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Georgia: Reviving Ancient Martial Arts Traditions

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Giorgi Javakhishvili (left), a member of The Black Shields, practices traditional Georgian sword fighting with a club member.

Georgia has long been associated with the traditions of winemaking, song and dance. But the South Caucasus nation can also lay claim to a rich legacy in martial arts.

Traditional Georgian martial arts are a combination of boxing, wrestling and fencing. They have been steadily regaining popularity since the Soviet collapse in 1991. For the past four years, demonstrations by the martial arts group The Black Shields (Shavparosnebi) – complete with daggers, swords, double-bladed axes and more -- have been a runaway hit at the annual national folk festival Art Gene.

The group, whose members dress in leggings and elaborately embroidered tunics, takes its name from historical groups of armed Georgians, who, with their faces and armor painted black, would attack enemies, usually troops belonging to foreign occupying armies, at night.

“Factually, they were partisans,” said 33-year-old Giorgi Tsitsriashvili, one of The Black Shields’ founders. “When occupied, very often Georgia could afford only guerrilla wars.”

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Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.

Georgia: Reviving Ancient Martial Arts Traditions

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