Ancient Egyptian martial art revived and revisited

Deena Douara
3 Min Read

The sport is, by some descriptions, a masculine and sometimes bloody martial art. More commonly, however, it is described as a quaint folkloric village dance.

It is not a dance, explains Tahteeb trainer Mohamady Fathi. It is an artistic sport.

Tahteeb is an authentically Egyptian sport which appears as an unpretentious version of fencing – long sticks are wielded between two (male) fighters who defend themselves through parrying and blocking with various poses and stick holds.

Located mostly in Upper Egypt among the Sa’ayda, it is said that the sport/dance/art traces its roots back to Pharaonic times. Today the sport is a disappearing one, only the dance version performed at Saiidi weddings and for some tourists.

It is part of our heritage . Egypt needs an Egyptian game that everyone can see and recognize as Egyptian, says Fathi, who is a trainer for the National Folkloric Team and offers Tahteeb lessons thought up by Director Mohamed Abdel Monem ElSawy at the Sawy Culture Wheel.

We are trying to revive [Tahteeb], he says.

ElSawy s vision, however, incorporates gamier additions to original elements.

The sport is traditionally performed to tabla (traditional drum) beats and muzmar baladi (long Egyptian flutes), an element included in all the lessons.

To keep things safe though, foam and leather sticks are used for attack rather than wood. This is probably a good thing, as a hit to the head earns the attacker three points.

Traditionally the men wear galabayas and amamas (head caps) while competing but Fathi only requires this during performances.

The lessons are also open to all ages, nationalities, and genders. Fathi says he has trained a few girls and a 60-plus couple, though most of those interested are males in their 20s and 30s. These men don t necessarily have a cultural link to Upper Egypt. They have often just seen a performance somewhere which grabbed their attention.

Additionally Fathi explained that Tahteeb is very good for physical fitness, muscle-building, weight loss, stretching, and concentration.

The National Folkloric Team has traveled around the world to folkloric festivals, attracting international fans to the sport. Fathi says a group of Australians in London once wanted to learn the sport to teach it in their schools back home.

Tahteeb lessons are held at the Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek but must be reserved in advance. Fathi says El Sawy is also trying to introduce the sport at Gezira Sporting Club.

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