Kalaripayattu or Kalari is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India. A practice that has its roots set deep into the earth of Kerala, also known as God’s Own Country, is the mother of all martial arts. The word Kalaripayattu is derived from two words – “Kalari” meaning training ground and “payattu” meaning to fight or get trained. Kalaripayattu martial art was originally a secret fighting method with intense training in physical discipline, armed and unarmed combat, breathing, meditation and healing treatments. The basic principles of Kalaripayattu training are to combine psychology and physiology keeping the overall development of a person in mind. The influence of kalarippayattu can be seen in most of the art forms of Kerala. Without any gender discrimination, both boys and girls have shown keen interest in this art form and the holistic approach is what appeals to many.
Styles Of Kalaripayattu
There are two major styles that are generally acknowledged within traditional Kalaripayattu based on how they are practised. They are the Northern style, or Vadakkan Kalari, and the Southern style, or Thekkan Kalari.
Vadakkan or Northern style
Regarded as the “original,” form of Kalaripayattu, this style is practised in the Malabar region of Kerala. The Vadakkan style places more emphasis on physical flexibility exercises and graceful body movement.
Thekken or Southern Style
A style that combines Kalaripayattu with certain elements of Adi Murai is practised mainly in the Travancore region. This style involves more free armed techniques, footwork & powerful movements.
Different Stages Of Kalaripayattu Training
A student learning Kalaripayattu will be taught only defensive moves in the beginning. Only after mastering those moves will he be taught offensive techniques. Kalari is believed to be one of the highest forms of physical and mental training which is usually done in four stages.
First Stage of Kalaripayattu – Meithari (Body Control Exercises)
Meithari is the first stage of the practice of Kalaripayattu where training begins with disciplining the physical body and attaining mental balance. Here the movement and sequences are designed to train the body and mind to prepare the students for more advanced levels of training. It sets the foundation for the entire training to develop strength, flexibility, balance and stamina. Emphasis is placed on learning the basic body positions and after mastery of the basics, more advanced moves are taught such as aerial kicks, twisting, jumps, rolls, and body bend. Student’s mental and physical skills are sharpened to the highest level in this stage and when they reach the satisfactory level, they are moved to the second stage.
Second Stage – Kolthari (Practice with Wooden Weapon)
The second level of kalarippayattu is Kolthari, wherein wooden weapons are introduced. The weapon training stage in kalarippayattu techniques is used to remove fear, build confidence, alertness and balance of the body. Wooden weapons used in Kolthari are different types of sticks – long, short, specially fabricated, rounded and curved ones. Students are taught to use them to attack as well as to defend. Right weapon training helps to develop dristi sthirata – seeing clearly with stability. This prevents the mind from panicking, thus allowing one to calmly assess the situation and take appropriate action. After completing the training in Kolthari, the student will be proficient at using whatever stick he has in possession to resist all kinds of attacks, make counter-attacks and overpower enemies.
Third Stage – Angathari (Practice with Metal Weapons)
Metal weapon training is introduced only after the student has attained mastery over Meithari and Kolthari. Here students are introduced to sharp and lethal metal weapons such as the Kadara (dagger), Udaval (fencing sword), Valum Parichayum (sword & shield) which demand superior concentration due to their lethal nature. Angathari trains the student to cut and thrust with the sword, and various defense moves with the shield, accompanied by twists and turns of the body. The weapons are graded and slowly introduced with advanced combat techniques at each level. Only the highly skilled students are trained with Urumi (flexible sword) which are more dangerous in nature. This training improves reflexes, eliminates fear and builds confidence and brings about alertness.
Fourth Stage – Verumkai (Bare Hand Technique)
Verumkai is the last stage of Kalaripayattu training where students are taught the bare hand techniques. Once the student is mastered in all the weapons, he is taught to defend barehanded. Here, the students are required to fight armed, unarmed, or multiple opponents without using weapons. Bare hand techniques such as grips, kicks, strikes, blocks, attacks, throws, etc. are all taught as part of the course. This stage involves an extremely high level mastery of hand and eye coordination. Knowledge of all the vital points in the body is also part of this stage where students require a thorough understanding of human anatomy that includes the study of the pressure points of a human body. With rigorous and continuous daily practice one can achieve speed and accuracy in this stage.
Benefits Of This Ancient Martial Art
Kalaripayattu comes with a unique combination of martial art training, physical culture, self-defense and mental/spiritual development. This unique combination provides significant benefits to the practitioner by way of self-analysis and self-control over attack and offence. Kalari techniques are gaining popularity rapidly among people. Here’s a list that will make you realize the importance of Kalaripayattu.
- Improves body strength and boosts flexibility.
- Helps to focus and increases the concentration level.
- Teaches one to be calm and improves patience level.
- Improves speed and cuts down on laziness.
- Boosts the immunity levels to keep you away from diseases.
At a time when sedentary living has become the norm, this martial art seems more relevant today than ever before. There has been a recent surge in interest for the Kalari class with everyone embracing it for different reasons, be it for self-defense, fitness routine or for improving body confidence. So what are you waiting for……go enrol yourself for a unique experience!