Chapter 1 of Children of Blood and Bone gets us straight into the heart of the action. Zelie has just been chosen to fight against Yemi, a very privileged girl from Zelie's village who's rumored to be half noble and whose status gives her airs and graces.
Zelie is a diviner, which in this society is someone with special magical powers. Even so, diviners are still regularly attacked and need to know how to defend themselves. Hence, they are trained in the art of self-defense.
Much of the first chapter of the story is devoted to Zelie's graduation bout with Yemi. Yemi looks down on Zelie, which adds an extra bite to their fight. During the bout, Yemi calls Zelie a maggot, which, not surprisingly, gives Zelie additional motivation for winning the contest.
However, the bout is soon brought to a halt with the approach of guards. Mama Agba, Zelie's teacher, hides the carved staffs that Zelie and Yemi were using in the fight and makes it seem that the girls were only sewing.
Despite the relatively brief duration of the fight, Mama Agba has seen enough of Zelie to know that she's got what it takes to graduate. So, when the other students have gone, she presents her with a carved iron staff.