Stick Fights and Lip Plates


Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Aug 28, 2001
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Terre Haute, IN
I watched this show last night. Of course much of the emphasis was on the sociological aspects--the women choose the strongest stick fighters to marry so the men must compete in a sport that frequently results in serious injuries (broken hand, lost eye, etc.) and occasionally in death; the men will only marry women who wear lip plates so the women must undergo a painful and to a Western eye disfiguring piercing procedure to stretch the lip so a roughly five inch diameter clay plate can be inserted in the lip. There were two main stories followed: A stick battle to settle a dispute over whether workers would be paid in beer as per tradition or cash as they increasingly desire, and the story of the chief's son who obtained a bride from a stick fight then waited the six months it took for her lip to be stretched so they could marry. (This also gave him time to get the needed 30 head of cattle dowry payment together.) Other men and women were interviewed and the traditional body painting was also discussed.

The sticks used were roughly the height of a man and not too thick (it was hard to tell how thick they were). They were somewhat flexible as could be seen when they were whipped around but were obviously hard enough to cause damage. A two-handed, sword-like grip was used and I don't believe that I saw any stabbing attacks. (The wood may have been too flexible for that.) Often the stick was swung over the head and then directed at the side of the body, anywhere from the head down to the shin, changing sides of the body rapidly with an occasional #12 strike to the top of the head (a common fight-ender). It reminded me somewhat of kendo or jodo. Participants used hats, shin guards, and small hand-shields that protected the back of the hand only, made from woven reeds or thin pieces of wood, and wore thickly wrapped fabric as padding on some parts of their bodies. (They looked like the protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five while in Dresden.) Protecting the eyes and shins seemed to be big concerns.

The formal fight to settle the payment dispute used three fighters from each side fighting one at a time (the workers won 2-1). No one was seriously injured though the losers were clearly hurt. The battles seemed to last no more than a minute and probably less (after lengthy traditional preparation rites--body painting, singing and dancing, etc.) but I have no idea how the footage was edited so I could be mistaken.

The stick fights are also used to settle points of honour. They used to use the stick to defend their cattle from being stolen and to defend their tribes but nowadays they have guns for that (several rifles were in evidence and were carried around almost as a sceptre of authority). The stick fighting is still an absolutely central aspect of their culture however.

If you get a chance to watch this I recommend it (ideally on fast forward if you're not interested in the sociological story). It shows people really fighting with sticks. These are people who know they could be hurt; people who have watched fights like this all their lives and seen what happens; people who have something to gain (the best stick fighters obtain the most desireable brides--women offer themselves in marriage to the winners, who can choose from amongst those women) or something to lose or defend (as when the fights are for honour or to settle a dispute). This is more real than the Dog Brothers--these people are beating one another with sticks and know that they will improve their lives if they win. It's as close to the Filipino stick fights as you're likely to see on film these days, I'd guess, though the weapon and style are different.

In recommending this show I note that there is nudity of the sort associated with National Geographic and of course some blood and violence.
Thanks, I'll be watching ...if i missed it did anyone tape it ?
I taped a show entitled "Taboo: Bloodsports" that mostly discussed cockfighting and bull fighting but also had a segment on a small Bolivian mountain village where, once a year, villagers put on simple "armour" and fist-fight under the belief that the spilled blood helps the crops. Since spilling blood is necessary, technique was a bit wild and both sides seemed to recognize that someone had to get hit. Allegedly they average one death per year (a self-reported and unverified number).

I was reminded of the show mentiond earlier in this thread.