For years, I've been always wondering, does my country have a martial art? I looked for it in sporting competitions, nothing the only martial arts practiced in sport events are Asian and Western martial arts. Just recently thanks to the net I've discovered that the answer was right under my nose. Yes, an Egyptian martial art does exist and it's called Egyptian stick fencing more commonly known as "Tahtib".
Tahtib is the Ancient Egyptian art of stick fencing which is also a famous egyptian folk dance that's considered an African martial art, it is the oldest and possibly the one of the last surviving form of Ancient Egyptian Martial Arts alongside Wrestling and Fencing.
The ancient Egyptians performed stick fencing or stick fighting as a tribute to the pharaoh. This type of fencing was probably based on actual fighting systems used in combat with a shield and a sword - as with the wooden bukko in Kendo (see link below) - which then evolved into a system with its own rules and methods. The fighting stick does not appear to have been used as a battlefield weapon (In Egyptian Warfare and Weapons, Ch. 5), and so it seemed to be primarily a training tool and/or sport. There were advantages of teaching stick fighting, along with other combat sports such as a wrestling, the main advantage being that the Egyptian army could be kept trained and ready for war. In many respects it resembles the sport of single stick.
Like other martial arts of the world which are tied cultural to dance and music traditions, such as Brazilian Capoiera and Indonesian Silat, Tahtib is a special art form in that it combines both real combat aspects, and aesthetic aspect, and the concept of The Game or Play. There are five distinct areas of study in Tahtib, and a recognized expert in one may not necessarily know much about another. The modern style of highly choreographed Tahtib dance seen in stage performances in the Middle East is far removed from the wild nature of play seen at festivals and other social gatherings, where real blows get mixed in with the game of fakes and counters.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics indicate that Tahtib along with Sebekkah were the primary fighting styles taught to the Egyptian military. Royal families were trained in an advanced style of these arts at a very young age to deter assasination attempts. Much of what was known of Sebekkah and Tahtib have been lost, but there are still a few authentic practitioners believed to inhabit Egypt.
There is NO historical evidence to prove how Tahtib was created. However, there is historical evidence referencing the Pharaoh Menes (c305-285BCE), who unified Egypt and his desire to have the world's greatest army. Supposively, he invited the greatest warriors throughout all of Africa, India, and several other locations in the Middle-East to train his armies. This was probably the catalyst for the first Olympic Games. Elements of Tahtib can found in the more well known martial arts of the world; namely Eskrima (Filipino Stick Fighting), White Eyebrow Kung Fu (Bak Mei), Pencak Silat, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Hwa Rang Do, Ninjitsu, and various Capoiera styles.
Some assumptions have to be made in order to understand the stick fighting technique of the ancient Egyptians. Their rules were probably simple and few, and there are two schools of thought on the main objective: the contest was one of either endurance or skill. There is stronger evidence, however, that the game was one of skill and that striking the head was a primary goal.
Several types were practised during religious ceremonies, processions and as sport or game and sometimes in fights in ancient Egypt. It is still practised in ceremonies especially during "Ramadan" (Islamic fasting month) where dancers using long (4') rattan sticks in a dancing solo or in a mock fight.
The basics of Tahtib are very similar to those demonstrated by African Martial Arts Experts, this is no surprise, because of the link through Egypt. The term "Naboot" refers to the staff in both arts. The hanging guard and the overhead exhanges predominate these matches, with much faking and other stylisticic elements that involve energy sensitivity and a counter-for-counter flow. It can be practiced in different ways:
1) It is practiced as a true martial art from horseback known as “Horse Stepping”
2) It is practiced as a true martial art on foot
3) It is practiced as a combative dance between men
4) It is practiced as a solo, more social dance by men
5) It is mimicked in a flirty or cute version of the real movements by women
6) It is also used in Streetfights or Gang wars in Egypt.
The regular stick, called Asa or Asaya, Shoum or Nabboot, used for Tahtib is about 4 feet long, but when playing from horseback the stick is closer to 12 feet long. The importance of horses, and the realities of fighting from them, are mimicked in the dance. The men charge one another, and then circle in a dynamic spiral, exchanging blows and trying to find the open line on which to attack while covering their own open lines, which is the same way they would fight from horseback. One type of footwork used in dancing the Tahtib is even referred to as “Horse Stepping”.
Stick fencing is still popular among modern-day Egyptians, particularly during the month of Ramadan. Stick fighting (usually a mock fight, but sometimes someone will force it to become real) and stick dancing is performed during marriage ceremonies. It is called tahteeb or tahtib and still practiced in northern Egypt. The basics of Tahtib are very similar to those demonstrated by African Martial Arts experts, although this comes as no surprise because of the link through Egypt. The hanging guard and the overhead exhanges predominate these matches, with much faking and other stylistic elements that involve energy sensitivity and a counter-for-counter flow. The fight is accompanied by drummers, and is an event with its own ceremony and rules of conduct like a Capoiera.
The stick itself is about four feet in length and is called an Asa, Asaya or Assaya, or Nabboot. It is often flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body with such speed and violence that the displacement of air is loudly discernible. There is another form practiced from horseback known as “Horse Stepping” which uses a stick that is nearly 12 feet long.
The stick is regarded as a symbol of masculinity, i.e. a phallus. Although the dance form originally started as male-only, there are women who perform dressed as men and dance with other women. Another female version of stick dancing has been developed with a flirtatious and generally less aggressive style, and incorporated into cabaret or "belly dance." The stick used for this type of dancing is generally thinner, more lightweight and hooked at one end like a cane, and generally embellished with metallic-coloured foil or sequins. The costume worn is usually folkloric: a simple Beledi dress, although Raqs al Assaya (Dance of the Stick) is often performed as part of the popularized cabaret dance set. Performance styles include balancing the cane on head, hip or shoulder.
The music used in Tahtib features the tahvol (bass drum) and oud (shrill pipe). The tahvol is a double-sided drum worn with a shoulder strap so it hangs sideways in front of the drummer and is played with two sticks. The right hand uses a heavier stick with a hooked head to beat out the "dooms" which drive the heartbeat of the rhythm, while the left hand uses a light twig as a switch to produce rapid-fire staccato "kahs". (Doom = the deep sound from striking the center of the drum with the right hand or with a knobbed stick; Kah = the higher sound from striking the edge of the drum with the left hand or with a light switch). There's a table for this at http://www.alliancemartialarts.com/tahtib.html
Stick fighting has also been used to settle disputes between members of rival families, mostly in the Egyptian countryside.
This takes me back to the sport event issue, Tahtib isn't considered an official sporting event in Egypt, which is just wrong although there are contests in the countryside and in Upper Egypt. If they're worried about injuries then they don't have to use a real staff and they can use safety gear.
I hope you guys found this information useful, I might do more research on Ancient Egyptian Fencing and Wrestling someday. Here are some Tahtib pictures:
NOTE: This is an updated article i've written in martial art forums and I've taken parts from the article on Wikipedia which i also helped contribute to.