When you hear “martial arts,” what probably comes to mind are Japanese or Chinese fighting styles, or perhaps Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Israeli Krav Maga, or Muay Thai. However, you might not know that Africa also has an extensive martial arts culture! Here are some African martial arts that you may just be hearing about for the first time.

Lutte Traditionnelle

Literally “Traditional wrestling” in French, Lutte Traditionelle refers to the body of West African wrestling disciplines that have been handed down over time without being recognized as official sports. LT can feature punches, grappling, and takedowns, all in the name of pushing your opponent out of the ring.


Another West African creation, this boxing style comes from the Hausa people, an ethnic group with a strong cultural history. Dambe was practiced by the butcher clans of the Hausa for a variety of purposes, including preparation for war, and entertainment at festivals. Dambe is superficially similar to boxing from Ancient Egyptian times, suggesting that the two may be related.


Also spelled NGolo, this martial art is thought to have been a component of a historic rite of passage, known as Omuhelo, which is held among boys fighting over a girl to marry. Engolo features leg sweeps, kicks, and quite uniquely, inverted positions, with one’s hands flat on the ground. Engolo is said to have been inspired by the way zebras fight.

Bonus: Capoeira

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines song and dance with rhythmic motions. Did you know that it has its roots in African martial arts as well? Capoeira was invented in the 16th century by African slaves brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonists. Because they were banned from learning any fighting skills, the slaves hid their strikes and kicks in the form of a dance-like martial art set to music.


What do you think of these African martial arts? Have you ever seen any of them practiced or used in combat?