The ancient art of swordsmanship is revived in Fujairah

Dozens of men descended on Fujairah to make their swords dance in the Al Saif Traditional Sword Competition - and possibly give the UAE its newest reality show.

Fujariah, November 5, 2010 - Young men display their swordsmanship during a demonstartion prior to the start of the Al Saif Traditional Sword Competition in Fujariah City, Fujariah November 5, 2010. (Jeff Topping/The National)

Young and old, confident to their cores, dozens of men descended on Fujairah yesterday from the villages of Oman and the Emirates to revive the ancient art of swordsmanship - and possibly give birth to the nation's newest reality show.

FUJAIRAH // Swords clashed against the backdrop of a 16th-century Fujairah fort late last night in the first annual Al Saif Traditional Sword Competition.

The competition also amounts to the UAE's newest reality show: it will be televised tonight as 32 contestants clash blades, and viewers can cast SMS votes for their favourite swordsman.

The event kicked off with the shrieking of the nadhba, the traditional call of mountain tribes used to announce their arrival at weddings and other celebrations.

Competitors then faced off in a whirl of flashing blades in a mock battle called Al Mzafin, The Confrontation, a traditional dance of the mountain tribes.

One of the first in the ring was Tahnoon Rashid, 42, who took on a competitor nearly two decades his junior.

But the competition's oldest swordsman said age was no barrier.

"I took this sword before anyone [else here] was born," Mr Rashid said. "My children are starting now to learn now and inshallah, they will compete with me in a few years."

Like many, Mr Rashid still carries the battle scars of training from a sword that sliced his palm open 18 years ago. But the wounds were not necessarily motivation for victory.

"I don't think about being first," he said. "The swordsman should think only about himself."

The younger generation have different ideas.

"We came here to take the first prize and we will win, inshallah," said Ahmed al Kumzari, 32. "With these things there is no need to train. It is an instinct from when we are born, like taking milk from the mother."

About 20 of his tribesmen travelled from Kumzar, an Omani town known for its slower, smooth sword dancing technique.

"This is our habit from a small age," said Mohammed Ahmed, 20, one of the four competitors from Kumzar. "At any wedding party, I am the first one out there."

Designed to replicate war, the dance is popular at wedding parties. That has ensured it has remained a favourite among youth, who relish the tradition but prefer lighter blades than their elders.

Rashid Hiduwan, 70, from the Fujairah village of Al Bidi, favours a heavier sword that cannot be blown by the wind. Quick to show that he has not lost his skills to age, he sucks in his stomach to fasten his old bandolier and brandishes a sword that belonged to his grandfather.

Tribes came from mountain villages across the UAE and Oman. Voting is expected to break down along tribal lines.

Contestants are judged on four criteria: their entry, the leaping and clashing of swords, the throwing and catching of the sword, and style.

"I started when I was 13. The sword was longer than I was," said Rashid al Shehhi, a judge. "It's about the shaking of the sword. Does he have trust in himself when he's throwing the sword? Is he confident when he's handling the sword? If he can catch the sword from the same place he throws it, it shows he's confident."

A warrior can double his points by catching the fallen ghutra of his opponent but risks a deduction of 200 points if he drops his sword. The judges' scores are worth 30 per cent of a contestant's total; the SMS votes 70 per cent.

The event is sponsored by Fujairah's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi. A total purse of Dh250,000 and golden, silver and bronze swords will be divided among the top three contestants.

Elimination rounds will be broadcast each weekend on Hawas TV, Fujairah TV and Sama Dubai before the finals on November 26 and the grand finale on December 10.