The first rule of fight club might be to not talk about fighting, but that rule doesn’t seem to apply to Dambe. Taiwo, a 35-year-old fighter from Ogun State, Nigeria, tells the story of Dambe in a documentary from Nowness. Filmed by Alex Simpson and Sebastian Barros, “Dambe” explores the street fighting experience.
Dambe has similarities to other combat sports, but it is also unlike anything you’ve seen before. The match is fought in rounds of three. Victories are determined by points or by knocking your opponent out. What separates Dambe from other fighting styles is that Dambe fighters are restricted to a single arm. That arm and fist are wrapped in cotton or rope—not to protect the fighter’s hand, but to make the blows more devastating.
The striking arm serves as a “spear” while the other arm is used as a “shield.” Fighters also wear talismans and amulets to grant them protection or special abilities in their fights. Though Dambe originated in Northern Nigeria, it has become a national sport with the government actually funding the fights and the fighters. There is even a dedicated YouTube channel—Dambe Warriors—that has millions of views. Fighters are further supported by their fans, receiving gifts of money, cattle, or jewellery.
“Beyond the strikes and intimidating stares,” note Simpson and Barros, “there’s a depth to Dambe that you otherwise may not have known existed. The sport is steeped in tradition and surrounded by theories of supernatural protection and magical amulets.” That tradition is passed on to new fighters, even though very little training actually happens. Taiwo started fighting when he was only 10 years old. He didn’t learn the art from any dojo or school, but rather by watching other fighters and picking up on their tricks and strategies.
Dambe is quickly becoming a popular spectator sport, and thanks to YouTube, it is garnering international attention. “We have a culture that has been basically traditional and restricted to people in the community,” says Lolade Adewuyi, former editor of Goal.com, Nigeria, “but now you have an international audience taking a look at it and enjoying it.”