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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Shaka Profile

*Special thanks for iHonk for most of my sources. I'm not trying to steal any from him.*

Note: This was originally a bio written for a William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu rematch, but I lost interest in that and decide to find a new warrior for Shaka to face.

King Shaka kaSenzangakhona of Zulu (Shaka Zulu):

Shaka was born around 1787 in KwaZulu-Natal, located in South Africa, to Zulu chief Senzangakhona and a Langei women named Nandi. Shaka was disowned early by his farther, and spend most of his childhood in his mothers village. There he trained very young to fight in a butho lempi (fighting unit), and spent some time of his teenage years fighting for the local Mthethwa tribe.
Shaka observed while serving under War Chief Dingiswayo that a tempi was little more than a political tool, used by chiefs to settle disputes and sessional raids. Shaka, according to accounts, was considered a very brave warrior while in battle, even though he did not climb to a high position quickly as most people think.
After Senzangakhona died, Shaka seceded his farther as Zulu chief in 1816. As chief, Shaka began to transform the Zulu military as well as the Zulu society. Shaka based the Zulu society around military service and military loyalty. Those who could not fight were servilely punished by Shaka himself. This attitude created a potent military machine. The Zulus under Shaka defeated many surrounding tribes with their improvements in military equipment and tactics.
Before the Shaka reform, Zulu warfare was based upon the ineffective use of assegai throwing spears and ritual combat between individual warriors. Shaka viewed these tactics as cowardly and put in place the use of fierce close range combat with little long range fighting used. Shaka also re-organized the army based on age, implicated the key of mobility, and developed many effective battlefield formations.
The Zulu empire grew to great sizes under the leadership of Shaka. Shaka was labeled by his people paramount chief, or king of kings. In 1828, Shaka was assassinated by his half-brothers in a struggle for power among the growing Zulu empire. Shaka's influence stayed with the Zulus until the fall of the Zulu empire in the late 19 century. The Zulus were able to deploy Shaka's tactics against the British army that was equipped with gunpowder weapons.
The legendary brow of Shaka Zulu carried his military and cultural image through out time and some of his influence is still felt today across Africa and the world.

                                                                        Zulu Impis


-Close Range: Isisila, Fighting Clubs, Ishlangu: Shaka emphasized the use of close range combat in warfare over the traditional use of missile weapons, which he viewed as cowardly. The isisila axe was one of his preferred close to medium range weapon for senior warriors and himself. The infamous sallow-tail axe head was designed just as much as a slashing and impaling weapon has it was a hacking weapon. The slim design and light weight was perfect for African warfare, where the lack of personal armour results in little use of heavier armour pricing weapons.
Shaka also oversaw the improvement of each mans martial skill individually as a warrior. He encouraged training starting at a young age, were boys would train with simple sticks to improve their fighting abilities later on. The Zulus had a variety of fighting clubs in both personal training and battlefield combat. Some were designed as solely smashing and crushing tools, while others were fashioned longer for duelling purposes.

-Medium Range: Isijula, Ishlangu: The Zulu form of medium range combat is different from other styles of it. The Zulus chose to fall back very early on their close weapons such as the Isisila or Ikwla, oppose to many other cultures that emphasized the use of long thrusting spears. Shaka felt that these type of pole-arms decreased the Impi's mobility and their use never really caught on.
The Isijula spear was used by from specialized warriors in smaller skirmishes. The spear was around 6 to 7 feet long, and could be used both two handed or one handed with the Ishlangu shield. Though less common than most Zulu weapons of the time, it offers an effective medium range use for Shaka in this battle.

-Long Range: Assegai, Knobkieerie, Ishlangu: Ranged combat was viewed as very cowardly by Shaka once he succeeded the throne. Zulu warrior was based originally on lines of men exchanging assegai throwing spears until one line ran away. Shaka limited the use of the assegai to low level warriors as a support fire to the impis. That said, the assegais were great spears, being able to be thrown at fairly long distances, but preferably used by Shaka at closer range to increase there effectiveness.
The knobieerie was slightly more commonly used by an entire impis. The short club was designed to be thrown by individual warriors at around 10 to 15 feet at blinding speed. Though easy to block with a shield, the knobkieerie wasn't design to kill, but cripple or distract an enemy to knock them off balance for a quicker close range kill. This was used more rarely then some people might think, as Shaka saw throwing away ones weapon as foolish. Still, both spear and club are very effective long range weapons against un-armoured opponents.

                                                         Typical design of a Knobieerie club.

-Specialized Weapons: Ikwla, Ishlangu: Shaka's own weapon of chose, the ikwla was possibly the most deadliest weapons the Zulus could bring. The four foot long spear with the sort handle and long, broad blade was designed specially for fierce close range combat. The Zulu would use fast underhand thrusts to an opponents lower torso, attacking weak points like the stomach and liver. The user could also use a less used slash across an opponents limbs or neck to soften him up for a killing blow.

Various sizes of Ikwlas.


-Head: None: Aside from a leather headband, Zulu warriors wore little in head protection. Shaka believed that a warrior must rely on his senses more than armour in combat situations. Having complete control of ones senses allowed the Zulus to scout, travel, and communicate better. That said, a lack of formable head protection did hinder Zulus down in some cases, especially if enemy warriors were also trained in melee combat.

-Torso: None: Zulus traditionally did not wear any form of torso armour, or clothing for that matter.  The climate and terrain of Southern Africa would slow down and tire anyone wearing any heavy armour. The Zulus relied greatly on their movement to protect them in war, and any torso wear would slow them down. The only article of clothing a Zulu would wear was a small leather skirt that offered little protection what so ever.

-Limbs: None: As mentioned before, the Zulus relied much on their mobility in combat. Zulus wore little armour on their limbs, aside from some leather bands worn on the biceps and calves to protect against light slashes. One of Shaka's major reforms was the displacement of a man's sandals. He saw sandals as slowing men down the run, which he used to increase his warriors speed and stamina. The removal of the sandals allowed his men to run much more quickly, which trained their card system better. This allowed Zulus to last long in fights that regrind counties motion. 

-Blocking: Ishlangu: If there is anything iconic to Shaka Zulu, it's his large cowhide shield. The ishlangu was close to six feet tall and three feet across. The base of the shield was made from a layer of dense wood, were a handle was fixed on. Layers of cowhide were placed on, going an average of 1 to 3 inches deep. The final layer was coloured to identify a warriors rank. Shaka himself would use a nearly pure white shield, while lower rank warriors would have darker coloured shields.
The ishlangu was light enough not to render the carrier slow, but strong enough to deflect missiles and block melee attacks. A long stick, the mgobo, was erected down the middle to stabilize the shield in combat and allow the user to easily rest it when he was not moving. 

(Right): A traditional shield display with a ceremonial ikwla and knobieerie. The shield is not pure white because the lack of pure white skin on Zulu cattle. This is a type of shield Shaka would use.


Formations: Buffalo Horn formation: The very effective and innovative battle tactic Shaka developed and deployed was the infamous 'charging bull' formation.  An impi would first approach the opposing enemies as a whole. A main force, the 'chest', would directly charge the enemy, pinning them back. The 'horns', made up of younger, less trained warriors armed with assegai, would break off on ether sides and surround the enemy force, encircling them as the 'chest' drove forward. The last section, the 'loins', were made of veteran warriors past their prime to be in the chest. They would supply aid if the formation was in fear of breaking. The only disadvantage to this was the factor of an enemies size. A small impi could be taken very easy, but a larger one, with a higher level of training, was more difficult to combat. Regardless, the 'buffalo horn' proved itself time and time again on a variety of scales.

Motivations/Loyalty: Shaka' self-motivation was to create the most powerful kingdom in all of Africa.  He believed the Zulus were spiritually superior to all other tribes, and strafed to make his warriors feel the same way. Shaka, though very ruthless in his policies, was loved, respected, and feared by his people as a great leader and war lord. A Zulu proved his loyalty to Shaka by dieting in battle, and never retreating. Of course, like nearly all warriors who say the exact same thing, Zulus would retreat individually if a fight became to big for them.
The Zulus factored in a very brutal attitude in combat. They had a grand believe in supernatural powers surrounding them. They believed these powers would keep them safe in battle, even against gun wielding opponents. This would cause the Zulus to attack without fear, even when meeting certain doom.

Training: Shaka drilled his soldiers from a very young age to be warriors in his army. His ideal exercise for conditioning of warriors was running. He drilled his men to run barefoot on hot and rocky terrain during times of extreme heat up to 25 km a day. The well rounded card health of the Zulu allowed him to move quickly without tiring, as well as exercising the warriors entire body to increase his power in combat. The counties drilling in tough conditions made the Zulus ignore pain or weather during battle.
Zulus trained rigorusly in stick fighting to own their fighting skills. Stick fighting martial arts helped developed a Zulus club, axe, and spear fighting techniques. A warriors skill would grow over time and experience in combat.


  1. Very neat, I like that you have taken some inspiration from iHonk and Sparta, and you seem to have a good grasp of how to do this. Some extra pictures would be nice, but overall this is a solid effort and I am now one of your followers. Check out my own blog, where I take a slightly different approach to DW matchups. You can see my philosophy and my matches there. Cheers!


  2. Hey dude check out the new DW site. And this shaka preview looks great btw ! http://deadliestwarriorfans.webs.com/

  3. Heey
    Great post.
    Maybe one more adition. Ive seen on a docu that the Zulu trained by hunting animals. Throwing sticks to small animals would increase the speed and the aim, bigger animals would emphasis power./

  4. Gotta say man this is a great post, and I would like to use some of this in my next matchup of Shaka vs. Arminius

  5. @Ares: Thanks for the info. I know that most impis would have younger warriors hunt for food most of the time. Stick throwing also increased a warriors strength, training to improve their axe and spear attacking skills.

  6. @Monopoly: Go right ahead and use some info. The point of these blogs aren't to copyright work, but to share knowledge of warrior cultures. I got most of my stuff from iHonk anyways. ;)