Middle Eastern Fighting Styles

By Savannah McDermott

The ancient cultures of the Middle East have long and extensive ties to the martial arts, each partaking in regionally practiced fighting styles as well as creating its own home-grown techniques and forms. These styles are unique to these cultures and play a special role in the traditions and societies of the Middle East.

Varzesh-e Pahlavani

This style, originating in pre-Islamic Persia (modern-day Iran), is a form of wrestling consisting of a set of dance-like movements. Originally created in the 11th century BC as a combat style for Persian armies, it has over the centuries developed into a spiritual, moral and philosophical system that is said to convey a well-rounded representation of Iranian mores and values. The style utilized a pair of wooden clubs, a bow and a shield, all of which are generally used in individual training rather than in combat or sparring. It also uses a group of simple musical instruments which lead the participants in choreographed movements meant to help them tap into the spirituality of the sport.

Tahtib

An Egyptian art originating nearly 4,000 years ago, Tahtib is the practice of choreographed mock fighting using 4-foot wooden sticks. It resembles Brazilian capoeira in that it is performed within a circle of onlookers to a rhythmic tune. The dance/fighters are accompanied by a bass drum and a high-pitched pipe, and they make wide circles and figure-eights over their heads with the stick as the tempo and pitch of the music escalate. The collisions of the opponents' sticks are timed with the climax of the music. The goal of the game is to make contact with the opponent's head, midsection or legs with the stick.

Krav Maga

Developed in the 1940s by Israeli paramilitaries, this hand-to-hand combat style is practiced as a violent and aggressive combination of self-defense and simultaneous offensive moves. It lacks the philosophical and spiritual element of many martial arts and is largely focused on violence. It has been adopted by many US police forces, counter-terrorism organizations and all sectors of the Israeli armed forces. It has also achieved worldwide popularity as a method of individual self-defense and fitness, as the training is a vigorous regimen of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Krav-Maga is a horizontal system that makes use of all sorts of common objects for defensive purposes. Instructors teach students throws and falls to all directions and angles, as well as the art of the attack and counterattack.

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