African Martial Arts; What is it all about?

African martial arts are a vital part of society, from grappling and striking to self-defense. Learn about the history and styles of these fascinating arts.


When you think of Martial Arts, the first thing that pops up in everybody’s mind is the image of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. After that, it would be Asian Martial Arts like Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, etc. But what about African Martial Arts? What is it all about?

In this blog post, we will attempt to introduce African Martial Arts, its history briefly, and some of the more popular styles practiced on the continent.

So without further ado, let’s get into the African Martial Arts and their origins.

What are African Martial Arts?

African martial arts have evolved from various styles, including grappling and striking. These arts play an essential part in society, with organized competitions that are generally watched by thousands of people. Some popular African martial arts include dambe and Zulu stick fighting quite popular within the continent.

The martial arts type may differ, but the core values are usually the same. These values include discipline, focus, and respect.

African martial arts also help to instill a sense of pride and confidence in practitioners. It is not uncommon for people to refer to their martial art as a “way of life.” African martial arts can be traced back to the continent’s earliest history.

Over time, these techniques were refined and passed down through the generations. In addition to being used for self-defense, African martial arts were also used for hunting, ceremonial purposes, and entertainment.

“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.”

How many types of African martial arts are there?

You may notice certain similarities when watching the different types of martial arts. That is because many of these martial arts have common tactics and techniques. But make no mistake, each martial arts form has its unique flavor.

There are various types of African martial arts, including:


The Hausa people of Nigeria, Niger, and Chad practice the martial art dambé. This fighting has three rounds (no time limit) in which contestants must render their opponent helpless. While there are no specific weight divisions, competitors are matched by size based on appearance. Dambe is frequently done for pride, as a rite of passage, and as a war ritual.

african martial arts
Dambe is often practiced as a rite of passage. Photo credit:


The Engolo style is an Angolaian fighting art specializing in kicks and inverted postures. Albano Neves e Sousa, a writer, and artist, described the first mention of Engolo in writing when he illustrated various abilities and their similarities to Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian art form during the 1960s.


Istunka is a yearly event held in Afgooye, Somalia, during the new year. The tournament was created during the medieval Ajuran period and was centralized in the 19th century under the Sultanate of Geledi. It’s also observed with other customs such as Dabshiid.

african martial arts
Istunka, a tournament and yearly festival in Somalia. Photo credit:

Lutte Traditionnelle

Lutte Traditionnelle is a folk wrestling style practiced in nations in West Africa. The objective of this fighting style is to knock the opponent out of the boundaries or off their feet.


Despite its provenance in Madagascar, moraingy is a traditional fighting art that has grown in popularity throughout the country. It’s prevalent along the coast, although it’s found across the country. Moraingy has traveled to islands in the Indian Ocean region, including Reunion, Mayotte, Comoros, Seychelles, and Mauritius. Young men are initially excluded from participating in this sort of combat so that elders may evaluate their physical fitness and strength while allowing youth to gain prestige and display their abilities.


Nguni is a martial art that uses sticks as the primary form of weapon. It is a traditional style commonly practiced in South Africa by teenagers that are Nguni herdboys. The combatants use one stick for defense and the other for offense. Very little armor is actually used, making it a hazardous style to practice.

Nuba Fighting

Nuba fighting is a traditional sport often held after harvest to display the village’s young men’s prowess. The sport aims to build group identity and solidarity. Nuba martial arts styles are dangerous, and participants often pray before bouts for protection. If a participant is seriously injured, he or his family is compensated by the other village.


Tahtib is a traditional stick-fighting martial art that has its origins in Upper Egypt. It is now primarily practiced as performance art, but the martial aspects of the art are still evident in the techniques used. Tahtib is a very demanding discipline and requires a high level of skill and athleticism to master.

african martial arts
Zulu stick fighting in South Africa. Photo credit:

What makes African martial arts unique?

Each African martial art has a unique flavor and techniques that make it special. Each martial art has something different: stick fighting, fists, or legs. Additionally, many of these forms are steeped in tradition and passed down for generations for military training. It ensures that the techniques remain sharp and relevant.

African martial arts’ different traditions and techniques make it a vibrant and diverse combat discipline. It is an art worth exploring if you are interested in learning more about self-defense and the cultural traditions of Africa.

What is a basic history of Martial Arts in Africa?

Although the origins of martial arts in Africa may not be as well-documented as those from China and ancient Greece, it is no less critical. And what we do know is fascinating, with a vast range of approaches and specialties.

The earliest evidence for specifics of martial arts as practiced in the past comes from paintings and early literature, as well as analysis of archaeological proof, notably weapons.

The oldest surviving work of art depicting conflicts dates from 3400 BC and is the Ancient Egyptian paintings depicting some form of competition. Reliefs and poems documenting struggle dating back to 3000 BC have been discovered in Mesopotamia (Babylon).

Do African martial arts use any equipment? Sticks?

Yes, martial arts in Africa often use sticks as weapons. In some cases, only one stick is used for defense while the other is used for offense. For example, Nguni martial art uses sticks as the primary weapon; two sticks are used, one for security and the other for a violation.

Other equipment that is used in African martial arts includes fists, legs, and shields. Tahtib is a traditional stick-fighting martial art that originates in Upper Egypt and is now mainly practiced as a performance art, but the martial aspects.

Are African martial arts difficult to learn?

It depends upon the person learning; some might find it difficult, while others could excel. Different martial arts will have different levels of difficulty as well. For example, martial arts involve learning the techniques and developing the strength, stamina, and agility required to execute them properly. African martial arts often need a high level of skill and athleticism to master.

“Martial Arts in Africa was mainly for warfare and later became an avenue of dispute settling between friends, families, towns, villages and kingdoms. Also, as a way to woo maidens for marriage and show of extreme masculinity.”

Advantages of African martial arts

There are many benefits to learning African martial arts. Some of these benefits include:

●      Improvement in strength, stamina, and agility.

●      Improved self-defense skills.

●      Understanding of African culture and tradition.

●      An outlet for stress and aggression.

●      A way to connect with the community.

●      Respect for oneself and the opponent.

Disadvantages of African martial arts

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, and African martial arts are no different. Some of the disadvantages include:

●      The risk of injury.

●      It can be time-consuming to master the techniques.

●      It can be expensive to join a club or class.

●      It is hard on both body and mind.

●      It can be used to bully someone.

Are there many places that teach African martial arts? In Australia? UK? USA?

Yes, many places around the world teach African martial arts. Here is the list of sites that offer African martial art classes.


●      Australian martial arts academy (Studio 35/142 Addison Road. Marrickville NSW 2204)

●      Crocodile martial arts ( 10/47 OG Road, Klemzig SA 5087)


●      The martial arts place ( 88 Avenue Road, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3HA)

●      Mashufaa (


●      Elite martial arts Florida ( 1105 Palm Bay Rd NE #101, Melbourne, FL 32905)


African martial arts are a great way to improve physical fitness, learn self-defense, and connect with the African culture. However, like all martial arts like Brazilian jiu jitsu and Nuba wrestling, other styles include leg sweeps, and there is a risk of injury.

It is essential to be aware of the risks and take precautions to avoid injuries. For example, if you are considering learning African martial arts, find a reputable school with experienced instructors.

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