Ancient Egyptian martial art enters modern world, opens to women
Author: Salwa Samir Posted April 21, 2017
Both fate and her fondness for tahteeb, a stick-fighting type of martial arts, played a role in the life of Rania Medhat, the first Egyptian woman ever certified as an instructor in this art, which dates back to the days of the pharaohs.
“I am the first woman [in Egypt] ever to play and teach tahteeb,” Medhat, 24, proudly told Al-Monitor. Medhat is a physical education teacher at a girls-only school in Nekheila village, in the Upper Egypt governorate of Assuit.
She has long adored tahteeb. “I have been fond of this art since my childhood. I’ve always watched the competitors’ performances in the Egyptian cinema because in Upper Egypt, women are not allowed to attend among the spectators,” she said.
The history of tahteeb dates back to the Old Kingdom of Egypt, also known as the Age of the Pyramids, which ran from roughly 2700 to 2150 B.C.
Engravings of the sport have been found at the Necropolis of Abusir. The martial art was one of three taught to soldiers during their training, along with wrestling and archery.
Tahteeb evolved into a stylized stick-dancing game, practiced since the New Kingdom (roughly 1550 to 1077 B.C.). Depictions of tahteeb performances at festivals have been found engraved in walls of Luxor and Saqqara. Today, Upper Egyptian men perform tahteeb as a folkloric art on religious and festive occasions such as weddings.
On Nov. 30, the art of tahteeb was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Medhat’s journey started at the beginning of this year, when she was selected by the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, a nongovernmental organization based in Cairo, to take part in a modern tahteeb training course in Cairo. The course was taught by Adel Boulad, the founder of modern tahteeb.
Medhat completed the 30-day training program in February and became Egypt’s first certified female player and instructor of tahteeb. Her team is currently being developed in Nekheila.
“I didn’t find any difficulty in learning tahteeb itself. All it needs is concentration and flexibility, which I already have as a physical education teacher,” she said. She added that her family…