Kalaripayat, or more formally Kalari Payattu, is a form of martial arts practiced in the south Indian provinces of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It is now also practiced in the northern part of Sri Lanka.
Kalaripayat is perhaps one of the oldest fighting systems in the world today.
The style uses a variety of strikes, grappling locks, throws, weapons and healing techniques with pressure points.
The Kalaripayat style varies according to the area of Kerala in which it is practiced
The Northern style
Parasurama, the sixth reincarnation of Vishnu, is believed, according to the tradition, to be the style’s founder. The masters of the northern system are called “gurukkal”.
The northern style places emphasis first in learning weapons then afterwards empty hands.
In the northern style the training is divided into four main parts:
- Meithari or Meippayattu involves hard physical training exercises with the body totally covered in coconut oil. This will discipline the body and will help to balance the mind.
- Kolthari. In this stage the training involves wooden weapons. The student will first learn the long staff, after that he will move on to short range wooden weapons. The last weapon is the curved wooden ‘elephant nose’ or master stick used to strike vital points.
- Ankathari. (war training) In this stage the student will train with metal weapons. Training starts with the curved blade dagger, then moves on to the sword, the shield, the spear and finally the most dangerous of all… the 3 meters flexible sword. After completing the Ankathari stage, the student specializes in the weapon of his choice.
- Verumkai. The last stage of training in the northern style is the empty hand techniques. Strikes and grappling are the main skills. The most advanced martial knowledge is of the pressure points and the master will only teach this to very few trusted students.
Another important aspect in the northern style of Kalaripayat is healing massage, closely related to ayurvedic medicine. The purpose of medicinal oil massage is to become more flexible and to prevent and repair body injuries resulting from training.
The Central style
The central style blends the best of the northern exercise patterns with the southern empty hand fighting concepts and footwork.
The Southern style
The founder of the style is the saint or rishi Agasthya.
Masters in the southern tradition are known as “asaan”.
The southern style emphasizes teaching empty hand techniques first. The stages of training in this modality are chuvatu (solo forms), jodi (partner training/sparring), kurunthadi (short stick), neduvadi (long stick), katthi (knife), katara (dagger), valum parichayum (sword and shield), single or double chuttuval (flexible sword), grappling and marmma (pressure points).
The preliminary empty handed techniques of varma ati are known as adithada (hit/defend) Marma ati refers specifically to the application of these techniques to vital points. Weapons include bamboo staff, wooden tamarind short sticks, and the double deer horns. The medical treatment of the southern styles is related to the traditional Dravidian system of medicine called Siddha. The siddha medical system, otherwise known as siddha vaidyam, is also attributed to Agasthya. Another related style to the southern Kalari Payat is the Tamil ancient art of stick fighting called Silambam.