what is tahtib?
my interview with Yousef - november 2016
When do you play tahtib?
Tahtib is played in different occasions. Just as a pastime in afternoon or evening in the village, at moulids or for example at wedding parties. The host of the wedding party sends invitations to join the tahtib to the players of his village as well as the surrounding villages. A tahtib competition normally starts at about 4 pm and last for about 3 hours. After this, the players take a rest and have their dinner together. Then, the play will continue until 1 or 2 am in the morning.
Is tahtib a martial art?
No, it's not (it was originally, but the tahtib contests should not be seen as a martial art where the goal is to hit/fight or hurt someone). Tahtib is considered as a game. But the skills you need to play tahtib, will help you also to protect yourself in daily life. For example if someone wants to hit you or attacks you with a knife, you know how to defend yourself. But Tahtib itself is considered as a game, not as amartial art or a fight - it is strictly forbidden hurting each other.
As tahtib beeing considered a respectful game on a friendly basis, it is important each player learns the most important rules of behaviour from the beginning. If your opponent is older than you, as a sign of respect, you will let him start the game. How you start a tahtib? When holding the assaya straight up in the air above the head.
And if your opponent is a beginner or is more weak than you.... you should teach him while playing – instead of showing off your better skills in front of the audience.
What is the stick made of?
The stick is of bamboo (arab. kharazaan خرازان). Bamboo also grows in Egypt, but the tahtib players prefer using bamboo from Malta-Island as in their opinion it's a better quality and more suitable for their use.
What is most important for a beginner to learn?
One of the first things you should learn as a beginner is, to grasp the stick strongly in your hand. If you don't hold the stick firm and strong in your hand, the very first time your opponent hits your stick, it will fall out your hand. And of course then you already lost the game.
Other important advice: every time you hold your stick with both hands (above your head or in front or side of your body) your left hand should grasp the stick always from underneath! NEVER hold your stick with the back of your hand upside (still talking about left hand!) - your opponent easily can hit and hurt you with the assaya. And also in that case – you lose the game (and maybe leave it with a broken hand!)
And remember, your body is never stiff or rigid. Your body – upper and lower - should move accordingly to the movement of the stick. You align your steps to your arm movements and continue walking around in a circle – usually. Then when it comes to the focus moment, the players stop, stand, sit, kneel or even lay on the floor trying to protect their own „doors“ and finding the unprotected door of their opponent to earn some points and win the game.
So how do you win the game?
We already mentioned the „doors“ on the body – doors are for example the head, the jawbone, the ribs/chest, the hand, abdomen ect.. If you catch your opponent there (of course WITHOUT hitting him), because he couldn't protect this „door“ - you win the game. There is a referee at every competition, who overviews the game, calms down too excited players and counts the points to decide the final winner.
If you catch your opponent on the „head-door“ or on the jawbone you get 80 points. Here's the highest score, as a blow on the head would be lethal. For hitting the chest region - „only“ 60 points (as there is the chance to recover your broken ribs in hospital), the same for the „abdomen-door“. While concerning the leg-door it's 40 points.
Concerning the distribution of the points, I want to add a personal note.
I did interviews about tahtib with different players and I also heard someone talking about 10 or 100 points for the head-door and 1 for all other doors. This informations above – 80-60-40 points – is from Yousef, playing competitions since he is 20 years old and long-year tahtib trainer. I guess he knows his job very well. And I have to say, that I got from him the most complete informations until now.
And I was told, that there is no rules concerning the points. For each and every game the players could take an agreement before starting, how they would count the points. Doesn't change distribution of the points.... highest score for head and jawbone and so on.
Back to the game....
A referee is part of every game. His job is keeping an overview on the players and the game until the end beeing able to decide who is the winner, counting the points and – if necessary – stopping the game, if two opponents get to emotional or even angry and wants to start a real fight. Maybe one hit/touched the other accidentaly with his stick, then the other becomes angry and wants his revenge. So the referee will take them apart, finish the game and send them outside the playing area.
And what about the sequence of the men playing? There is no fix order. The men stand at the border of the area or even directly next to the men playing at the moment. After their game has finished (it can last from 20 seconds up to 1.30 or 2 min.) the men standing aside grab the sticks and start the next game.
There are also different informations about the sticks used for the tahtib competition. Someone told me, that there are the „sticks for the game“. It's 2 sticks whom get passed from each player to the next.
While Yousef told me, that this is not true. Due to his informations, a player could also bring his own stick into the game. For a simple and logical reason: the same way every men is different, more tall or more short, more strong or more weak – they need to use sticks with different length, weight and size according to their physical conditions and ability.
Imagine during the competition they used a heavy stick, but one of the players could not handle it, because he is to weak. That game would not be equal and fair.
The musicians do follow the dancers movements?
Yousef told me, that he – as a player, would listen to the music of the mizar and adjust his movements and his play to it. Though it is not necessary to have a musical accompaniment for the tahtib.
Every step/movement has a „meaning“. For example to open or start the game, you keep the assaya straight over your head and then (usually) go on with the „salam“ - the greeting. It's like saying „hello, how are you?“ to your opponent. Then there is a movement called „musalafa“ (I will have short video too) and if you use special movements to trick your opponent, these are called „musharala“ (and there are many other names).
The „trick“ is, to move your stick in a way to distract your opponent. For example concentrate on his legs so he will try to protect his lower body. In the meanwhile he forgets about his head and you can hit the „head-door“ - and win the game ;-)
Such a fascinating game!!! And when you are able to catch and recognize moves and things by yourself while watching a tahtib game, because you know some more informations about it – it is even more amazing!!!