In the days of yore before exercise systems became a form of combat as martial arts, they tapped the mysterious power of chi for self-healing, self-discovery, even self-realization. With the right attitude and techniques, they still can
MOTHER OF ALL MARTIAL ARTS
The world's oldest civilizations like China and India have a history of martial arts dating back at least 2,000 years. While it is impossible to pinpoint the precise origins of martial arts, one system from Kerala claims to be the 'mother of all martial arts'—kalaripayattu. Legend has it that around the 4th century AD, Parasurama brought it to earth from heaven.
The world's oldest civilizations like China and India have a history of martial arts dating back at least 2,000 years. While it is impossible to pinpoint the precise origins of martial arts, one system from Kerala claims to be the 'mother of all martial arts'kalaripayattu. Legend has it that around the 4th century AD, Parasurama brought it to earth from heaven.
Of Sanskrit lineage, the word kalari denotes 'place of training' and payattu signifies 'training in the martial arts'. Based on vastu shastra principles, the kalaripayattu arena is dug six feet below the ground over an area of 42 feet in length in the east-west direction and 21 feet in breadth. The most well known kalari is CVN Kalari in Thiruvananthapurm, India.
Says Murugan Gurukkal, a Delhi-based practitioner: ''Kalari gurukulas impart knowledge of Vedas and Upanishads as well as modern science and mathematics. The training period is five to six years. Kalaripayattu is the only martial art in the world where the art of healingmarma chikitsais also taught. The use of herbal oils and massage are part of this.''
Murugan's Nithya Chaithanya Kalari Sanghom has been imparting training in kalaripayattu in Delhi since 1993. ''Meditation and yoga are taught during training. These are essential because when using weapons, maximum concentration is required. Meditation is also helpful in marma chikitsa in which, by touching a particular point in the body a person can be knocked unconscious, paralyzed or even killed. This is the last part of the training and is not taught to everybody,'' says Murugan.
A spectacular martial art, kalaripayattu is characterized by high jumps, kicks and swordsmanship. Practitioners are also trained in the use of weapons like staff, spear, dagger, sword, mace and shield after six years. The discipline is said to systematize the flow of energy (prana) in the body, mold character, increase self-confidence and help cure and control ailments. Kalaripayattu demonstrations include physical exercises and mock duels, armed and unarmed.
Chinese martial arts are said to have originated from kalaripayattu when Bodhidharma took the art to China around 520 AD. Some contest this claim. Counters Rashid Ansari: ''Although there's a lot of hype on how the martial arts went from India to China, I don't agree with this. I practice Chinese styles and find no similarity with Indian styles. The complexity of the empty hand system of China makes me think otherwise. That Bodhidharma took martial arts from India to China is a myth. People also confuse the origin of martial arts with the Shaolin Temple. Martial arts have been there for over 2,000 years. There's no doubt, though, that China, India and Korea are the oldest places to practice martial arts.''
''In March and April every year, kalari competitions are held in Kerala,'' says Murugan. ''Awareness of this art is rising. We were recently invited to the Bhopal Lok Rang Festival held between January 26 to 28 and gave demonstrations of kalaripayattu.''
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