Kangaroo Zulu dancers Ayanda Mngadi and Vumani Gasa with Swiss martial arts researcher Dominik Eaton who donned traditional Zulu attire. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng (ANA)
Durban - What do 13th century European sword fighting and traditional Zulu stick fighting have in common?

Quite a bit, according to historical European martial arts researcher Dominik Eaton, who jetted in from Switzerland this week to join the Kangaroo Zulu dancers on stage at the annual Zulu Dance Championship Final at uShaka Marine World at the weekend.

Eaton first visited Durban in June after spotting Zulu traditional dance in action on the internet. A Master’s student in social anthropology and philosophy, he said his passion is for historical European martial arts which covers fighting styles such as fencing and swordsmanship between the period 1300-1800.

“Zulu stick fighting caught my eye because some of the poses are identical to sword fighting. As you can only largely read about historical martial arts in books, whereas Zulu stick fighting is still alive, I knew I had to come to Durban to learn more,” said Eaton, adding there was growing interest in Europe and the US in historical European martial arts.

While in the city, he was directed to find the champion Kangaroo Zulu dance group who regularly perform at uShaka Marine World.

“I met them and we struck an agreement - if they taught me about stick fighting, I would have to learn about Zulu traditional dance. So that’s what we did and I ended up performing with them more than 20 times,” said Eaton, whose Zulu name, given to him by the dance group, is Nhlanhla.

The Zulu Kangaroo dancers are defending the title at today’s annual championship and lead dancer Vumani Gasa said they had been practising daily for the past few weeks.

And it’s not only about defending their title. Earlier this year, the dancers got the nod to perform at next year’s America’s Got Talent, but have to raise funds for the trip to Los Angeles on February 1. Today’s R100000 prize money could go a long way to covering their travel to the US.

Gasa said Zulu stick fighting was included in their dance routines. “We have always seen it being practised in our village as we were growing up. It’s interesting to see the moves used in sword fighting which are similar.”

Also expected to be at the final is Keisha Jewet, who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

She met the Kangaroo Zulu dancers when they attended the Bam Dance Africa Festival and was particularly taken with the work by the group to keep children off the street

“I fell in love with the discipline of Zulu dance and how the group cultivate young guys in their community who learn about leadership, brotherhood, respect and taking care of one another. It’s just incredible,” she said.

Anyone willing to assist the Zulu Kangaroo Dance Group to perform in America’s Got Talent in February can contact Gasa at 0762795427.

The Independent on Saturday