Home » Ethiopia

Introducing Ethiopia

10 May 2011 31 Comments

Mark Lovejoy will be updating this site with news and posts he finds appropriate for publication. He’s been a big part of the intellectual motivation behind WrestlingRoots.Org. Be sure to check this blog as often as possible for updates on The Samuels and photos from his journey to re-establish the wrestling tradition in Ethiopia.

Good Luck to Mark!

(L-R)"Little Samuel", Mark Lovejoy, "Big Samuel"


  • Gavin said:

    I am very much looking forward to hearing more about the wrestling tradition of Ethiopia. I have heard some rare accounts of the sports survival but not in enough detail to claim I know much about the subject; I hope you are able to fill in the gaps. For example do you have information about its mythological origins, historical accounts, connections to neighbouring traditions from Egypt or Sudan & its current level of popularity? Please write when you can, I can barely contain my eagerness!

    • Mark said:

      Hi Gavin,

      I have talked to the guys I have been training with about more about the history of the sport. “Young Samuel” has told me that much of the history of the sport in this region started in Sudan thousands of years ago.

      Within the next few weeks, I plan to visit the Ethiopian ministry of Sport to get some more information about the history and intertwining of the sport and culture here.

      Unfortunately, there is no FILA branch in Ethiopia, so it looks like much of the work we are going to have to do will be at the grass-roots level. We shall see…

      Oh, and I used to wrestle/coach down in Fremantle. So, Go The Dockers!!!!


  • Gavin said:

    So you know Commander Chris Butler & Chris Samios? Such a big planet yet such a small world. Thank you for the reply about Ethiopian traditional wrestling. Most every ethnic group that practices wrestling in East Africa finds a link with the Nuba people so I am not surprised to see the connection with Sudan. Even in Senegal where wrestling is the number 1 sport, they have legendary accounts that seem to imply an ancient Nubian connection. I am in regular contact with a group of Nigerian Igbo people in Adelaide who are attempting to revive awareness of traditional wrestling amongst expat communities. I’d love to put you in contact with them. Can you get Tim to link us by email? Good luck with the project, sounds like very valuable work & even when they find the FILA connection, I hope they don’t lose awareness of their own folk wrestling historicity.

    • Mark said:

      I worked with both Chris and Chris from 03-05. My wife and I went back to Perth to introduce our son to them a couple of years ago.

      Gavin, I just placed a facebook friend request in to you.

  • Mark Lovejoy said:

    Tried to have practice today, but the guys did not show up due to rain. I take full blame for this. I canceled a couple of weeks ago due to rain (we have to practice outdoors due to no mats here). However, when they say we are in the midst of the “rainy season” they are not speaking in hyperbole. It will rain every day from May until late September/early October. I am not happy that we missed a training session, but I have no one to blame but myself for the precedent I set. The next few weeks may be us doing push-ups, pull-ups, kettle bell swings, and dumbbell squats until the lawn is dry enough to wrestle on again. Our technique may not be up to par, but we will be in good shape (that and living at 7,500+ feet helps)

    Anywho, heading to the Ministry of Sport on Monday to see if I can gather any knowledge (or support) from them

  • Mark said:

    Ministry of Sports meeting went well. The guys at the front door had no clue what I was looking for. When I asked about learning about traditional wrestling, they insisted that I meant boxing.

    I speak no Amharic, so I tried to explain myself by getting into a wrestling stance. Unfortunately, they thought I was seeking information on athletics (track & field). I persisted and stated “wrestling”. One of the guards laughed and told me to go upstairs to talk to one of the bosses.

    Of course, no one over 30 was there and all of the bosses were gone, but I did meet a young guy right out of college who had good English. I told him that I wanted to learn about traditional wrestling in Ethiopia. He told me that there is a old school wrestling called “tigel” that sometimes is still practiced in the rural areas. Apparently, every now and then the “Cultural Sports Federation” puts on three cultural sports competitions every-other year. One sport looks like field hockey. One is a form of horse racing. The last is tigel.

    The ministry of sport had no contacts with the cultural sports federation (and my taxi driver had no clue where the cultural sports federation offices are), but at least I now have a name: Tigel.

  • Mark said:

    Well, I went to the “Ethiopian Defense Fitness Center”(or something like that). Basically, it is a place for members of the Ethiopian military to exercise right here in Addis Ababa.

    I knocked on the door and there was no guard at his post so I walked in. I was greeted by a man with his hand extended to me. I thought he was shaking my hand and I asked him about Tigel. His response to me was to take the hand that was now in mine, place his other hand on my back and escort me out the door I had just entered.

    I asked if he could show me where tigel is practiced, but he seemed to think our “conversation” was over.

    “Learing Tigel Take VI”

  • Robert Wise said:

    I am following this conversation. I wrestled in college and have some young boys. We are considering moving to Ethiopia, possibly in the next six months. When that happens I would like help support the effort. I wouldn’t mind volunteering to coach a team or help in getting things started. If you have some kind of information or updates, please include me. My email…RobertToddWise@gmail.com



    • Mark said:

      Hi Robert,

      That would be great. Due to a recent run-in with a woodland creature, we are taking yet another unscheduled sabatical. However, once the rainy season is over (hopefully by early October), we will be up and running again. From what I hear, most Tigel festivals are done after the rainy season and during the Ethiopian Christmas time (early to mid January). I’ll keep you posted.


  • Katrin Bromber said:

    Dear Mark,
    There is substantial material in Amharic about tigil or gibgib, as it is also called.In 2008 the Ethiopian Traditional Sports Federation produced a revised manual for the techniques and rules of traditional sport games. 2010 we produced an English translation which is with the Federation now. Just ask the technical director.
    This as a start

    • Mark said:

      Hi again Katrin,

      Within the write-up of Tegil that I came up with while being a part of the festival this past weekend, this is a list of rules that I either learned directly from the wrestlers and officials, or gleaned from witnessing and participating in the matches. Are these rules similar to what you found during your project:

      The anatomy of a takedown:
      - You must stand with shoulders touching at all times.

      - You must only use your arms to attack your opponent’s upper body. Your hands cannot grab lower than your opponent’s waist

      - You can use your legs to trip your opponent.

      - The majority of takedowns come from a trip while both wrestlers are embracing in a bear hug.

      - If you take your opponent down and they land on their butt or their side, you score one point.

      - If you take your opponent down and bring them directly to their back, you score two points.

      - There are no pins. All matches go nine minutes long (three periods of three minutes of wrestling each period)unless a coach tosses in the towel signaling defeat

      The anatomy of a Tigel Match –

      - There are three rounds

      - Each round is three minutes long

      - After each round is a one minute break

      - If there is a tie after three periods, there is a fourth period also consisting of three minutes. If there is still a tie, the officials put the names of both wrestlers in a hat. Whichever name is pulled wins. (However, my coach/opponent stated that he had hoped the rules would state that if a tie, the wrestler with the least amount of fouls will be considered the winner.)

      The anatomy of a Foul –

      Fouls are quite common. There are many ways to “earn” a foul:

      - Grabbing your opponent’s shirt.

      - Grabbing your opponent’s leg with your hands.

      - Digging your fingers into your opponent’s back while in a bear hug.

      - “Sleeping”. I assume that this is a loose translation of stalling. In other words, you can’t just get your hands locked around your opponent’s waist and hold on and wait for the clock to run down.

      - If you earn five fouls, you are disqualified.

  • Mark said:

    Thanks a ton Katrin!

    I have met with the Traditional Sports Federation, but would love to learn more about the project you mentioned. Is there any contact you can give me where I can obtain the translation you discuss?

  • Mark Lovejoy said:

    We’re back in training. Rainy season is still upon us, so more conditioning….

  • Katrin Bromber said:

    Dear Mark,
    In 2009 I interviewed Aklilu Shaffo, Gen. Secretary, Cultural Sports Federation. I work on the social history of sports in Ethiopia. How long are you going to stay? You will find me under my name in the www.
    Best Katrin

  • Mark said:

    Thanks for the reply Katrin. I’ll be here until the summer of 2013. I will be meeting again soon with the ministry of sports and we will see where it goes. I met with the federation of traditional sports a couple of months ago, but they were hoping I could meet with their compatriots within the ministry of youth and sport. Lots of offices here.

    If you are heading back here in the next couple of years….let me know!

  • Mark said:

    Katrin & Robert,

    So far, we have had a number of training sessions. However, to be honest, since the rainy season has been going on, we have only been doing conditioning (push-ups, pull ups, exercises with elastic bands, kettle bell work, etc…). We have also done some bag work with a Kenyan kickboxer.

    The reason why I bring this up is that throughout all of our sessions, the guys I have been working with both from Ethiopia and Kenya simply don’t take water breaks. I have always been an advocate of “drinking when you are not thirsty” to ensure you are hydrated. But, these guys remind me of working out with the likes of Jack Dempsey back in the 1920′s…they simply don’t drink when exercising. Do you know of any reason/tradition for why conditioning here does not encourage drinking a lot of water during exercise?

    Oh, and on a different note, I met with the deputy commissioner of sports this week. He was very encouraged to hear that I was interested in learning Tigel. He stated that his commission has two goals they want to work on in the near future: More sports opportunities for girls & encouraging Ethiopians to learn traditional sports like Tigel. It was a very positive meeting.

  • Bryan Mason said:

    Dear Mark,

    I’m a UC Berkeley doctoral student working on my dissertation on combative arts in the African Diaspora. I have always hoped for the possibility of finding some remaining traditions of Ethiopian swordsmanship and/or forms of combative wrestling. I am very interested in learning more about your search for Tigel. Would you be open to speaking with me about what you’ve learned?



    • Mark said:

      Hi Bryan,

      Yesterday, I stopped by the Jan Meda field. Jan Meda usually hosts horse events and soccer games; however, every now and then, they host an Ethiopian Traditional Sports Festival. I was told that the next festival will be held during the week of December 21-29 (next month)I will be there to write, take photos, and possible participate. I believe that Tigel, Genna (like field hockey), and a hore race will be featured.

      I do not have any information regarding swordsmanship…yet. But, this may be an event where I may be introduced to it.

      • Mark said:

        Scratch that, the festival will now be starting on January 7th.

        • admin said:

          At least you hadn’t bought a plane ticket. These festivals are always uncertain! In Mongolia people would just say “we think … ” because it took almost nothing to change the date of the event.

          Good luck!

          • Mark said:


    • Mark said:

      Hi again Bryan,

      I spent some time this weekend asking around about Ethiopian swordsmanship. Now I know why I have not heard about it: Addis Ababa is within the highlands (8,000 feet), whereas the men who practice Ethiopian swordsmanship (which i hear is very cool) are in the lowlands far away from the capital city.

      Now, when the Ethiopian traditional sports festival does kick off, I am hoping one of the events will be exactly what you are researching. After all, I received notification that six sports will be conducted over the week-long festival and I only could recoginize three of the events. I hope somthing in the lines of what you are researching will be one of the other three.

      Off topic: when you complete your disertaion, any chance you will apply for a Fullbight scholarship?

    • Mark said:

      Hi again Bryan,

      There was no event during the sports festival regarding swordsmanship. The closest we had was a horse riding event where participants tossed a javelin at a target. Plus, there was another event where the participants tossed a javelin at a hoop that was rolling on the ground.

      The only martial art that I could find during the traditional sports festival was the Tigel competitions. The competitions were broken down by weightclasses and had a men’s and women’s catagory.

      I am sorry it is not exactly what you are looking for regarding your dissertation; however, feel free to use the write-up here on wrestlingroots as a primary source for any of your projects.

  • Gavin said:

    Mark I once trained with Turks & Iranians in Australia. Even in the middle of our #@&%ing hot summers they refused to let anyone drink water till after training was complete. They said ‘it is bad for body, like putting cold water into over heated car radiator & if you want to crack engine then so be it but don’t say you were not warned, stupid Aussie.!’ They were great trainers though & even with a dry mouth I survived. Hope things go well for you in finding out more about Tigel. Is there any depictions of the sport found in the artwork at ancient sites like Axum?

    • Mark said:


      I have not been to Axum or Lalibela yet, but now that the rainy season is over, we are planning on visiting both places.

      Yesterday I came across a piece that stated many paintings from the 19th century depict Genna. Genna is sort of like Field Hockey, but only men played at the time. This is another sport that was advertised as being at the traditional sports festival going on here in Addis Ababa either next month or the following month.

  • Bryan said:


    Many thanks for the info and for getting back to me so fast. I’ve been tied up tracking down my committee members. I hope you do get to see some swordsmanship at the upcoming festival. I’ve never seen Ethiopian sword performed, but judging by the nomenclature of their straight and curved blades, I’ve always suspected that it would be cool. As you’ve been researching wrestling systems have you come across any traditions with a combative rather than a sporting focus? By which I mean a system that includes or focuses on methods that would not be allowed in sport wrestling? I have heard that such methods exist, but are fading out with time and have been very difficult to find.

    I am thinking about going to Fulbright once ny research is complete. I’m only just starting so it all seems so far off now. I know that I’d want to focus on a particular aspect of the fighting culture of a specific African culture. I’m just not sure what aspect or which culture yet. But if you have any suggestions for approaching funders like Fulbright I’m all ears.

    Thanks again,


    • Mark said:

      Hi again Bryan,

      I have not come across any combative martial arts here, yet. I see a number of posters for Tai-Kwan-Do(I am sure I butchered the spelling) and Wushu (again, I am sorry if any students of the martial arts are rolling their eyes at my horrible spelling). However, from what I am told, much of these classes are “form” based rather than “combat” based.

      Currently, whenever you read a local newspaper’s sports section, the articles are either about track & field or soccer. But, a taxi driver in town told me that amateur boxing is beginning to become more popular here.

      Again, I hope to have a more understanding of what you are seeking after the traditional sports festival TBD.

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