Forget K-POP stars — wrestlers are the new idols

In modern times, staying relevant requires constant reinvention.

When it comes to martial arts in Korea, most people think of Taekwondo or Taekkyeon. Rarely would people have thought of ssireum.

Ssireum, or traditional Korean wrestling, is a combat sport that dates as far back as the fourth century. In a match of ssireum, two competitors grab each other’s satba, belts similar to that of sumo wrestling in Japan, and try to wrestle their opponent to the ground.

Weight is a great advantage, but the sport did lose some popularity as athletes bulked up more than ever and constrained the sport to non-flashy techniques, unlike other martial arts.

That is, until the entertainment industry brought it back to the fore1.

Riding on the wave of international K-pop success, ssireum came back into the public’s eye when it became a sport on the Idol Star Athletics Championships, a mini-Olympics event in which K-pop idols compete against each other in various sports.

The sport also garnered more attention when it became a staple activity in internationally popular Korean variety shows such as Running Man.

The Korean Ssireum Association (KSA) had already previously introduced weight limits in order to encourage competitors to go lean and put a greater focus on speed and agility. To further encourage this, the media industry bought in with Joy of Ssireum in 2019, a reality TV survival show featuring young and coming ssireum athletes competing for the top.

Riding on the popularity of idol survival show ‘Produce 101’, Joy of Ssireum was a massive hit. The numerous handsome young competitors appealed to female audiences and drew much attention to the sport. Many fans even referred to the handsome competitors as ‘ssireumdols’ (ssireum-idols).

Riding on the power of idol culture, ssireum has regained its lost popularity with the new generation. At Eastspring Investments, we are always looking for innovative solutions to meet the financial needs of the younger crowd. Find out more about investing.

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