7 African Martial Arts You Probably Didn’t Know Are More Interesting Than WWE


Africa has always been a very interesting continent. Before the whites came, blacks had their own way of doing almost everything. They had religions, traditions cultures, different forms of entertainment and wrestling, was one of them. Other than the traditional form of wrestling, martial arts as a whole existed in Africa and was called different names by the different communities who practiced them. Today however, even though Africans prefer to watch WWE RAW and boxing with the likes of Mayweather, it does not obliterate the fact that martial arts still exists and most African don’t know it. Here are the different forms of martial arts that exist in different African communities.

1. Musangwe

Musangwe is a tradition of bare-knuckle fist fighting mostly practiced bu the Venda people of South Africa. It is believed that the Musangwe form of boxing helps young men to cope with present day challenges.

A fighter enters the ring and holds his arm out with a clenched fist. He circles the gathered men, waiting for someone to take him on. Soon another man holds out his fist and the fight is on as the two opponents circle each other warily. Suddenly the tension snaps and the two men are hitting wildly at each other. The spectators at this event are mostly men and boys as women are not allowed near the musangwe ring which is set in an ancient place called Chifude set between green rolling hills. The Musangwe fights can go on for days under the hot sun.

Musangwe today is seen as a way of teaching men to be brave and to stand fast in a time of joblessness and economic hardship. The matches start at an early age. The youngest category the “mambibi” consists of nine-to-12-year-olds.

Fist fighters battle during the Musangwe, an age old tradition where man and boys display their fighting skills, at Gaba Village in Limpopo province December 22, 2011. The annual Venda fist-fighting run by community leaders, attracts hundreds of men who engaged in several weeks of bare-knuckled amateur fights in front of screaming audiences in the area. The sport, which began three centuries ago among young bored farmhands of the Venda tribe, attracts scores of spectators who often walk miles to cheer their favourites under the searing summer sun. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

 2. Istunka

Istunka is a festival tournament held annually in Afgooye, Somalia on the Somali new year. It is a form of mock fighting between two opponents. In years past, the Istunka was a mock fight between the people residing on each side of the river bed in the town of Afgooye. It symbolized the defence of one’s community and honor and was originally performed in full combat gear, with battle-axes, swords and daggers. However, for safety reasons, performers these days replaced those weapons with large sticks or batons. The current fighting style has been around since the 17th century during the Somalian Sultanate of Geledi.


3. Dambe

Dambe or Kokuwa is a form of boxing associated with the Hausa people of Nigeria. The technique involved is unique in that the boxers fight with one hand. The boxer’s strong hand is covered in a wrap and called the spear. The other hand is free and called the shield. Kicking is allowed as well. Each match has three rounds and the boxers must knock their opponent out within that time frame.

Dambe was historically practiced by the Hausa butchers’ guild around harvest or festival time and was considered to be a test of bravery, a rite of passage for marriage, or preparation for war. Many of the techniques and terminology allude to warfare. Today, companies of boxers travel, performing outdoor matches accompanied by ceremony and drumming, throughout the traditional Hausa homelands of northern Nigeria, southern Niger and southwestern Chad. These days, people who involve in dambe do it for fame or the money.

oung Dambe boxers during a match.

4. Engolo or Ngolo

The Engolo or Ngolo style of fighting involves various kicks, dodges, and leg sweeps, with an emphasis on inverted positions, i.e. with one or more hands on the ground. The techniques are said to be derived from the peculiar way in which Zebras fight amongst themselves. It is sometimes performed in public and other times in private as a ritual rite of passage for young men in local tribes around the Cunene river area in Southern Angola. It is believed that this style was transported through the African diaspora in the form of Brazilian martial arts.


 5. Lutte Traditionnelle

Since the 1950s, a number of West African traditions have been assimilated into Lutte Traditionnelle as it has become a major spectator sport and cultural event practiced in Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Gambia. Two fighters compete in a circular ring, in more formal events bound by sand bags. Each fighter attempts to eject the other from the ring, though they can win by knocking the other off their feet or onto all fours. The sport has different variations that include punching in some countries.


6. Nuba Wrestling

This is one of the most popular wrestling styles in Africa, and it is done by the Nuba people in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state, in southern Sudan. It involves both stick fighting and wrestling. The goal of Nuba wrestling is to slam the opponent to the ground. No pinning and no submissions. Although there are strikes, these are essentially part of the grappling; in other words, this is not a boxing system. The style is relatively recreational and as such, serious injuries are rare. Nuba is historically practiced naked, but in towns today, it is practiced in T-shirts and shorts.

Nuba wrestling tournaments are associated with planting and harvest festivals. The purpose of the wrestling at these festivals is to build group identity and display the prowess of young men. At Nuba wrestling matches, youths represent their villages rather than themselves.

Tira Limon, Nuba Mountains, Sudan. January 2001. A wrestling match . A Nuba tradition that has endured and Êallowed them to survive and foster tribal and inter-tribal relationships.

7. Tahtib

Tahtib is the Modern Egyptian term for a stick fighting martial art. It is a stick-fighting martial art that originated in north Africa and dates back to the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt or Kemet. The main goal in a Modern Tahtib attack is to reach the opponent’s head with the stick. Since the head is considered as being the most important, fragile, and vulnerable part of the body, most combat techniques in Modern Tahtib revolve around the protection of one’s own head and reaching the head of the opponent.


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