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Pankration 101: What is This Ancient Greek Martial Art?!

In the heart of ancient Greece, amidst the roaring crowds of the Olympic Games, two combatants squared off in the sandy arena.

Their eyes locked, muscles tensed, and the air thick with anticipation. This wasn’t just another boxing or wrestling match; this was Pankration, the ultimate test of strength, skill, and strategy.

Legend has it that the heroes Heracles and Theseus invented Pankration as a means to defeat the Nemean Lion and the Minotaur, respectively. Whether myth or reality, Pankration’s legacy as a formidable and revered martial art is undeniable.

Combining the power of boxing punches with the tactical prowess of wrestling holds, it offered a unique and thrilling combat experience.

If you’ve ever been curious about this ancient sport and its place in Greek history, you’re in for a treat. Dive into the world of Pankration with us and discover its rich heritage, techniques, and modern-day relevance.

This fascinating hobby combines elements of boxing and wrestling, making it a unique and thrilling experience for enthusiasts.

In this article, we’ll explore the history, equipment needed, personal benefits, and be ready to take the plunge into the world of Pankration!

What is pankration? A beginner's guide explaining what it is

What is Pankration?

Pankration (παγκράτιον) is an ancient Greek martial art that combines elements of both boxing (pygmachia) and wrestling (pale). The term “Pankration” is derived from the Greek words “pan” (meaning “all”) and “kratos” (meaning “power” or “strength”), which together signify “all of the power” or “all-encompassing.”

History and Origin: .

Pankration was introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and was considered one of the most prestigious events.

It was a no-holds-barred combat sport that allowed almost all techniques, with the exceptions of biting and gouging.


  1. Striking: Pankratiasts, as practitioners were called, used punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes.
  2. Grappling: The art also incorporated throws, joint locks, and chokeholds.
  3. Ground Fighting: Once on the ground, fighters would use a combination of strikes, locks, and holds to subdue their opponent.
  4. Rules: Very few rules governed the sport. As mentioned, biting and gouging (poking out the eyes) were prohibited. Matches continued until one of the fighters submitted, was incapacitated, or died.


While Pankration as a sport faded after the decline of ancient Greece, its techniques and principles influenced many later fighting styles and are considered a precursor to modern mixed martial arts (MMA).

In essence, Pankration was a comprehensive combat system that tested both the striking and grappling abilities of the fighters, making it one of the most complete and effective martial arts of the ancient world.

In recent years, Pankration has gained popularity among martial arts enthusiasts and those looking for a unique and challenging hobby.

A group of people practicing martial arts on the floor in a dark room.

Why It’s a Good Hobby to Try

Pankration offers a range of personal benefits that make it an excellent hobby to try:

  • Physical Fitness: Pankration provides a full-body workout, improving strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  • Mental Discipline: The sport requires focus, concentration, and strategic thinking, helping to develop mental discipline.
  • Self-Defense Skills: Pankration equips you with practical self-defense techniques that can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Community and Camaraderie: Joining a Pankration club or community allows you to connect with like-minded individuals and build lasting friendships.
  • Stress Relief: Engaging in physical activity and learning new skills can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Whether you’re looking to improve your fitness, learn self-defense, or simply have fun, Pankration offers a well-rounded experience that caters to various interests and goals.

Equipment Needed

To fully enjoy the Pankration experience, it’s important to have the right equipment. Here are the essential items you’ll need:

A woman showcasing martial arts skills wearing red boxing gloves on a black background.
  • Mouthguard: Protects your teeth and jaw during intense sparring sessions.
  • Hand Wraps: Provide support and protection for your hands and wrists.
  • Boxing Gloves: Essential for striking techniques and sparring.
  • Shin Guards: Protect your shins from kicks and strikes.
  • Grappling Shorts: Comfortable shorts designed for grappling and ground fighting.

While these items are essential, there are also additional accessories that can enhance your Pankration experience.

These include headgear, knee pads, and a training dummy for practicing techniques.

When it comes to budget considerations, it’s important to invest in high-quality equipment that ensures your safety and comfort.

How to Get Started

If you’re ready to dive into the world of Pankration, here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. Research: Start by researching the history, rules, and techniques of Pankration. Reliable sources such as books, websites, and online forums can provide valuable insights.
  2. Basic Training: Look for local martial arts schools or clubs that offer Pankration classes for beginners. These classes will provide you with the foundational skills and knowledge needed to progress in the sport.
  3. Joining Communities: Connect with other Pankration enthusiasts by joining online forums or local communities. These platforms can provide valuable guidance, tips, and support as you embark on your Pankration journey.
  4. Setting Up: Acquire the necessary equipment mentioned earlier and prepare a suitable space or environment for training. Ensure you have enough room to practice techniques safely.
  5. Practical Tips: As a beginner, it’s important to start slowly and focus on mastering the basics. Listen to your instructors, practice regularly, and be patient with your progress.
  6. Seeking Help: If you encounter any challenges or have specific questions, don’t hesitate to seek help from experienced practitioners or online communities. They can provide valuable guidance and support.
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Pankration Techniques

Pankration combines elements of boxing and wrestling but also has unique techniques. While it appears similar to modern MMA, Pankration has its distinct rules and techniques.

Striking Techniques:

  • Punches: Pankration incorporated various punches, including jabs, straight punches, hooks, uppercuts, superman punches, and spinning back fists.
  • Kicks: Kicks were a significant part of Pankration. Some of the notable kicks include:
    • Gastrizein: A straight kick to the stomach using the heel.
    • Roundhouse, calf, lead, and head kicks.
    • Push kick (similar to Muay Thai’s ‘Teep’ kick).
    • Side kicks, hook kicks, back kicks, and spinning kicks.
    • Knees, especially to the body. However, strikes to the throat, kidneys, spine, groin, and knees were prohibited.


Pankration places a significant emphasis on wrestling and takedowns. The objective is to take the fight to the ground as swiftly as possible.

Techniques include:

  • Single-leg and double-leg takedowns.
  • Low crotch takedowns.
  • Arm and shoulder locks like the armbar, kimura, americana, and omoplata.
2 men on red mat in a hold 64ca8815c75ad

Ground Techniques:

Once on the ground, Pankration fighters employ various techniques:

  • Ground and Pound: The hammerfist was a primary weapon, targeting the face, ribs, or kidneys.
  • Submissions: Chokeholds and locks were used to immobilize opponents or restrict their airflow. Common submissions included the kimura, armbar, knee bar, ankle locks, rear naked choke, and guillotine.

Prohibited Techniques:

Certain moves were deemed too dangerous and were thus banned in Pankration.

These include:

  • Rabbit punches (to the back of the head and throat).
  • Throat strikes.
  • Head kicks on grounded opponents.
  • Heel kicks to the kidney.
  • Neck cranks.

For more information: Characteristics and Techniques of Pankration (

Two women learning and practicing boxing techniques in a gym

Common Challenges & How to Overcome Them

As with any hobby, beginners may face certain challenges when starting Pankration.

Here are some common challenges and tips to overcome them:

Lack of Flexibility

Incorporate regular stretching exercises into your training routine to improve flexibility over time.

Focus on specific stretches that target areas used in Pankration, such as hip openers and shoulder stretches.

Fear of Sparring

Start with light sparring sessions and gradually increase intensity as you gain confidence.

Communicate with your training partner and establish clear boundaries to ensure a safe and comfortable sparring experience.

Stamina and Endurance

Incorporate cardiovascular exercises, such as running or cycling, into your training routine to improve stamina and endurance.

Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts to build up your cardiovascular fitness.

Learning Complex Techniques

Break down complex techniques into smaller components and practice each component separately. Focus on mastering the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced techniques.

Seek guidance from experienced instructors who can provide step-by-step instructions and corrections.

Overcoming Mental Barriers

Stay positive and persistent. Set realistic goals and celebrate small achievements along the way.

Surround yourself with supportive training partners and seek encouragement from the Pankration community. Remember that progress takes time and effort.

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Comparisons to Other Similar Hobbies & Activities

Pankration can be compared to other similar hobbies and activities to help you make an informed choice:

Characteristic/Martial ArtPankrationBoxingBrazilian Jiu-JitsuMuay ThaiWrestling
Striking TechniquesComprehensive: punches, kicks, elbows, kneesPunches onlyNo striking, focus on grapplingPunches, kicks, elbows, kneesNo striking, focus on takedowns
Ground TechniquesGrappling, ground-and-pound, submissionsNonePositional control, submissionsLimited to clinch throwsPin opponent, positional control
ObjectiveBalanced between striking and grapplingKnockout or pointsSubmission or pointsKnockout or pointsPin or points
Defensive TechniquesDefend against wide variety of attacksFootwork, head movement, blockingGuard, escapes, reversalsBlocking, evadingSprawling, positional escapes
Clinch WorkLead to takedowns, submissions, or controlNoneNoneSet up knee strikes and throwsControl opponent, set up throws

Each hobby has its own unique aspects and benefits, so it’s important to consider your personal interests and goals when making a choice.

DIY Tips & Tricks

If you’re looking to enhance your Pankration experience, here are some DIY tips and tricks:

Cost-Saving Tips:

  • Make your own hand wraps using fabric and elastic bands.
  • Create a homemade grappling dummy for solo training.

Creative Ideas:

  • Design your own Pankration training routine incorporating elements from other martial arts.
  • Create personalized training drills to improve specific techniques.

Tutorial Resources:

  • Explore online tutorials and guides for Pankration techniques and training drills.
  • Join online communities where practitioners share DIY projects and training tips.

When practicing Pankration, it’s important to be aware of legal and safety considerations:

Legal Aspects:

Check local regulations and laws regarding combat sports and martial arts training. Some areas may require permits or have specific regulations in place.

Safety Tips:

  • Always warm up and stretch before training to prevent injuries.
  • Use proper protective gear, such as mouthguards and hand wraps.
  • Train under the guidance of experienced instructors to ensure proper technique and safety.

Emergency Contacts:

Keep emergency contact information readily available in case of any accidents or injuries during training. It’s important to have access to medical assistance when needed.


man looking confused, looking at laptop, has questions (FAQ)
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Here are some commonly asked questions about Pankration:

Is Pankration safe?

While Pankration is a combat sport, modern rules and safety measures ensure that participants are protected. Proper training and supervision are essential to minimize the risk of injuries.

Can anyone practice Pankration?

Pankration is suitable for individuals of various fitness levels and ages. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new physical activity.

Is Pankration only for competitive athletes?

Pankration can be practiced both competitively and recreationally. Many enthusiasts enjoy the physical and mental benefits of the sport without participating in formal competitions.

How long does it take to become proficient in Pankration?

The time it takes to become proficient in Pankration varies depending on individual dedication, training frequency, and natural ability.

Consistent practice and a growth mindset are key to progress.

Are there any specific rules in Pankration?

Pankration has specific rules and regulations that vary depending on the organization or competition.

These rules are designed to ensure fair play and participant safety.


Pankration is a captivating hobby that combines the ancient combat sport of Greece with modern martial arts. With its rich history, physical and mental benefits, and vibrant community, Pankration offers a unique experience for enthusiasts of all levels.

Whether you’re looking to improve your fitness, learn self-defense, or simply try something new, Pankration has something to offer. Take the next step and explore the world of Pankration – you won’t be disappointed!

Ready to embark on your Pankration journey? Join a local club, start training, and experience the thrill of this ancient combat sport.

Resources & Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about Pankration, here are some recommended resources:

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What is pankration? A beginner's guide explaining what it is