These systems of fighting, standing on the foundations of the discipline, technique and hard work, are just about hypnotic in their structure and process. The success of global martial arts such as karate, taekwondo, and jiu-jitsu on movie screens is gradually growing. There are also ancient ones in our Vedic traditions, though. Coordination is stressed between the mind and the body. Hand-to-hand combat is part of the martial art style, as well as wielding a number of weapons-staff, spear, mace, lightweight sword, among others. 


From the words Kalari (battleground) and Payattu (fight), Kalaripayattu gets its name. It is also undoubtedly the most famous, believed to be the country’s oldest-known martial arts. Whilst the roots of this fighting strategy are unclear, theological theories fill the gap. The tale says that Parasurama (a disciple of Lord Vishnu) was taught by Lord Shiva, who then passed on the knowledge to his 21 students. Kalaripayattu soon spread throughout the state of Kerala as kalaris were opened throughout the state by Parasurama.

Kalaripayattu practitioners have intricate knowledge of pressure points on the human body and methods of healing that combine Ayurveda and Yoga knowledge. Martial art is taught to students as a way of life, with a feeling of love, discipline, and appreciation for the master, fellow students, parents, and society. Special focus is placed on the avoidance of confrontational situations and the use of martial art only as a means of defence where there is no other solution.

Kalaripayattu involves punches, kicks, wrestling, predetermined forms, arms and methods of healing. Regional versions are categorised in Kerala thus according to geographical location; these are the Northern style from northern Kerala’s Malabar region and southern Kerala’s Southern style. Northern Kalaripayattu, or “Vadakkan Kalari” is focused on graceful and agile motions, evasions, leaps and training in weapons, whereas the style of southern “Thekkan Kalari” specialises in rough, impact-based tactics that rely on hand-to-hand fighting and point-of-pressure attacks. Both structures make use of principles that are internal and external. Warriors trained in Kalaripayattu would use very light and simple body armour because even in heavy armour, it was hard to retain stability and agility. 


It is stated that by simply hitting the correct marmam (vital point) on the body of their enemy, skilled Kalari warriors may disable or kill their opponents. In order to avoid abuse of the method, this technique is taught only to the most competent and level-headed students. The comprehension of marmam is stressed by Marmashastram and is also used for marma therapy (marmachikitsa). As well as Siddha medicine, this method of marma therapy derived from Ayurveda. In Rig Veda, where Indra is also said to have defeated Vritra by hitting his marmam with a vajra, the earliest mention of marmam is recorded.

Marmam parallels are also found in the Veda of Atharva. It is certain that India’s early martial artists learned of and practised attacking or defending vital points, with various other sporadic references to vital points in Vedic and epic texts. In his Sushruta Samhita, Sushruta (c. 6th century BC) described and specified 107 vital points of the human body. Of these 107 points, 64 were classified as lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick. The work of Sushruta formed the basis of the Ayurveda medical practise, which was taught alongside various Indian martial arts that concentrated on vital points, such as Varma kalai.

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