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History 

Young Zulu boys engaging in a game of stick fighting
Stick fighting (also known as donga) is a martial art traditionally practiced by teenage Zulu herdboys in South Africa. Each combatant is armed with two long sticks, one of which is used for defense and the other for offense. No armour or protective gear is used.

The object is to hit the opponent with a stick until pain is inflicted.

In recent years, attempts have been made to develop stick fighting into a regular sport, with rules and competitions.

Nelson Mandela practiced stick fighting as a child, and it was recently featured on the BBC reality TV show Last Man Standing.

Equipment

Two sticks (called an Iintonga set) are used. They include a long stick for attacking, and a shorter one for defending. The stick for defence has a protective shield on the outside to cover the top part of the hand. The player decides on the length of the stick according to his or her preference.

  • Protective headgear may be worn to protect the players from injury.
  • Plastic gloves may also be worn to protect the hands.
  • A stopwatch.
  • A First Aid kit.
  • A score-sheet.
  • A white stick to be used by the referee.

The play area

The ring should be oval and 7 metres in diameter, measuring 3.5 metres from the centre. It may be an elevated ring, or a ring drawn on a flat surface to accommodate fighters in rural communities.


Age categories
People from the age of five upwards are eligible to participate in the game in the following categories:
Players from 5 years to 20 years of age are grouped into compatible age categories:

  • 8-20 years (juniors)
  • 21-25 years (intermediaries)
  • 26 years and above (seniors)

Game description 

Two fighters (combatants) take up position inside the ring. Each fighter carries two sticks, namely the attack and the defence stick. The referee blows a whistle to start the game and the fighters try to hit their opponent with their stick, while defending themselves with the defence stick.

Three judges judge the match and record points scored by each combatant. They also record deductible points where there are infringements of the rules. Points are awarded according to the number of blows that hit the opponent’s body.

A referee controls the match and a timekeeper controls the rounds in each bout. A bout consists of three rounds of one minute each.

Rules and scoring

Penalty points are deducted for every transgression committed, while the judges have the power to disqualify players. The following constitutes a transgression:

  • Hitting ‘no hit areas’, namely the pubic section below the waist (kumhlaba wamadoda, meaning ‘the land of men’) and behind the head.
  • Hitting an opponent during a break.
  • Hitting an opponent when he or she is down.
  • Prodding or attacking the opponent with the defence stick.
  • Poking the opponent.
  • Hooking or grabbing with a stick.
  • Using sharpened sticks.

Points are scored and recorded for every ‘legal’ strike made. All points are recorded on the score-sheet, which also reflects the following details:

  • Name of participant.
  • Strike per round.
  • Total strikes.
  • Position of strike(s).

No performance-enhancing or energy-enhancing drugs are allowed. The use of these substances is an infringement and may result in suspension, cancellation of a win and expulsion from the game.

A win
The player who has scored the most points at the end of the game is the winner, unless one of the players ‘throws in the towel’ (quits or gives up) before the end of the game.

Duration

Every game will comprise the number of bouts agreed on before the game. A bout consists of three rounds of one minute each.

Safety Measures 

  • The referee will use plastic gloves.
  • The referee will regulate the game by using a white stick to separate the players if there are illegal throws or strikes.
  • There should always be a First Aid kit on site as well as a person who is qualified to use it.