The word Luth-Cleas in the Gaelic language is defined as agility, a manly feat, an athletic exercise, sleight of hand, or martial feats. The word is connected to all martial arts, but in the Highlands of Scotland the word had a strong connection with swordplay. At the highest technical level, these skills were equal to that of a sleight-of-had magician. This connection is not difficult to see – whenever you feint or fake to one target and cut or thrust at another, you are applying sleight-of-hand theory, which is based on deception.

How does this Luth-Cleas apply to the sport of wrestling? This deception of attack is quite simple, merely by appearing to threaten one target while your real intention is to attack another. The difficulty lies of course in making the deception convincing.

 This quote from the Alliance of Martial Arts website is note-worthy about the use of sleight-of-hand theory incombat. According to the author:

“There is always the option to ‘really do it’ instead of doing the illusion.
This teaches you how you actually feel, look, and act when it is real –
now just feel the same way while doing something else. That sounds
hard, but is not. Many of us go to work and hate it, but we don’t show
that – we exchange our real feeling for false ones.”

When making a feint, or a fake in other words, you should feel the same way you would if you intended to carry through with the attack or if it was, in fact, your primary attack. That is why, if the opponent fails to respond to your fake, you should force the issue by completing the attack rather than using it as a fake.

Sleight-of-hand theory is built on a few basic principles. One of these is consistency; the distraction should look and feel exactly the same as it would if it was a real attack. For example, if you are faking a Duck Under, it must look identical to any other Duck Under you would perform, until the moment you change the line of attack. According to Alliance Martial Arts: “…lead the eyes, and concentration away from what is really happening…If they are given two movements at the same time, and one is larger than the other, they will notice the larger and discount or ignore the smaller.”

In wrestling combat, your opponent’s attention would always be focused on your tie-up and your possible leg attack. Therefore your primary weapon is your tool of deception, allowing you to disguise an attack with your secondary weapon of assault. You can use misdirection by misleading the opponent as to the nature of the situation.

I have a coaching philosophy that “the big man must wrestle small, and the small man must wrestle big.” Simply stated, I want my lightweight wrestlers to wrestle like a heavyweight, and my heavyweights to wrestle like our lighter weight wrestlers.

 It is quite common in our sport to watch the upper weight classes pummel and tie up looking for dominate position. Most try to body lock and throw, or look to set up a low-risk snatch single leg takedown. The entire focus of the match is on the “upper body.” In the sleight-of-hand theory of deception in Luth-Cleas, we want to appear to do one thing, while really doing another.

One of my wrestlers, Seth, who wrestles at 184 pounds, is a master of this technique. Seth sets up his opponent by aggressively brawling, digging for under hooks, and snapping the head. When he has his adversary’s complete attention on countering the action, he attacks with a low sweeping single leg takedown. The last thing on his opponent’s mind is defending a low single leg takedown. The art of deception scores, and the momentum swings in the favor of the deceiver.

Frank is a short, stocky heavyweight wrestler with exceptional quickness. Frank uses Luth-Cleas deception as his “Go-To” move. Frank moves into his opponent and pummels for inside position where he can hit his Duck Under. Because of his height and strong technical skills, Frank can score on a Duck on any opponent once in a match. Once scored on, the opponent is on high alert to stop a further attack. Frank pummels in an attacks with the deception of a Duck Under. As the opponent attempts to counter the attack, Frank changes directions and hits a double leg takedown on the opposite side. The opponent cannot defend two attacks at once and invariably gives up a takedown.

 These are two examples of sleight-of-hand deception while wrestling big man small. I have always wanted my light-weight class wrestlers to be able to wrestle like a heavyweight. The mindset of a light-weight wrestler is one of no fear, or thought of being thrown. They look comfortable in various tie-ups, and their only concern is defending a leg attack. We want to use this widespread pattern of thought for an act of deception.

Our common set-up for this attack is to wrestle a standard leg attack offense for two periods. In the third period, as the opponent fatigues, it is much more customary for each wrestler to tie-up and hang on to each other – almost to the point of stalling. Now is the time to attack! It is important for the wrestler to realize that this deception is a secondary attack. It can only be established by a constant, effective leg attack. Wrestling Greco-Roman style in a scholastic match as a primary attack is not an effective strategy, but having the ability and the skills to score a five-points and pin at any moment in a match is training that every wrestler needs.

 Another method of Luth-Cleas is the quick draw. The quick draw was a recognized martial art in its own right in Japan, known as batto-jutsu or iai-jutsu. The quick draw is an offensive technique designed to cut down an opponent at the very blow of the whistle. In Gaelic lore, the acknowledged master of this skill, M’ Comie Mor, commented on the importance of the quick draw, he warned, “If suddenly attacked, you might be killed before you were ready with your defense.” How many times in the course of a wrestling tournament do you see a wrestler spring across the starting lines in a low single takedown attempt right off the whistle, while his opponents is still standing unready with his hands supported on his knees? The attack is sudden…in a blink of an eye…with no time to defend. The quick draw scores!

There is no special technique to performing this quick draw. Practice and efficiency are the only ways to acquire the skill. You should practice exploding off the whistle, driving through your opponent. Begin slowly, focusing on covering as much distance as possible. Make your movement powerful and explosive. Keep your head up. Make a full level change underneath the hands of your adversary and drive beyond him. Be efficient in your movements. Gradually increase the speed of this exercise with the goal of becoming as fast and as graceful as possible.

The concept of Luth-Cleas encompasses everything from simple cross-training for strength, speed and endurance to skills such as sleight-of-hand. The art of deception, combat dexterity, and skills such as the quick draw will enhance your total development as a wrestler, giving you the advantage when all else is equal.


Coach Doug R. (USA Wrestling Gold Level Coach)