Traditional wrestling is an integral part of folk culture in Central Asia and has always played an important role in the nomads' everyday and social life. As revealed by ethnographic studies and petrographic re-composition of fragments, traditional wrestling in Central Asia has historically been associated with the use of a belt. Although numerous variations can be identified accross the regions, they all rely on similar principles and bear common etymological roots: kures in Kazakhstan, kuresh in Uzbekistan, gulesh in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, or kuryash in Tatarstan and Bashkiria. They are all based on strength and balance and conceived as a symbol or courage and pride.
Kazakh kures followed its own path of development throughout the centuries. During the Saks period (5th to 2nd centuries B.C.), wrestling had an educational purpose and served as development of physical resistance. Most interestingly, it was not restricted to men. Ancient Greek writer Claudius Elia reported that if a Saks man wanted to marry, he had to fight his future wife. If the man lost the fight, the woman would have control over him. Only the strongest men were thus in a position of power in ancient Kazakhstan. Italian traveller Marco Polo also mentioned in his writings that the art of wrestling was part of the preparation of Kazakh warriors and that girls fought equal to boys.
Wrestling was strongly interlinked with religion and politics and even reported as having played a role in the islamisation of Kazakhstan that started in the 19th century. Historian Abilkazy Bahadurhan wrote that one of the lords of Churas announced he would become a Muslim if he won the fight against the strongest wrestler. The strongest of the Mongols was brought to fight and the lord hit him in the chest, leaving the wrestler uncouncious. Churas embraced Islam on the same day and was followed by 160'000 people. The best wrestlers were known by all Kazakh people and the winners of the most prestigious competitions were awarded prizes made of gold, silver, and precious metals. Kures has also often been referred to in Kazakh literature. Fights of baluans (wrestlers) are mentioned in the poem "Kulager" by famous writer Ilyas Zansugirov and in the novel "Ulpan" by Gabit Musirepov.
The first modern competition of Kazakh kures was held in Almaty in 1938 as part of the republican tournament of farmers. A large number of participants wished to enter the wrestling competition and three divisions had to be created: lightweight (under 65 kg), middleweight (under 76 kg), and heavyweight (over 76 kg). Wrestlers S. Adaskanov, K. Altibasarov, and I. Tumenov were crowned champions. The tournament played an important role in the popularization of Kazakh kures throughout the country and was followed by a second edition held in Semei in 1939. In addition to the three weight divisions, an absolute contest was held and won by the native of Western Kazakhstan, Doskaliev. 1940 and the celebration of the twenty years of the Republic of Kazakhstan provided opportunities to expand Kazakh kures abroad and include new techniques. 2 weight divisions were added and new champions were crowned: Baydauletov in featherweight division, Kurmanbaev in lightweight division, Tolegenov in middlerweight division, McMann in welterweight division, and Zhumabayev in heavyweight division.
In 1952, a tournament was held in Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, between wrestlers from Kazakhstan and other republics of Central Asia. Five experts of the neighbour countries considered that the methods used in Kazak kures were best approaching the true nature of classic wrestling and ought to be used as main rules throughout the countries. In 1955, the weight categories were expanded to eight and the general rules of Kazakh kures were adopted. Hundreds of years of orally transmitted traditions were laid down in a rulebook thanks to Muzafar Rakymkulov's intervention, still referred to as the founding father of modern kures. In 1959, the second summer tournament of the USSR took place in Moscow. Experts and trainers of all national wrestling styles attended a seminar to assess the competition rules and draw up an inventory of the various wrestling traditions. Rules of Kazakh kures, Georgian chidaoba, and Moldavian trynta were highly appreciated by the pool of experts.
Kazakh kures takes place in standing position only. Wrestlers can grab their uniform or belt and use leg trips to force their opponent to the mat, but they are not allowed to hold the legs. Some of the typical holds are similar to those used in Greco-Roman wrestling and several Olympic medallists, including Daulet Turlykhanov and Saksylik Ushkempirov, have a Kazakh kures background. The sport is governed on the international level by the World Kazakh Kures Federation that became a member of FILA in 2010. A partnership agreement was signed by the FILA President and WKKF President on the occasion of the 5th World Wrestling Games held in Astana on 22-23 October 2010.