of manliness.
The wrestlers face off in the grasslands, where the remote and desolate land is vast, leaving the earth to the two opponents, some flocks of sheep, and a few scattered yurts or gers, a portable round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a dwelling by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.
As the Mongolian wrestlers prepare to battle in forms that mimic dancing, it's a race to the finish.
"Opponents meet in the ring with hands outstretched, moving around each other until one of them takes the lead," the website describes. "They engage in long, dramatic grapples which at times resemble intimate embraces. In an instant it's over."
If you're not entranced by their movements, the wrestler's captivating garb will surely draw you in. The colorful layers have a history all their own. The heavy-duty, short-sleeved jacket called a jodag typically has red and blue colors, and is open in the front to expose the wrestlers' chests. A legendary story detailed how "a wrestler once defeated all other combatants and ripped open the jodag to reveal her breasts, showing to all she was a woman."