Native American Fighting Arts?

Was there any structured martial arts?

I know many tribes had a variety of wrestling contests but wonder if they just walked in and rolled or if they actually trained techniques..

I'll admit Magua always looked pretty badass in "Last of the Mohicans"...

Anybody have any info on this stuff?

There is a guy near me who teaches"Native american ground fighting" When I was kid we called it indian wrestling...

There is an advertisement for a Native American Art in Black Belt Magazine.

I would assume that such things existed...I'd also assume that for the most part they'd be lost :(

My Great Grand-Mother was Cherokee, her husband, my Great Grand-Father was Half Cherokee, Making my Grand-Mother on my Father's side 3/4 Cherokee and me a rather odd 3/16th Cherokee. I would love to hear some information if anyone has any.

I've had a couple of conversations with Tony Lopez, the Sambo instructor, he is quite knowledeable on the subject of American frontier fighting methods, ect. (I believe that he's a highschool history teacher as well if I remember correctly) I've never seen him post here...but if anyone would know anything about this I'd bet on him. I have his phone# and am tempted to call and ask him....

"I know many tribes had a variety of wrestling contests but wonder if they just walked in and rolled or if they actually trained techniques."

It would, of course, depend on each particular tribe. I grew up on the Navajo reservation and married into a Laguna/Navajo family.

From what I noticed growing up, some of the Navajo boys would practice what may look really similar to Greco-Roman clinch work with the upper body throws. In Navajo warrior culture going to the ground under someone else's power (ie. getting taken down) was considered a weakness. Therefore, you would more than likely never see any stylized submission work on the ground, but the guy getting tossed trying to get back to his feet as fast as he can, and the guy getting the takedown trying to keep him pinned so he can throw punches.

At the "squat-in's" (warrior gatherings) I got to go to, when the inevitable fights broke out this is what you would see:

Opponents square off, quick exchange of punches, clinch, one guy gets thrown. Then, if the guy that got the takedown is able to keep the pin for more than say, 15 to 20 seconds, the other guys watching would move in and start stomping his feet, hands and head really hard to tell him he's a pussy for not fighting hard enough to get back up. If he can get back up while he's getting stomped, he gets his respect, but if he can't get back up because he's getting the shit stomped out of him, the group leaves him a mess.

Oh, and the fights are perfectly normal at these gatherings - sort of a "right of passage". The rez cops that are there will let them go on, and just keep them from turning it into a riot.

In regards to specific throwing technique, I remember watching my father-in-law teaching my wife's brothers how to do a a throw that combined a sort of standing key lock to entangle the arm with an O-Soto-Gari type leg reap to put the opponent down.


Does anyone know of a French/ Indian connection?

That sounds exactly like something a Wing Chun guy showed me once..

"a throw that combined a sort of standing key lock to entangle the arm with an O-Soto-Gari type leg reap to put the opponent down."

That is very interesting, kung fu king.

Obviously, every tribe had it's own way of fighting, but unfortunately I would have to agree that much of it is probably lost by now and what remains is only known to Native Americans that actually grew up on a reservation.

Just thought I'd add something else:

I never noticed any "formalized" training among the stuff I saw a lot of the guys practicing on the rez (as in a standardized fighting system), only a general cultural attitude to how they would approach a fight and what tactics they would employ.

For all I know, what my father-in-law was teaching his boys could more than likely have been what he picked up during his 15 years as a Green Beret, and not anything he specifically learned on the rez. He never made a distinction, really.


What do you mean by a "French/Indian connection"? The French, Dutch and the English all had long association with various Native American tribes during the early colonization of eastern Americas, and obviously influenced one another in matters of warfare.

Well we know that the French are the ones that started the whole scalping deal, also from the various descriptions it sounds a lot like Indian Wrestling looks a whole lot like Greco Roman, which is also French. Most, if not all early metal blades were not of indigenous manufacture, and obviously the way you fight with a metal blade is going to differ a lot than with a stone blade ( i.e. you can actually block and parry with out it shattering.) Also, the traditional ambush warfare would have to change a bit once the natives had firearms, i.e. crossfire. So I would think that the French and other early Anglos would have changed the traditional way of fighting quite a bit.

I agree, Grundy. However, the changes went both ways. The Dutch, French, and most notably the English colonists, adopted various Native American approaches to warfare - especially those operating on the "frontier".

The methods the Colonial Militia and General Washington used to fight the early portion of the Revolutionary War could have been taken out of a Huron and Iroquios battle tactics and strategy manual (if there had ever been such a thing), which they would have obviously picked up during his time in the Royal Army during the French & Indian War.

The running ambush of the British column by the Colonial Militia at Lexington (if I've got my battles correct) would have seemed quite similar to a Mohawk war party.

Our modern term "guerilla warfare" comes from a French description of Native American battle tactics during the French and Indian War.

Kung fu king,

Actually the term "guerilla" originated in Spain in the early 1800's. It's origin comes from the Spanish resistance tactic of using irregular soldiers to conduct surprise raids against Napoleon's forces. It is derived from the Spanish word for war, "guerra" modified to mean "little war".

Ye Lunatic:

Darn, here I go on another research trip.

I was almost sure the term was first coined in the mid-1700's by the French in description of northeastern Native American tribal warfare (raid and counter-raid tactics).

The French word for war is "guerre", and little war is "peu de guerre".

Also, the French term for warrior is "guerrier". Since nearly all the tribes north and west of Iroquios Federation land spoke French (the largest war allies of the French being the Ottawa and Huron), they would have referred to all men of fighting age as "guerriers" (warriors) - the terms being Anglicized by their Colonial enemies into "guerilla".

I need to stay off the forum - between you and TFS I've got too much new reading material to go through now.

The French-Indian war etymology makes perfect sense, but I read the Napoloeonic one in a few different sources. Perhaps there is some debate about it?

I'm not sure if there is. At least you have sources - I'm going off of memory of one or two books I read a long time ago on the French & Indian War/Revolutionary War time period where I caught the term.

From what I remember reading, the French made a clear distinction between regular professional or conscripted soldiers (using the term "soldat"), and that of non-French army allied Native American warriors ("guerrier") who largely operated on their own within a general area, or took up the role of skirmishers during regular army engagements.

It was sort of the same way the British made clear distinctions militarily between the Colonial Militia, Native Scouts, and Army Regulars.

However, I think you may be correct about the actual term/phrase "guerilla warfare" (a reference to protracted insurgencies) coming about as the result of the example you cited. The French term could have just been a general usage type thing, rather than someting specific for Native American warfare.

A nice little book I picked up about a year or so ago is "The Skulking Way of War." It was written by Patrick Malone, I believe. It deals with the effect colonials had on the technology and methods of warfare of the Native Americans, and, very importantly, the effects going the other direction. A good book, not long, but well researched and readable. It was nice to find a book that focused on the fighting methods of the Native Americans itself, instead of a plucking tidbits out of a general history volume.

I seem to remember the term guerilla coming up there, but I will have to double-check to see if that is true.

I read some information about a Native American Style of wrestling called Woodland Indian Information. I know it sounds generic but this is what I found, Not my words.

"The Woodland Indians also used wrestling as a way of settling personal disputes, especially those involving women or goods. Woodland Indian wrestling had no recorded rules except prohibitions against hair-pulling, and it was left to Protestant missionaries to introduce prohibitions against choking and bone-breaking during the 1840s. Victory in Woodland Indian wrestling consisted of using upper body strength to throw the opponent to the ground."

Here is another generic description of Native American Wrestling and that is just what it was called

Native American Wrestling began as simply a form of entertainment among members of the various tribes, used to develop stamina and agility. In this form, it is a powerful and effective mix of grappling techniques. However, many practitioners also combine it with a spiritual discipline, invoking spirits to aid them, allowing for supernatural feats."

One thing I'd like to make a request is that we all begin to provide better citing of sources, particularly when we cut and paste from websites. I know I personally have been very lax about this so I will make a better effort in the future. It's not fair to them when we snag info without even acknowledging who did the work in putting this stuff up.Joe Svinth, responsible for Kronos over at the EJMAS site (where I believe the Indian wrestling info came from) provided the primary source for the above Kronos entry, as well as some Native American combatives links, which I hereby appropriate from the EJMAS list and pass on:The primary entry, dated 1763, was Thomas J. Vennum, Jr. American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994); see also For Native American/First Nations history, see
Alternatively, you can search Google for specific tribes or cultures. Regarding direct combative methods, this is what I've [Joe] found so far:
(Oglala Sioux archery)
(Inuit [Eskimo] wrestling)
(North American Woodland Indian sticks and clubs)
(Woodland Indian kicking and wrestling) If anyone has more detailed information on the methods of any Native American/First Nations cultural methods, please let me [Joe at EJMAS] know.