Urhobo Blow (UB): A True Martial Art and Sport?

Urhobo Blow or UB, Ubi ejeh [meaning: service of punches] or Ohore r’ubi [meaning: battle of punches], is a traditional martial art developed or modified by the Urhobos for military purposes, originally, but has been witnessed in recent times as a ceremonial contest of strength by young males at annual or seasonal festivals. UB has its similarities with mainstream boxing but the differences are quite divergent. Many ethnic groups along coastal West Africa have their own idiosyncratic boxing and wrestling arts but the main distinguishing feature of UB is that the knock-out punch hand is placed by fighters on their backs just above the buttocks during fights. UB is gradually becoming extinct due to lack of both funding, organisation, and exposure but may make a glorious comeback as a mixed martial art of international importance. What makes UB special and worthy of attention?

UB can be lethal or pre-lethal. Its lethality comes from its original use in inter-community and inter-ethnic “wars”. Oral tradition holds that Urhobo warriors were strong fighters but outside the use of weapons were also skilled wrestlers. However, it was found that wrestling was useful for one-to-one fighting only, UB thus was evolved to increase the number of men a warrior could fight with the strength expended in a single fight of wrestling. The military version included a lot of dirty tricks that could incapacitate enemies very quickly. Jaw-smashing, retinal detachment, Adam’s Apple busting, nose splitting, testicle flattening, bowel movement enforcement were some of the objects of the art. It was particularly useful against enemies who knew nothing about it.

The ceremonial form of UB much tamer and suitable for spectacle. A genuine and amazing sport, it is long observed to be more a test of speed, mental alertness and athletic coordination than sheer strength. Many strong and good fighters have been thoroughly embarrassed in a UB arena by opponents they could easily defeat in a typical street-fight. UB has its own clear rules and features and produces champions of those who master the art. One must be a proven competent traditional wrestler before he becomes accepted into a guild of UB fighters, which are now rare.

The first main feature of UB is that its object is defeating the opponent by inflicting punches on him. A fight is either won by knock-out or submission [due to sustaining injury]. Roughly two-thirds of the fights end in draws. The punches range is very limited. The jabbing hand is usually the weaker one, Obor r’ive, [meaning: the second hand], and is primarily used to deliver lead punches to create opportunities for the stronger hand usually in the form of combinations. Some fighters can use the weaker hand to deliver knock-out punches, the strong hand on their backs.

Committed UB fighters (there are no professionals) usually train their arms to be similarly dexterous. The stronger arm, Obor r’Ode [meaning: big hand] or Obor r’Ozighe [meaning: hand of terror], is delivered mostly as a roundhouse punch, Kperivwi [meaning: Go to the Land of the Ancestors], swung from its place on the back of the fighter at the opponent; if it connects with the jaw of the opponent has to be reset by a traditional doctor. A few fighters use mainstream tactics, strictly. Ubituevu [meaning: the diarrhoea punch] is a roundhouse punch which delivered effectively to stomach causes the recipient to instantly poop his pants!

The second main feature is the stance of the fighter which gives him the most upright support. Unlike boxing where the fighter’s legs are usually close together, the UB fighter keeps his feet as far apart as is useful. This gives the fighter much stability and aids the moving of the upper body from the path of a Kperivwi. UB fighters had been doing this routinely for centuries before Muhammad Ali made it famous. If the left hand is the stronger, the left leg would be behind and vice versa. The deft footwork of the fighter in maintaining and regaining balance, deceiving and teasing the opponent, and for crucial offensive and defensive movements often tends to be the most technical part of a contest, much stamina is required.

The third main feature of UB is that the wide spacing between the feet makes the front vulnerable to Ofro’owor [leg snatching], which allows a fighter to catch the ankle of an opponent and fell him; it is a legitimate move. It is forbidden to hit a man fallen by tripping, slipping, leg pulling or punches. Leg snatching is usually used to weaken the opponent’s confidence since it generates much humour and sometimes ridicules from spectators. Furthermore, leg snatching is a very risky move and fighters only resort to it when they calculate its safe to do it. Over a quarter of all knock-outs arise from miscalculations for leg snatching; it exposes the fighter and prevents him at that moment from using either hand effectively for defence.

There are no active referees during a UB contest. However, there are passive referees on the lines, Useri [meaning: witnesses], that would intervene or terminate a fight if one or both fighters resort to any form of foul play or an injury is sustained. Dirty fighters are rare in the sport. You can always be assured of a fair fight. Fighters also do have their trainers on the lines. Furthermore, there are no time-outs or breaks during a fight. Once a fight starts it is only stopped after a knock-out, a submission, the expiry of the fight time-limit [5 to 20 mins] or an intervention by the Useri.

The reader can judge for themselves if UB is a viable and worthy martial cum sport from the description given above.

I would sincerely, like to know your opinion of the sport. Thank you

Grimot Nane

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