Kalaripayattu is the world’s first martial art, wrong. Why do so many kalaripayattu practitioners say this. Do they actually think that they are impressing anyone? The oldest evidence of kalaripayattu we have, is ranging from 300 BC (year -300) to 300 AD (year 300). Where the word Kalari was found in an ancient southern indian language called tamil. Now take a deep breath, scientists claim that we humans have been here on earth for about 200,000 years.
What is a martial art?
Well basically a fighting system right. Besides the fact that we had to form some kind of fighting style to catch food and protect our tribes. We have found evidence from over 10,000 years ago, that we were already waging war on each other. Anyways I’ll talk more about this another time, as I’m already getting off track, so what is kalaripayattu martial art ?
What Does The Name Kalaripayattu Mean ?
Let’s start by understanding what the name Kalaripayattu means. Kalaripayattu is a combination of 2 words, kalari and payattu.
Kalari is the word that was found in the ancient language of tamil, either means battleground or training ground (dojo). The main distinction between the kalaripayattu ‘dojo’ and that of other martial arts, is what they refer to as the Puttara and the Guruttara.
Kalaripayattu Puttara and Guruttara
The Puttara is the most holy part of the kalari, as it represents a deity. It is located at the south-west corner of every kalari. The Puttara is a big platform usually decorated with candles, flowers, water and incense.
The Guruttar is a smaller relic than that of the Puttara and it’s usually located near it. The Guruttar represents all the Masters (teachers) That have taught at that kalari.
A kalaripayattu etiquette is to bow down before the Puttara, than the Guruttara, and finally the master before starting training.
In the gif to your right you can see kalaripayattu practitioners showing their respects to the Puttara and then the Guruttar.
The second word of kalaripayattu, payattu is also sometimes referred to as payatt. To clear up some confusion kalaripayattu and kalari-payatt is the same martial art. The word payattu in tamil means, to learn or to practice.
Together kalaripayattu simply means, to train the art of fighting.
It is ‘believed’ that the creator of kalaripayattu was Parashurama the sixth Avatar (reincarnation) of Vishnu from the hindu religion. According to hindu, Parashurama was an elite warrior wielding an axe, who fought against greedy warriors in order to restore balance.
The main purpose of kalaripayattu in india was, to fend of the wildlife and other treats that inhabited the area. It is also believed that the techniques and movements of kalaripayattu, were greatly influenced from the way the wildlife there faught. Analysing the way the animals were fighting in order to create human like versions of those attacks while creating counters for those attacks. This was essential in older martial arts, due to non human opponents.
Besides wildlife issues, kalaripayattu was the main military training for indian warriors. This helped the kalaripayattu martial art progress further, as a martial art. A very common misconception about the history of kalaripayattu is that the british banned kalaripayattu. Here’s what Matt Easton from Scholagladiatoria had to say on this issue.
He makes some really great points on the subject, though for some reason he doesn’t link his sources. Except for one where Louis Nolan stated that, it’s basically a waste of time to teach indians the british way of the sword, as they are already great swordsman. Which to be honest doesn’t really prove his point. It could be interpreted as louis mocking the british, for making the indians learn the british sword fighting style. Than again I never read the book so in context he could be right.
I found this part of the kalaripayattu history quite interesting, though I didn’t really find any reliable sources on the subject. So I decided to ask a friend who happens to be a kalaripayattu practitioner and an indian, this is roughly what he said. (Take this part of the article with a grain of salt)
It was and wasn’t.
They did raid houses for weapons in civilised areas, though this was done in order to keep safety among the people. They didn’t stop indians from practicing kalaripayattu in there kalari.
What did happen was that, in that era more weapons were being invented, more efficient weapons. This lead to indians losing interest in their traditional indian martial art. Which when you think about it, makes a lot of sense, you start to see sword fighting inferior to firearms. keep in mind that at that time martial arts where trained as a form of survival, unlike nowadays where we train as a form of hobby.
Than a bunch of anti-british indians and kalaripayattu master’s started this propaganda. The anti-british indians motives was merely to promote their political point of view. While for the kalaripayattu master’s, as a way to picture an image that kalaripayattu was so powerful that the british had to ban it. This tactics motives were obviously promotional, as this creates a psychological thirst.
What do they not want me to see?
Kalaripayattu like other ancient martial arts, integrated weapons into their training. A very interesting, well not exactly that interesting, as martial arts back then all implemented this into their training.
Kalaripayattu mounted weapon fighting
Now don’t get me wrong I’m against using animals for such activities, though at that time it was justifiable. Kalaripayattu warriors were trained to use horses and elephants to learn:
- Controlling the animal in order to increase mobility.
- Sword fighting while on an animal.
Fighting on a mount obviously has a lot of advantages, over un-mounted warriors. That is why it was essential in those days. I think it would be really interesting, if we managed to recreate mechanical animals and start some form of martial art. I don’t think there are any at the moment, though those machines would probably cost a fortune.
Excluding kalaripayattu mount weapon fighting, there were 3 other forms of kalaripayattu weapon training.
Kalaripayattu hand to hand sparring combat (Verum Kai Prayogam)
Ehh I’m not really impressed by the hand to hand combat sparring of kalaripayattu. I mean they do implement strikes, submissions, throws and all that good stuff. Though if they were to spar a more ‘modern’ martial art, I doubt they would last 10 seconds in the ring.
Even though they do implement the techniques I mentioned, which is great. The way the techniques are executed are just bad, aliveness simply isn’t there. Just look at this video, and tell me these techniques can be applied in a real fight. I didn’t choose the worst video I could find, all videos you’re gonna see on kalaripayattu hand to hand combat are just as equally obscure.
The techniques look really awesome and fun I’m not gonna doubt that, they are also a great form of exercise. In fact I’ll get more into that later. Though for actual self-defence combat, you’re going to get wasted in the streets, just sayin.
Kalaripayattu wooden weapons (Kolthari)
After you get some basic hand to hand combat in kalaripayattu, wooden weapons are introduced. These are a great introduction before the sharper weapons. Though don’t think wooden weapons are safe, I have no idea how many times I had to go get patched up after staff training. Still got some scars in fact, here’s a list of kalaripayattu wooden weapons:
- Multiple sizes of the wooden staff weapon
- Otta (curved stick)
- Wooden variations of metal weapons such as, swords, shields, daggers, etc. In order to practice with less lethal weapons.
- Gadha (mace)
Kalaripayattu metal weapons (Ankathari)
- Urumi (Flexible longsword more resembling a whip)
- Katar (dagger)
I love weapon sparring, though I don’t train kalaripayattu style weapons. I have a background of staff and katana training from ju jitsu and european medieval weapon training from HEMA. Though I happened to get the chance, of sparing against a kalaripayattu practitioner. Obviously this guy can’t generalise every kalaripayattu practitioner.
What I found disappointing in our sparring sessions together was, that he always targets the weapon instead of the physical target. Which obviously isn’t the way you should be fighting. That’s why I’m going to criticise the way they spar.
Firstly they use no armor in there sparring. I understand there concept, that in reality you’re not going to have armor but how can you realistically train using a weapon like the urumi. For those that don’t know what the urumi weapon is just look at this video.
As you can see in the video the fight isn’t real, it’s what’s referred to as kata or forms in other martial arts. You can clearly see them targeting the shield and that’s my main concern on their sparring.
They only train these synchronized fighting patterns, which aren’t bad as they start giving you the feel of the weapon. Though just doing these type of training drills will not really teach you how to use the weapon realistically.
If only they shifted away from tradition slightly, just to implement armour for their weapon sparring. A proper realistic sparring regime could be done, which would increase the practicality of this martial art exponentially.
This is a problem I find with a lot of traditional martial arts, you’re not going to ruin the traditional element by implementing safety and realistic sparring. Do all the traditional stuff it’s awesome and I like the culture element in these martial arts, by adding these extra drills your improving the art not watering it down.
Kalaripayattu Pressure Points Marmam (107 Vital Point) Indian Martial Arts Varma Kalai
Most indian martial arts including kalaripayattu, believe that there are certain points on your body that could kill you instantly by simply touching you in that area. The “Death Touch” so scary… so full of Bull****.
Obviously they will claim that only the very best can learn these techniques because in the wrong hands they will cause ‘havoc’.
Sure they will buddy, I can go on and on why this is BS but I assume that if you read this far into the article you have enough brain capacity to know it’s fake.
Though besides that aspect of kalaripayattu marman training there are definitely some benefits in learning vital points, some of which are:
- Relaxing muscles similar to spa massages
- Small joint manipulation mostly banned in combat sports though can be useful in certain unregulated situations.
- Knowing targets where to hit to cause the most damage is an artform within it self. As long as the targets are realistic.
I think it’s a very interesting and unique practice to have a massage after training, besides the XXXmultiple benefitsXXX that come with messages after training. It’s a great way to build closer bonds with your colleagues.
Kalaripayattu Training Exercises (Meythari)
Kalaripayattu’s body conditioning exercises are my favourite part of this martial art. These are practically drills to increase your flexibility. You will notice most kalaripayattu practitioners are incredibly flexible something that other martial arts might lack.
In MMA we usually crosstrain yoga in order to better our flexibility. I believe that kalaripayattu would actually be a better form of flexibility training. This is because the flexibility training in kalaripayattu is specifically designed for martial arts, a more dynamic form of stretching. Besides stretching you’d also be improving other aspects of your main martial art that yoga would not be able to fulfil, such as:
- Diverse sparring opponents
- New techniques
- Different tactics
For those of you that are not already training these kalaripayattu exercise, make sure to first get advice from a fitness trainer on how to start practicing. The level presented in that video are of years practicing these exercises. If you were to attempt these drills recklessly I guarantee you’re going to get injured. Years ago I attempted these techniques to increase my flexibility and ended up having to stop training for a month due to a groin injury.
Overall I think kalaripayattu is a great martial art to train, if you’re into the culturally spiritual side of martial arts. I also think it’s an okay martial art to crosstrain with your main martial art.
All images have been taken from pixabay with a Creative Commons CC0 licence.
Videos are embedded so that the original creator will still gain the views and any monetization they have.
Gifs made by makeagif.com from the following youtube videos, recomand you guys to check them out.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI84oM_bJeg&t=236s Kalaripayattu: The First Martial Art