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7 African Martial Arts You Probably Didn’t Know Existed


According to Slate, “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.” The west African boxing style is extremely popular in Nigeria, southern Niger and Chad, where 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 allowed as well. Each match has three rounds and the boxers must knock their opponent out within that time frame.


Lutte Traditionnelle

Lutte Traditionnelle or traditional wrestling is a west African type of fighting that is commonly practiced in Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Gambia. The goal of this form of wrestling is to get your opponent outside of a ring. They can also be knocked down.  The sport has different variations that include punching in some countries. As the sport has grown, there have become more international competitions.


Engolo or Ngolo

Engolo is practiced around the Cunene river area in Southern Angola. Some historians have said that the fighting style is part of a rite of passage for young people in the tribes located in the area. This style relies on the movement of the legs. Kicking and leg sweeps are a vital part in taking down your opponent. It is believed that this style has been transported through the African diaspora in the form of Brazilian martial arts.




There is a festival in Afgooye, Somalia on the Somali new year where this mock fighting takes place. In years past, males used real weapons and put on armor to fight, however, now sticks are used. The current fighting style has been around since the 17th century during the Somalian Sultanate of Geledi.



Musangwe is a South African form of bare fist fighting and boxing. The Venda people, which includes various cultural groups, have been practicing this martial art for centuries. The fights have taken place in the Chifude Valley since its inception.


Nuba Wrestling

The popular style of wrestling comes from south Sudan. The Nuba people have been wrestling for centuries and like other forms of wrestling, the objective is to get your opponent on their back. Historically, wrestlers would fight naked but now it is more common to fight in shorts and t-shirts. The younger wrestlers are trained by former champions, creating a system of community and sharing of talents. Most of the tournaments occur during planting and harvesting festivals.



This stick-fighting martial art originates in north Africa and dates back to the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt or Kemet. The reliefs from the archaeological site of Abusir shows the stick dance in detail. The fighters used a four-foot stick called an Asa, Asaya, Assaya, or Nabboot while they performed to music. This fighting style was instrumental in the training of the Egyptian soldiers, along with archery and wrestling. “Far south of the Nile is Ethiopia, home to the aggressive stick fighting art of the Suri people,” reports Vice. This style of fighting can be seen in a variety of geographic areas.


Written by PH

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