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

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

Urhobo Blow (UB), Ubi ejeh [service of punches] or Ohonre r’ubi [battle of punches], is a traditional martial art developed by the Urhobos for military action, but in recent times, it became a contest of strength by young males at annual or seasonal festivals. UB has its similarities with mainstream boxing, but the differences are steep. Many ethnic groups in Africa have their own boxing and wrestling arts. Still, the distinct feature of UB is that fighters place their knock-out punch hand on their backs just above the buttocks during fights. UB is over the years is becoming extinct due to lack of interest and exposure, but may make a big comeback as a mixed martial art of international status. UB was once a source of great community pride and made heroes. So, what makes UB worthy of attention?

The art of UB can be lethal or crippling to its victims. Its danger comes from its original use in inter-community and inter-ethnic wars. Oral tradition holds that Urhobo warriors were fearsome fighters, skilled in using weapons and wrestling. However, common knowledge tells us wrestling is useful for one-to-one fighting only. UB’s evolution was thus to increase the number of men a warrior could fight with the same amount of strength spent in a single wrestle. It was less efficient to fight on the ground. The warrior version of UB included a lot of dirty tricks that could incapacitate enemies fast. Jaw-smashing, eye blinding, Adam’s Apple busting, nose splitting, testicle flattening, and bowel movement enforcement were some objects of the art. UB was most effective against enemies who knew nothing about it.

The ceremonial form of UB is much tamer and suitable for events. A genuine and fantastic sport, long-time observers regard it as more a test of speed, mental alertness, and athletic skill than sheer strength. Omasasare oye ohonre [Agility is the fight]. Opponents have embarrassed many strong and good fighters in a UB arena, men who could defeat them with ease in street-fights. UB has its own clear rules and features, and produces champions of those who master the art. One must be a competent traditional wrestler and dancer. Then he can join a guild of UB fighters, now rare.

The first key feature of UB is its object; defeating the opponent by inflicting punches on him. Knock-out or submission wins a fight [because of injuries or referee stoppages]. Around two-thirds of the contests end in draws. The range of punches is very limited. The jabbing hand is the weaker one, Obor r’ive, [meaning: the second hand], and fighters use it to deliver lead punches and create opportunities for the stronger hand, as combinations. Some fighters can use the weaker hand to deliver knock-out punches, the strong-hand placed on their backs.

Committed UB fighters (there are no professionals) train their arms to be equally able. The stronger arm, Obor r’Ode [big hand] or Obor r’Ozighe [the hand of terror], fighters use it mostly as a roundhouse punch, Kperivwi [Go to the Land of the Ancestors]. The punch swings from the fighter’s back at opponents. If it connects the opponent’s jaw, it will need resetting by a traditional doctor. A few fighters use unknown tactics to surprise opponents. Ubituevu [meaning: the diarrhoea punch] is a roundhouse punch which when landed on the stomach causes the recipient to poop his pants instantly!

The second key feature is the fighter’s stance, 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. It gives fighters much stability and aids, derieoma, the moving of the upper body from the path of a Kperivwi blow. UB fighters had been doing this routinely for centuries before American boxer 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 is the most technical part of a contest; much stamina is a requirement, and it needs sustaining and renewal.

The third key feature of UB is that the wide spacing between the feet makes the front leg 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. The rules forbid fighters to touch an opponent felled by tripping, slipping, leg-pulling or punches. Leg snatching is a usually tricky ploy to weaken the opponent’s confidence since it generates much humour and sometimes ridicules from spectators. Furthermore, leg snatching is a risky move, and fighters only resort to it when they calculate it’s safe to do so. Over a quarter of all knock-outs arise from errors for leg snatching; it exposes the fighter and prevents him at that moment from using either hand for effective defence.

There are no active referees during a UB contest. However, there are passive referees on the lines, Useri [witnesses], that would intervene or end a fight if one or both fighters’ resort to any form of foul play or an injury occurs. Dirty fighters are rare in the sport. You always have assured of a fair fight. UB fighters also have their trainers on the lines, enforce the rules. There are no time-outs or breaks during a match. Once a fighting match starts, it is only stops after knock-outs, submissions, the expiry of the fight time-limit [5 to 20 mins] or an intervention by the Useri. It was and still is a proud and clean sport, not without occupational hazards.

The victory brings pride and honour to the winner, but loss brings lesser pride and just as much honour to the vanquished. The ethos of the sport is competing. Winning is not everything, it’s always better than losing. Long reigning undefeated champions are rare in the competition, but the pride of winning and contesting remains. The winner’s community shares in the satisfaction like they do in most sports.

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

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

Grimot Nane

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