‘Martial Arts‘ are popular art forms that train people in different sorts and dimensions of fighting — fighting with a spear or a sword, physical combat, resisting cavalry attack, single combat or combat with many, etc. As such, martial arts besides being sources of modern entertainment also provide training in skills demanded by professionals, including soldiers.
Martial Arts In India
India has an ancient tradition in diverse martial arts. Nearly every part of India has evolved one or the other sort of traditional martial art. The Japanese and the Chinese trace the origins of their conventional martial arts, karate, and kung-fu, to India. Distinctly, according to Chinese texts and tradition, an Indian sage, Bodhidharma (5th or 6th century CE), who traveled from South India to North China and settled at the Shaolin Monastery in the Sung Mountain, meditated there for nine years and imparted some new methods of Indian martial arts to his follower monks.
Mind, Body, and Spirit – Among the numerous arts developed in India, recognised for its exuberant cultural heritage dating back countless centuries before Christ, was the one concerning martial arts. Ancient Indian philosophies were handed down from generation to generation frequently by word of mouth or written on palm leaf manuscripts which are still accessible for inspection. These oral and written philosophies give us a precise indication that the sages of yore, apart from their regular study of religion and philosophy, never ignored the course of the human anatomy fusing the mind, body, and spirit. It is precisely from this study that the various sciences of war and the indigenous Ayurvedic medical treatment emerged.
Different Styles In India – There are two basic styles known as the Northern and Southern Styles originating from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Northern style (in Malabar region of Kozhikode and Kannur), Central Style (in Kochi), and Southern Style (in Travancore & Trivandrum). In both types, the art composes of four branches of combat technique. These are unarmed training, training with sticks of various lengths, training with a range of deadly weapons, and finally training to strike at vital points. All training commences with the initial warming up exercises to stop muscular injury and increase heart rate.
The training of the secret technique of striking at the vital points known as “Marma-Adi“. It is for superior students specially appointed by the Master based on his secret knowledge of their personality and character and his steadfast confidence that they will only use this technique for self-defence. These techniques are not taught to all students because its indiscriminate use can lead to fatalities. Teaching goes on throughout the year except during the dry season between January to April. Immediately after the onset of the monsoon, the teaching restarts again usually commencing with a traditional oil massage.
- The Nayars of Kerala who constitute the warrior class practice the Northern style.
- They conduct lessons in a building known as the Kalari with fixed dimensions – (42 feet by 21 feet) with thick walls usually made of mud and a floor typically 3 feet below ground level. The property, traditionally owned by the Master, also houses the dispensary and massage parlour. According to tradition, training was always indoors and only at night to maintain secrecy.
- The Northern style is characterised by very high jumping and kicking techniques, long strides, low stances and blows, and locks delivered by arms and hands that are almost fully stretched.
- Too strenuous gymnastic techniques, probably taken from Yoga, are also found in the training regimen.
- The Tamils mainly practice the Southern style.
- This style is generally practiced outdoors during daylight hours. Certain Masters use outdoor pits or hollows as training grounds, but others often teach under the cool shade of coconut palms in the vicinity of their houses. Many also have training grounds in nearby villages frequently moving around training different groups.
- The Southern-style contains more circular movements and lacks the grace and depth of the northern movements.
- Strikes and blows are usually delivered with the palm of the hands open, and the arms bent, and there are hardly any high kicks or jumps.
- However, this style has a more solid stance and can deliver a powerful force by using the arms, shoulders and torso.
- The Southern-style is less energetic than the Northern style.
- Students only start learning to use the stick or the staff after they are considered adept in the earlier exercises and forms of Kalari Payattu.
- In Tamil Nadu, the people treat this aspect as a separate martial art known as “Silambattam“. Translated, Silambam means stick and Aattam means to play.
- However, today most Masters of Kalari Payattu insist on incorporating Silambam as a part of the regular syllabus. Sticks range in size from around six inches to a little less than six feet and are cut from bamboo or rattan.
- Advanced students use sticks made from a type of hardwood, which can stun, immobilise or hurt an opponent. Although at the same time avoiding severe injury and the more extended posts are held with one hand grasping the centre and the other hand holding either end of the stick.
- However, there are also styles of combat where both hands grasp the stick at one end and wield it around rapidly to shower hard blows upon an opponent. Holding the shaft with each hand one-third of the way along its length is usually adequate for blocking. Lowstances and a sort of rapid-fire of blows and blocks typify the stick technique.
- Initially, they practise single and paired stick movements individually before free sparring between Master and students are allowed.
Bharasrama, Bharamanasrama, salilasrama, Bahupellanakasrama and Stambhasrama
“Bharasrama” is weightlifting both by hands and feet. While “bhramaṇasrama,” i.e. walking and running and taking brisk walks in the morning, “salilasrama”, swimming in a tank, lake or river, “bahupellanakasrama” was done to increase the strength of the grip of hands through friction by contacting the arms with the arms of a partner. “Stambhasrama” was performed on a wooden pole (stambha) firmly fixed on the ground; the pillar had to be smooth and sliding, sufficiently thick for grasping and as high as the raised arm of the wrestler.
Mallakhamba, Sastrasrama and Dhanuhsrama
The wrestler would grip the pillar with his arms and legs, lift his body and encircle the pillar with twisting movements. This pillar exercise is prevalent even today and is known as “mallakhamba”. Other martial activities were popularly practised such as “sastrasrama”, performed with various weapons or “dhanuhśrama”, performed with the bow, i.e. pulling the bowstring several times, bending the heavy bow and fixing the string to the bow were all considered heavy exercises.
The other exercises performed with weapons were asisrama (with a massive sword), saktisrama (with short spears), cakrasrama (with a weapon called cakra), sellakala (with heavy lances) and parsusrama (with an axe, parsu). Varanasi since ancient times was a centre for wrestling and mustiyuddha, a traditional form of boxing. Ankavinoda, duel or combats, were also popular martial sports in India. A person fighting another who carried the same weapon was known as anka. The fights in this category were, at times fierce, leading to bloodshed.
Several warrior clans in India were adepts at a martial art. Thus the Jyesthimallas (‘great fighters’) of medieval India were experts in a style of wrestling called vajra-musti, which was performed with knuckle-dusters; they spread mainly over Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The Paikas of Odisha were fierce warriors who developed a particular martial technique called the paika akhada. The Meitis of Manipur practised a distinct martial technique called thang-ta, which remains a popular martial art in Manipur and in which a spear and a sword are the primary weapons.
- Lathi Khela or stick play, is a trendy martial art, especially in north India.
- A polished stick typically six to eight feet long and at times metal-tipped is used to ward off the enemy through various wielding techniques, steps and posturing.
- At one time prevalent in the Bihar and Bengal, the sport has seen a decline over the years.
- Similar to lathi khela is silambam, i.e. a bamboo fight- a popular martial art of south India.
- Silambam was initially practised with bamboo sticks and later with steel swords and shields. The bamboo staff used is usually 5 feet in length and is swirled while attacking the enemy.
- It is also one kind of training in javelin or spear fighting.
- Another popular martial sport of the region is kuruntadi, which is played with short bamboo sticks roughly of two-palm length.
- It is performed to the accompaniment of drums and music, and each stroke aims at a particular varṇam or vital spots of the human body.
- It is an art that gives training in physical combat.
- It uses a kind of boomerang made of wood, ivory or iron.
- It is a training in remote resistance of or attack on an enemy. It was prevalent in the medieval period in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and continues to be in practice till the late 18th century. This particular weapon was handy in resisting medieval cavalry charges.
- It is one of the most popular and ancient martial art in the region of Punjab.
- A wooden stick and a shield are usually used in the sparring match, and points are scored when vital spots in the body are touched. Swords and shields are also used in gatkā which is, in fact, training in the professional use of blades. The Sikh Gurus, many of whom were proponents of the martial movement, encouraged the growth of various martial arts techniques.
- Guru Gobind Singh was adept at martial arts and established the martial tradition among the Sikhs. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, it is said, practised gatkā with sword and shield.
- Kaḷarippayattu is one of the oldest martial arts in existence and to have originated in Kerala, where it flourished.
- kaḷarippayattu means the combat that takes place inside the traditional gymnasium called kaḷari.
- In Kerala, three styles of kaḷarippayattu developed in different regions, the northern, southern and central techniques, with distinct beliefs, practices and methods.
- The northern style traces its origin to Parasurama, and its experts are called Gurukkaḷ.
- The southern style traces its origin to Agastya; its experts are referred to as Asans.
- The central style is practised on floor paths known as kaḷams.
- The practice of kaḷarippayattu takes place in at least five stages-In the first; the focus is on body fitness. In the second, the student train in stick combat. In the third stage, the student trains on how to handle weapons.
- A student is inducted into the fourth stage only after he has been tested and proved to be trustworthy; this stage consists of training in hand combat. The final step of training comprises of Ayurvedic treatments for body and mind, techniques of marma (vital points) and therapeutic massages. The student learns how to treat injuries and diseases resulting from trauma.
- Kaḷarippayattu delivers enormous flexibility to the body and fine-tunes one’s reflexes to such a degree that it is believed that the complete body of the trained person becomes his eyes, as it were (meikkaṇṇu). The practice of kaḷari associates training with sharp and dangerous weapons such as dagger, mace, sword, spear, fist dagger, deer horn dagger and the like.
Urumi or the curling sword is worth a special mention: this flexible long sword made of steel is sharp enough to cut flesh but at the same time thin enough to be rolled into a coil. The training in wielding this weapon is given only in the end considering the danger involved to both the wielder and the opponent.
Types Of Martial Arts In The World
There are three chief categories of martial arts — Japanese, Chinese, Korean. And within each style, there are a few styles.
Jujitsu (a Japanese Martial Art)
- Jujitsu is an ancient martial art that involves grappling techniques (its name translates literally into “the art of pliance“).
- It focuses on the ability to use indirect force, such as joint locks or throwing techniques, to defeat an opponent, as opposed to relying upon direct power such as punching or kicking.
- While Jujitsu training indeed includes kicking and punching, its focus is to maximise the ability to use an attacker’s force against him and counter-attack where he is weakest or least defended.
- Today, jujutsu is practised in many forms, both ancient and modern.
- While pure forms of jujitsu are still practised today, various methods of jujutsu have been incorporated or synthesised into Judo and Aikido, as well as being exported throughout the world and transformed into sport wrestling systems, and elements of jujitsu have been adopted in whole or part by schools of karate or other unrelated martial arts.
Aikido (a Japanese Martial Art)
- This martial art was developed by Morihei Ueshiba of Japan and is a synthesis of the founder’s martial arts studies, philosophy and religious beliefs.
- It is designed to be an art that can be used as self-defence that does not inflict injury upon the attacker.
- The techniques of Aikido can avert or immobilise rather than damage or kill.
- Aikido emphasises redirecting the attacker’s energy, as opposed to meeting force with force.
- Aikido consists primarily of body throws and joint locking techniques.
- In addition to physical fitness and technique, mental training, controlled relaxation, and development of “spirit” (ki) are emphasised in aikido training.
- The physical training in Aikido is diverse, covering general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques. Because a substantial portion of any aikido curriculum consists of throws, the first thing most students learn is how to safely fall or roll.
- The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defence consist of throws and pins.
- Aikido incorporates elements of Judo and jujitsu, among other Japanese martial arts.
- It is classified as a grappling style of martial arts. It is not an Olympic sport.
Judo (a Japanese Martial Art)
- Judo is one of only two martial arts that are Olympic sports (the other is Tae Kwon Do).
- In Judo, the object is to throw one’s opponent to the ground, immobilise or subdue the opponent by using a grappling manoeuvre, joint lock or choke.
- Unlike other martial arts, kicks, punches, and thrusts are not allowed in competition or freestyle practice.
- In English, Judo is translated as “the gentle way” – instead of meeting force with force, this refers to the principle of using one’s opponent’s strength against him and adapting well to changing circumstances.
- Judo throws employ leverage rather than pure strength; a competitor can pull an opponent off-balance or get below the opponent’s centre of gravity to toss him or her to the ground.
- This sport, developed by Kano Jigoro in the mid 19th century, has many similarities to the ancient art of jujitsu. But unlike older martial arts, which have the sole purpose of combat fighting, Judo offers a holistic approach to life that extends far beyond martial arts training.
Kendo (a Japanese Martial Art)
- Its name means “way of the sword,” and this ancient martial art is over 650 years old.
- Practitioners use practice swords of bamboo, called shinai. They wear protective clothing that includes body padding, padded gloves, and a mask with metal bars that protect the face. Attached to the mask are shoulder protectors that protrude up and over the shoulders.
- The wide, divided skirts, called hakama, allow fighters to move freely; the garment hides their leg movements, making it difficult for opponents to guess one another’s moves.
- As in other martial arts, Kendo students learn various forms, called kata, and also participate in sparring, or fencing, competitions.
Karate (a Chinese Martial Art)
- Karate, an amalgam of Chinese and Japanese martial arts, is known primarily as a striking art (it is translated from Japanese as “Empty Hand“.
- It originated in the southernmost islands of Japan, the Ryukyu islands that were initially allied with China; Japan later took control of these islands. The largest of these islands is Okinawa. This martial art developed with these distinct influences.
- The sport features punching, kicking, knee/elbow strikes and open-handed techniques.
- However, grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints/traps, throws and vital point striking also appear in karate.
- It has many similarities to the Korean sport of taekwondo, one note of distinction, however, is that taekwondo uses more kicks, while karate has a greater emphasis on punches and strikes.
- There are many components to modern karate training, including forms and sparring. It is an art, sport, and self-defence training.
- Weapons comprise another important training area, as well as the psychological elements incorporated into a proper attitude such as perseverance, fearlessness, virtue, and leadership skills.
- Karate may be practised for many reasons, but was initially developed for self-defence. The forms, or kata, contain a variety of techniques intended for this purpose: hand strikes, kicks, locking, and grappling. However, proper training is required to make these techniques usable against a determined aggressor.
- Most styles include some form of two-person pre-arranged self-defence exercises as well as sparring or semi-sparring (structured sparring with limited options allowed for either partner). This allows for the development of a sense of range and timing.
- A number of styles practice hard-contact sparring.
- Some schools are criticised for claiming to teach practical martial arts despite a lack of two-person training to develop needed attributes.
- An instructor may believe that practising kata suffices to develop the necessary skills.
Tai Chi (a Chinese Martial Art)
- Sometimes called “moving meditation“, Tai Chi has been regarded as a martial art, and its traditional practitioners still teach it as one.
- It has developed a worldwide following among many thousands of people for purposes of health and longevity.
- Tai Chi theory and practise is centred on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Its benefits include health maintenance and stress management.
- Initially developed in China as a form of self-defence, this graceful form of exercise has existed for about 2,000 years.
- Tai chi training first and foremost involves learning solo routines, known as forms. And while the image of Tai Chi in popular culture is typified by exceedingly slow movement, many styles (including the three most popular, Yang, Wu and Chen) have secondary forms of a faster pace.
- The other half of traditional tai chi training is partner exercises known as pushing hands, as well as martial applications of the postures of the form.
- It’s becoming increasingly popular around the world, both as a basic exercise program and as a complement to other health care methods.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, health benefits include stress reduction, more excellent balance and increased flexibility — especially for older adults.
Hapkido (a Korean Martial Art)
- With its flowing, circular movements and philosophy of non-resistance, Hapkido bears a striking resemblance to the Japanese martial art of Aikido.
- On the “hard-soft” scale of martial arts, Hapkido stands somewhere in the middle, employing “soft” techniques similar to Aikido and “hard” techniques reminiscent of taekwondo and forms of karate. Even the “hard” techniques, emphasise circular rather than linear movements.
- Different hapkido schools emphasise different techniques — joint locks, pressure points, throws, kicks, and other strikes. However, some core techniques are found in each school (Kwan), and all methods should follow the three principles of Hapkido, non-resistance, circular motion and the “water principle.”
- Hwa, or non-resistance, is simply the act of remaining relaxed and not directly opposing an opponent’s strength.
- The hapkido practitioner learns to observe an attacker as an “energy entity” preferably than as a physical entity. The bigger the person is, the more energy a person has, the better it is for the hapkido student.
- Yu, the water principle, can be thought of as the quiet, adaptable strength of water.
- Hapkido is “soft” in that it does not rely on physical force alone, much like water is soft to touch. It is adaptable in that a hapkido master will strive to deflect an opponent’s strike, in a way that is similar to free-flowing water being split around a stone only to return and envelop it.
Taekwondo (a Korean Martial Art)
- Taekwondo is one of the most widely practised martial arts in the world.
- It is one of two martial arts represented at the Olympics (Judo is the other one).
- Taekwondo is a combination of combat technique, self-defence, sport, exercise, entertainment, and philosophy.
- Although there are great doctrinal and technical differences among taekwondo organisations, the art, in general, emphasises kicks thrown from a mobile stance, using the leg’s greater reach and power to disable the opponent from a distance.
- Taekwondo training also includes a comprehensive system of blocks, punches, open-handed strikes, various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and some joint locks.
- Taekwondo distinguishes itself from martial arts such as karate by its emphasis on kicking instead of the reliance on hand techniques of these other martial arts.
- Taekwondo practitioners believe that the leg is the longest and strongest weapon a martial artist has and kicks thus have the most significant potential to execute powerful strikes without successful retaliation.
- Although only sparring is contested in the Olympics, breaking and forms are also contested frequently in other competitions.
- All three are parts of a traditional Taekwondo curriculum, with a fourth part being Hosinsul (self-defence). Olympic style sparring consists of 3 non-stop rounds of contact with rest in between.
- Taekwondo as a sport and exercise is popular with people of both sexes and of many ages.
- Physically, taekwondo develops strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina.
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