Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The many martial arts of India

Hollywood, Chinese and Japanese films have glamorized martial arts and cine heroes such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and others have been much admired in India for their expertise in martial arts.
Almost all films featuring the dead Lee and Chan draw huge crowds. The “ohs” and “ahas” of the audience and their admiration to the distinct styles of these two set me thinking about martial art in India.
Going back in history, I learnt that martial arts originated in India and  then spread to other counties of the Orient, including China, Korea, Mongolia and Japan.      
While Buddhists texts in India have plenty of references to different styled of fighting, there are several other which are not much known outside the region of their birth.
One of the earliest martial art is Vajra Musti or fighting with knuckles. There are regional variations of this art and the it still survives in Mysore and Gwalior. Both the Wodeyars of Mysore and Gaekwads of Gwalior were patrons of this art.
The Chalukya Emperor, Someshwara, has written about this art as has the Buddhist text, “The Lotus Sutra”, which belongs to Mahayana branch of Buddhism.
Another native form is the Kalaripayattu of Kerala. It is one of the oldest forms of fighting that still exists in the world. It generally includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods. It has three main styles-north, central and south.
Though the south style is now extinct, the Tamil style of  Adi Murai is classified as the southern kalarippayattu by Kerala Kalarippayattu association.
Another ancient Indian art is Bandesh. In this, the main aim is to defeat an armed opponent. The art uses various joint locks. This is one of the few art forms which believe in the sanctity of human life. It practices using weapons without killing. Here, the winner is the one who takes the weapon from the other.
Marma Atti is an Indian martial art, which lays stress on exhausting and discouraging an attacker psychologically as well as physically.
Marma Atti is often referred to as a refined form of a rudimentary self defence. This is taught widely in rural parts of south India. What makes this art distinct from other forms is that it helps a common person to take care of himself  in case of an attack while keeping his physical limitations under consideration.
Marma Atti, however, is a limited set of physical self defence and behavioural patterns, stressing on calm rather than fear in case of attacks.
This is one of the few arts to combine both physical and mental aspects. The Marma practitioner reasons with his attacker after repeatedly foiling the incoming attacks. So this art teaches  evading punches, kicks, knives, sticks and other weapons, frustrating and humiliating the attacker in process. So, your victory depends more on the exhaustion of your opponent.  
Binot is another art which mainly teaches weaponless fighting and  wrestling techniques against armed and unarmed attackers. This is very difficult to learn, tough to practice and almost impossible to fully master. It is reckoned to be among the most dangerous martial arts. It employs wrestling technique.
Another Indian art is Bothati or the art of  using spears in combat astride a horse. This style requires a practitioner to be well-versed in horse riding, balance and he needs a keen eyesight.
The Malla Yuddha is an Indian form of wrestling and one of the many variants is still existing in Mysore and Bangalore. The Wodeyar Emperor, Ranadheera Kanteerva was an expert as were Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The place where wrestlers practice is called Garadi Mane. Mysore has more than two dozens such manes and Bangalore has a few in Ranasinghpet.    
The north east state of  Manipur is home to Cheibi which is another form of martial art. The Cheibi is a stick encased in leather and it is generally 2.5 feet in length.
The Chebi is used along with a leather shield.
Another art which blends a sharp sword with quick movements is Pata or sword gauntlet. The blade is short and it is integrated in a gauntlet. It is similar to the Katar in use. Chatrapathi Shivaji was a master of this art. One of his Generals Tanaji Malusare used it with both the hands during the Battle of Sinhagad before one of his hands was cut off and he was killed by the Mughals.
The Punjab has Gakta which mainly deals with fencing. The sword here is called Gatka and the shields are known as Fari. The Gatka is about three feet in length. The rules are similar to fencing. There is need to be agile on the feet and you can fight even on horseback.
Another typical Indian art is Gada or Swinging a weighted ball and mace. This was popular in Vedic and ancient times but today it is almost extinct.
However, one of the most versatile Indian martial arts is lathi. You may have seen such fighting in films. The art requires a high level of training in wielding a bamboo stick. The opponent can be one or many. It does not matter. One stick is all you need to be on the defence or go on the offensive. A similar art is Silambam or staff fighting. In this art, the wood is much shorter than a lathi and the art is more on fighting off an enemy. This was very popular during the Vedic ages.    
Another obscure Indian art is Sarit. Here the emphasis is on taking evasive action by feints and also explosive offence.
Adithada-Adi means hitting and thada means blocking- is another art native to south India. It is very similar to Karate and kick boxing. It has both grappling and striking techniques. The British took great pains to suppress this art.
Another art, which is not very popular, is Varma Kalai also known as Varmakalai or Varmakkalai. The art was practiced by monks who combined Yoga, Ayurveda and and disciplined combat into one and called it Kalai.
The emphasis here is stopping attacks rather than injuring the opponent. Attacks are meant for self defence and they target the vital points throughout the human body. This is again an art of fighting with or without weapons. A teacher and one who masters this art is called asaan.
It takes years to master the art.
Niyuddha-kride is another form that concentrates on diversion and quick striking. The practitioners of Niyuddha-kride move in so  quickly when least expected that you can barely defend yourself.
Savasu is another Indian martial art.
Thang Ta is the art of  using a sword, spear or any sharp instrument against one or more opponents. This art was initially practiced by Tantrics. Even today it has three distinct stages. The first is  ritual in nature, the second is a series of dances with the sword and spear while the final stage is combat. This art shares a common origin with Sarit Sarak, the sibling of Thang Ta.
Thang Ta or Huyen Lallong is a weapon-based art initially created by the Meitei of Manipur.
Sarit Sarak is the art of  fighting bare handed. It dates back to the 17th century. Both these art forms were used by Manipuris with telling effect against the British who banned it.
Banshay is a weapon-based Burmese art focusing primarily on the sword, cane, staff and spear. Here, the participant makes extensive use of the dha or sword  in pairs. Sword-fencing demonstrations and performances often begin with a pre-fight war dance in which the swordsman spins one or two swords very close to the body without cutting themselves.
Sword training is conducted with the weapon still sheathed. Traditionally when a master first presents his student with a sword, the scabbard is fixed so that the disciple is discouraged from killing opponents. Under extreme conditions when the sword must be unsheathed, the scabbard may be broken with a rock or other object. This art is restricted to north east.
The art of archery is called Thoda.  Here, the wooden ball replaces the arrow head and the bows differ size, ranging from 3.5 feet to 6 feet.
Well, I will have to end now as the list keeps on growing. There are art forms of the Marathas and of Bihar and Karnataka that I have not touched upon. Suffice to say that India is one country that has a variety of martial arts that fits every person, all ages and all categories of people.  


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