By Clifford Sawhney March 2002 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 ARTSThe 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 healing—marma chikitsa—is 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.'' The cool, crisp winter air had all the early morning walkers relaxed and invigorated in a Delhi park. A group practicing yogasanas and some dozen-odd members of a laughter club also felt recharged. In another corner of the park, a group of youngsters were practicing their katas with seemingly boundless energy. Each group was in the park for individual goals, but all were doing one thing in common: boosting their chi. All life in the cosmos is animated by chi, which is a 'life-force' or 'vital energy' that is said to be the power that governs the universal power. Says martial arts exponent Rashid Ansari: 'Chi (pronounced 'qi') is the Chinese word for life-force or cosmic energy. The Japanese call it 'ki', we Indians call it 'prana' and 'kundalini', the Apache 'diyin' and the pygmies 'mana'. Chi is the animating power that flows through all living things. A living person is filled with it; a dead person has none. It is also the life energy one senses in nature, in the cosmos around us. It is this indwelling force that manifests as the feel of a direction or a pattern frozen within an instant. Hence, in the East and specifically in the martial arts, physical action and the indwelling life force cannot be disassociated.' Ansari claims that while all living beings have chi, it is the cultivation, expansion, harnessing and use of chi in martial arts that merits attention. In the past as also today, the development of chi is how martial artists have been able to perform physically impossible feats. These include breaking huge blocks of ice or stone, withstanding blows of tremendous power on their person without any injury, generating terrifying power and speed with no apparent effort, and much more! It was the Chinese who developed various 'chi kong'—systems to generate chi and harness its Kong (benefit or achievement)—for health and well-being. The Chinese believe there are six different kinds of chi in the body: • Gu chi (grain chi) that generates the body's energy • Kong chi (air in the lungs) that enkindles energy • Zan chi (between all organs) that is the body's original energy • Wei chi (guarding energy) occupies the skin surface • Xie chi (blood chi) that maintains body temperature • Jin chi (sperm or egg producing chi) that is reproductive energy In India, yoga is the most popular method of raising and regulating one's prana or chi. In the Far East, martial arts practice was popular for raising chi. Martial artists mainly train in Zan chi and Xie chi. But all the other kinds of chi also benefit in the practice of the martial arts or chi Kong Ansari asserts that near-miraculous feats are possible by cultivating chi. 'This is through proper, disciplined, regulated practice of chi Kong methods. There are a whole series of breathing, meditative postures, movements and visualizations for specifically cultivating chi. Ranging from simple sets of just being aware of one's chi to the more complex ones through which one can project the chi outwards. This life-force or chi is a blending of mind-body power and a mixture of polarities, the yin-yang.' The Chinese character for yin-yang has two elements. On top is a square representing a container and underneath are four strokes rising upwards, representing fire. Taken together, the image is that of a container of air placed over fire. As the fire rises, the water remains water yet a transformation takes place, says Ansari. Bubbles burst through the surface of water and a vapor rises upwards and outwards. This can be called chi. When chi is balanced, only then is it possible to harness it. Dynamic chi Kong (moving) and passive chi Kong (still) are to be practiced together. Yang and yin chi reside in the sinews and the marrow and can form a protective sheath for the body. Chi is also the basis of Chinese healing systems. 'All martial arts work on the cultivation of chi, but some more so than others,' says Ansari. 'Chi Kong, t'ai chi ch'uan, pa kua, hsing i, aikido, kenjutsu/kendo and kyodo work on the cultivation of chi from the very beginning, whereas others may work their way in from the outside.' The area just below the navel—tan tien in Chinese and hara in Japanese—is called the 'sea of chi'. Cultivating chi is not just a technique but a 'practice', meaning that it is life long, ranging from simple concepts to the completely esoteric. The Chinese cultivated chi through arts like dragon kung fu, ch'i kung, and t'ai chi. The power of chi lies at the root of all martial arts and meditative practices. Taoist internal martial arts like t'ai chi, hsing-i and pakua teach practitioners how to harness chi through martial arts. For this, one had to follow the way of the Tao. These arts were taught in Buddhist monasteries. But not everyone was privy to them. Nor could one pay and learn. They could only be acquired by the desire to learn, the will to discipline one's self and fervent devotion to practice. The benchmarks were pegged so high that the Chinese considered the master to be a disciple of the way of the tiger and the sign of the dragon. Learners had to start with the most difficult and menial tasks. Over the first few years, their abilities and temperament were severely tested. If they were able to win the confidence of the monks, only then were they allowed to learn 'kung fu'—a generic term for martial arts. The kung fu student trained the mind and body to work in close coordination. He would be taught the basic steps and prearranged forms simulating multiple attacks. He then advanced to complex steps, simultaneously learning Taoism. This stage complete, one became a disciple who was taught the higher secrets of the arts and philosophies. Movements were now perfected to coincide with one's breathing. And the mind would meld into the realm of meditation termed 'mindlessness'. It was now that the student really learnt to harness chi so that even a man of small stature could break bricks with his bare hands or sense movement in a dark room. Chinese systems such as t'ai chi consist of actions controlled by chi. Such arts are smooth and fluid. Says t'ai chi practitioner Mala Shukla: 'Healing through movement has been used in ancient China for over 3,000 years and t'ai chi is just
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