Business News | Indian Martial Arts: Kalaripayat – Art of War and Peace
New Delhi [India] April 25 (ANI/Mediawire): Some martial arts are about absolute defense. It’s about winning, winning. Others are as much for the mind as they are for security. They are methods to elevate and transcend ourselves.
In our continued exploration of Indian martial arts, this sophisticated, powerful and agile Hyundai Creta brought us to the southern tip of our country. We are looking for what many call the “mother” of all martial arts. It is a form that has deep roots and long ramifications in history, philosophy and spirituality. It’s an art form that blurs the line between dance and damage.
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The martial art, as you may have read above, is the famous Kalaripayat, from God’s country, Kerala. To experience this evergreen art form, we had to get this evergreen SUV. Although available in various powertrain combinations, the Creta with us is in conventional SUV form (diesel engine/manual gearbox). It’s as grounded as it gets – easy to overtake, travel long distances and most importantly, offers great fuel efficiency. It’s as sound a car as most Indians would want.
Our journey brought us to a two-decade-old institution – Ankam Kadathanad Kalari, owned by a former school teacher and long-time Kalari practitioner, 64-year-old Suresh Gurukkal. With over four decades of in-depth understanding of his techniques – passed down through many generations – he runs this quaint thatched-roof institute in Vadakara, a small town along the coast in Kerala’s Calicut district.
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“When I was a child I had a strange affinity for watching Kalari but I never practiced it,” the guru recalls, “When I was about 14 I found out that my dad that I lost when I was very young, was a kalari artist himself. That was enough motivation for me to start. And he never looked back since he learned and then passed on the knowledge alongside his day job as a physics teacher at a local school.
Being such an ancient art, Kalari has evolved and spawned various styles influenced by those who have attained divine-level mastery of it. Nearly half a dozen variants exist and one can notice differences in the form of preparation and execution. For example, the one taught here is a North Kerala style, which is known to be more expansive in its approach and approaches movement holistically. In contrast, the Southern style is more martial – direct and effective, to be used in the fight for territory.
The arena is a rustic mud pit the size of an average sized swimming pool covered with a thatched roof. There is an elaborate display of weapons at one end with many lamps. It all begins with an elaborate step-by-step greeting asking the lord’s permission to enter, followed by an ode to their respective gurus and ancestors. Then there is a prayer, usually addressed to Lord Shiva who is considered one of the patron gods of Kalari. It is completed with respect for arms and worship of Naga (the serpent god).
The greetings are followed by a series of exercises called Meypayuttu. These are postures and exercises to condition the body at the start of training, just like warming up before going to the gym.
“Traditionally, all the inhabitants of this land, regardless of gender and caste, have received knowledge from Kalari, through the guru-shishya method,” says Nambiar. Most students start around age 7. While most learn a single form of Kalari from a guru, a few venture out to learn other forms but in different institutions because one place or trainer cannot teach different forms of Kalari.
Unlike the norm, students here pick up weapons long before they start learning unarmed combat. There is a deep reason for this. Usually weapons are meant to help you in your fight. If someone can fight unaided, that means you are obviously much stronger and more capable. It also means it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and calls for a final push that will exceed the opponent’s capabilities. In this case, it will depend on individual skills and body strength is all that matters. “It takes more practice, a lot of patience and maturity, so it’s learned last,” reveals Nambiar.
This advanced stage of Kalari is one based on an extremely deep and subtle understanding of the human body, its energy pathways and pressure points. This fundamental science of Marma can be used for both healing and deactivation. Interestingly, this is also used in Ayurvedic therapies for which, unsurprisingly, Kerala is quite well known.
Kalaripayat is a deadly, effective, and extremely ancient martial art, but that is not its true purpose. They say that the true goal of its practitioners is to be able to access spiritual depths beyond borders and to realize the smallness of human existence. Good Kalari artists are naturally humble, naturally radiant and naturally evolved. It is a holistic martial art that empowered fighters, dancers, stage actors as well as gladiators. Throughout this journey we have seen many different forms of combat, each with their own reasons and goals. It’s only fitting that we sign it with this little gem from where it all started – in God’s country.
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