Tag Archive for Middle East

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Tahtib – Egyptian Stick Fighting

In the draft “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn,” Baba Ali carries a carved wooden stick from his grandfather. We were looking to have Ali to have a means to protect him and although he did have a khanjar, using a blade seemed too violent for the character. I didn’t want readers to fall into the assumption that he would know and use staff fighting. In part, because most people would think of Robin Hood and Little John’s staff fight on the log over the river (or at least that’s what I thought of). So instead, I brought in the idea of tahtib. It seemed like a natural fit. His father was a travelling merchant and Ali having an *uncle from Egypt from whom he could learn Tahtib would not be out of place.

Tahtib is…unusual and very awesome. It is a very old style of stick fighting and dance from the Middle East, more specifically, Egypt. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Brazilian Capoiera in its connection to music and dance. It is both self-defense, combat, sport, martial art, and folk dance. It dates back to ancient Egypt where images show it as a set of fighting and combat techniques.  Modern Tahtib seems split between the more dance-oriented, sport or competition oriented, and combat/martial art styled.

Tahtib Movements in ancient Egypt

Tahtib from the Abusir Necropolis more than 5000 years old

The stick, or Naboot is about four feet long. It is held, usually single handed, from the end and flailed in large figure-8 patterns across the body.

The demonstration below is from 2010 at the International Martial Arts Festival in Paris.  The first time (I believe) Tahtib was shown broadly to an international audience.

Adel Paul Boulad, a martial art expert and big proponent of Tahtib, has worked to develop and codify five forms or katas. Below is a video of the most basic form – “NAKHLA: The Palm Tree.”

Research Sources:



And Youtube has several wonderful videos of a variety of forms of Tahtib – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=tahtib


*Growing up I had many uncles and aunties, none of whom were blood relations, and yet were as close.  They were family.  So Ali, I decided could just as easily have uncles and aunties.  🙂

Baba Ali Research (Book Secrets): Coal vs. Oil in a #Steampunk World

Notes from my time writing “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn” and fun tidbits

Middle East Steampunk does not run on coal.

Coal-powered steampunk is something that I think (opinion here) would exist in Western countries where coal is more prevalent.  Granted, Persia at the time of our book would (and does) have massive coal reserves, but that isn’t the way the society and culture developed.  Not in “real life” and not in our book.  Thus, the camelids in Baba Ali do not run on coal, but oil.

Parts of the region where our novel takes place have always had easy access to crude oil/petroleum and the distillation of oil into other hydrocarbon compounds has been around since well before 9th century. In fact, the first streets of Baghdad were paved with tar.  Al-Rhazi, who first wrote about it, was something of an ancient polymath – physician, chemist, scholar, philosopher – and he wrote about this distillation process in his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of Secrets). Historical Alembics

This is done using an alembic.  If you look at the image at the right and think it looks like a distillation pot, you’d be right. Alembics are used today in distillation of some rather fancy cognacs and other perhaps less-legal alcohols *cough* moonshine *cough*.  Even the word Al-anbiq translates to “still,” as in “to distill.”

So what was Al-Rhazi making and what do our camelids run on?  Although it could be any number of distillated items, kerosene or a variant thereof would be most likely. In the book we use the generic term “oil” but I had to make sure that transportation and vehicles could operate using kerosene.  🙂 What followed was a merry chase on the Internet where I discovered:

  1. Early tractors used kerosene, as did the first Ford Model T and Model A,
  2. During World War II some cars were modified to run on kerosene (they couldn’t import the much more expensive gasoline),
  3. Several makes of motorboat use kerosene, and
  4. Jet engines use it as a fuel.

Kersene = rocket fuel?