We all know that India is an ancient civilization so there should not be any surprise that India has its own martial arts but what may actually interest you even more is that the Indian martial arts have influenced many fighting systems around the world. Huyen langlon from Manipur, Gataka from Punjab, Chhau from Orissa, Kalaripayattu from Kerala, Thoda from Himachal Pradesh are the names of some of its ancient martial arts. And also there is a whole series of different forms of martial arts from Tamilnadu as well like – Kuttu Varisai, Gusthi, Malyutham, Varma Ati, Silambam, Adi Thadi or Adi Murai, just to name a few. They all have an outstanding history and great impact from time immemorial but in this article, I am going to focus only on one of them – Kalaripayattu from Kerala.
Kalaripayattu or as called by others – kalari comes from the words kalari which means training ground and payattu which means fight. It is said to be not only the oldest martial art of the world but also the mother of many ancient fighting systems of the world. Shaolin kung fu was heavily influenced from it as the Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma (also known as Dat mo or Damo) who was also a kalaripayattu expert improved the fighting system of the Chinese and made it more complete. Bodhidharma modified it according to the body types of the Chinese monks.
Stages of kalaripayattu
As I already mentioned, kalaripayattu includes different types of fighting – bare-handed and with the use of weaponry. What may actually surprise you is that during the training, the student learns the weaponless martial art in the very end of the whole process. But even before the real practice starts, students are learning meditation, physical exercises, medicine and oil massages. There are four stages of learning kalaripayattu:
- Meithari is the first stage which is about physical exercises which are certainly choreographed in order to make sure that all the muscles and joints are involved and mental balance is attained.
- In the next stage – Kolthari the student is introduced to wooden weapons like short and long staffs, canes.
- During the third stage – Ankathari, the practitioner is learning the art of fighting with the use of sharp iron weapons like sword and shield, dagger and many other different tools.
- After the student completes all the mentioned stages, he may move to the last part – Verumkai which is all about the techniques of bare-handed attack and defense.
So, as we can see learning kalaripayattu makes the student familiar with all kinds of different ways of fighting.
Marmas – pressure points in the human body
When we talk about kalari we should not forget about one of the most subtle yet very effective form of self-defense, and that is a clever manipulation of – “marmas”. Marmas are pressure points in the human body and when they are manipulated in a desired way, the effect can cause an extreme pain, disability, on spot death or even a delayed death depending on what result the attacker desires. According to the Ayurveda, there are 108 marmas in the body while 64 out of them are classified as lethal marmas. But these can be taught only to the students who are positively assessed by the teacher as one should never misuse this knowledge and learning kalaripayattu is also about having pure intentions.
How kalaripayattu stayed alive
Kalaripayattu was commonly practiced especially in the southern states of India. For example, in Kerala it was very common to send all the children above the age of seven to the kalaris to understand and learn this unique martial art. But the popularity started to decline during the British Raj as the art of kalari became a huge problem for the new rulers who were scared of some rebellions and that is why they banned kalaripayattu. Those who were practicing it or were keeping the kalaripayattu weaponry were sent to jail. But the people of Kerala still managed to preserve their martial art and this beautiful martial art still is present in the land of Kerala with many kalaris open and with gurukkals (teacher) teaching the students not only the art of fighting but also meditation, control over your own body, Ayurveda and respect. Kalaripayattu does not only improves your overall physical fitness and teaches you how to defend yourself in case of an attack but also has a positive impact on your concentration as well.
You may also want to watch this movie on Kalaripayattu :