- Damenga hails from West Africa
- Slowly becoming an official sport
Where does the inspiration for Swordsfall come from? In this edition, we'll talk about Dambe, one of the coolest martial arts you've never heard of.
In Swordsfall I try to always find a real-life inspiration from Africa whenever possible. From the scenery to the climate, to the color to the culture. For the sort of world I want to show, I find it really important to dig into history rather than go with what I know.
Since combat is so integral to the RPG experience and a world as a whole, it was a foregone conclusion that martial arts would come up. Where there are humans, there's fighting. And over time we always make it a system, an art. So back in August of 2018, I started looking into various indigenous fighting styles that came from Africa. One of the first ones I found when I started researching was called Dambe.
It originates with the Hausa people of West Africa, with Nigeria seeming to be where it started. It's a striking style with very little grappling. An ancient sport that focuses on hitting with your “sword” and “shield”.
The Sword and Shield
The “Sword” however is just the lead hand wrapped in a type of rope or wrapping. Once upon a time, they would even dip it in resin and glass. It makes you think of those scenes from Bloodsport. These days though, they leave out the glass. The other half of the combo, the “Shield” is an open hand and is used for blocking, and grabbing.
The goal is simple, get the opponent to the ground. Either on their back, hands, knees or simply knocked the hell out.
The videos I found on Youtube showed a fast and often brutal martial art. There is a lot of nuances to be found in how they were fighting. The Sword hand is almost like a club and usually what you score a knockout with. The first assumption is to just go full force, swinging the Sword wildly.
That's where the Shield comes in. The open palm lets you either defend by parrying the arm (very karate style) or grabbing the arm to control their movement (very aikido style), or using THAT to strike with.
I'm a huge martial arts nerd as well as dabbler, and it was really intriguing seeing all the various elements of other martial arts in it. You can see Thai clinches and one hand collar ties. I've seen beautiful spinning heel kicks and actual, proper uppercuts (Ask any high-level striker about movie uppercuts and watch them froth at the mouth). And of course, jaw-dropping uppercuts. It's a martial art that's certainly not for everyone, but the sport is looking to add in more padding for matches. Planning to copy a model like the UFC where you have small 6 to 8 ounce gloves
In the end, all I'm going to say on the violence front is, everyone seemed to like watching IP Man…soo…
Overall Dambe was the kind of martial art and sport that would absolutely fit in Swordsfall. So you know, I had to get it that Afropunk flavor and spice to elevate it to that next level. With that, I came up with the main hand to hand profession of Swordsfall, the Damenga.
The Damenga is a Profession that borrows from Dambe. Or rather you could say that Dambe is the underpinning of the profession. Retaining the Sword and Shield of the hands and infusing it with magical abilities and a bit more.
First and foremost though was I wanted to elevate the sport to a level of respect that much of the news I read didn't give it. When you go through the sources, not of the language they use when they talk about it. While there's no doubt that many of them do it for desperately needed money, it's nothing different than what happens in boxing. Instead, I wanted to focus on the spirit and tradition that goes into the art and emerging sport. And also make it cool as hell.
It's a profession that's about turning your whole body into a weapon that's ready to strike at anytime. There's a sense of control that a Damenga has that turns every moment into an opportunity. By concentrating Ether into their fist they are able to make them transcend flesh and into something else. A closed fist becomes a Sword that can pierce almost anything. With an open hand comes a Shield that can deflect the strongest of blows. And that's just what the beginners can do. A Damenga's skill extends to knees, elbows, headbutts, and anything that brings about the end of a fight.
They aren't solitary fighters wandering in the dark to pick a fight, however. Far from it. To become a weapon requires constant practice and dedication. Damengas train with fellow practitioners of the art. Together they fight and bond, and together they travel. As a group, they push each other to become a better person and a sharper weapon. Fight a Damenga if you choose, just know, they aren't alone.
- Daily Mail – Fight Club Nigerian Style https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2759363/Fight-Club-Nigerian-style-The-brutal-West-African-martial-arts-tradition-country-s-culture-centuries.html
- The New York Times – These Boxers Fight With Cord Wrapped Around Their Fists https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/12/sports/dambe-boxing.html
- Battabox (Youtube) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD3-bZrdqKk
- Slate – Behind the Ancient Art of Nigerian Dambe Boxing https://slate.com/culture/2014/06/jane-hahn-documenting-dambe-boxing-in-nigeria-photos.html
- CNN – Dambe https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/08/africa/august-udoh-dambe-nigeria/index.html
- The New Yorker – Dambe in Lagos https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/dambe-in-lagos
- Voa News – Dambe Fight in Lagos Showcases Nigerian Diversity, Division https://www.voanews.com/africa/dambe-fight-lagos-showcases-nigerian-diversity-division
- MadeGood – Dambe is a West African Combat Sport https://www.madegood.com/tv/dambe/
- Alijazeera – Dambe: How an ancient form of Nigerianboxing swept the internet https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/dambe-ancient-form-nigerian-boxing-swept-internet-180608112430973.html