My brother trained in Kalaripayattu briely. I remember him saying that it stressed flexibility and lots of open handed attacks
My brother trained in Kalaripayattu briely. I remember him saying that it stressed flexibility and lots of open handed attacks
I think I would really like Kalari. Maybe I'll practice it in my next incarnation...Portrait of an artiste as a perfectionist
GRACE AND SIMPLICITY Shaji K. John Photo: S.R. Raghunathan
Kalari expert Shaji K. John talks to Shonali Muthalaly about the hard physical training involved, tailoring the martial art for the urbanite and working with avant-garde artiste Chandralekha
“But why an interview?” “Why me?” “Why Kalari?” Expectant silence. “What is your story about?” Long pause. “Your angle?”
Convincing Shaji K. John, Kalaripayattu artiste and teacher, about this story is hard work. Although he's been performing and teaching the Kerala martial art for almost three decades now, inspiring a huge number of students and fans, Shaji is famously reticent and media shy. Yet, his reputation as an artiste and teacher is impressive. And, in this publicity-hungry age, artistes who don't bristle with press releases are a welcome change.
Hence we persevere. Attending a class at Shaji's school ‘Mandapa', a shadowy Kalari pit covered with traditional red tiles, makes him easier to understand. Set opposite Besant Nagar beach at the tranquil former residence, rehearsal and performance space of contemporary dance-choreographer Chandralekha, the class is tough and demanding.
Dedication and focus
With challenging poses and quicksilver movements, Kalaripayattu demands complete dedication. Focus, determination and discipline are essential for progress. As we catch our breath, we watch the senior students — two girls — practise fighting with sticks, swords and shields. They move with precision and grace.
Shaji doesn't bother with publicity because the skills he teaches aren't easy to acquire. In his necessarily-blinkered approach, only the pursuit of perfection matters. And in this pursuit, publicity is an unnecessary distraction.
For someone so resolute, it's ironic that he actually stumbled upon Kalaripayattu. “I was fascinated by Chitra Katha, stories of the North Malabar heroes — the warriors.” Living in Kaduthuruthy, a small Kerala village next to Kottayam, Shaji began classes with E.P. Vasudevan, who taught the North Malabar style of this martial art. “There is more emphasis on weapons, unlike the Southern style which is closer to Silambam and emphasises empty hand techniques.”
“I was 13 when I walked into my Guru's kalari. It was a special place, made of rock, with hard stone floors.” He adds seriously, “Gurus are pleasant — but still when you enter, it's intimidating. Scary because there are so many weapons all over the walls. And in the centre, people practising vigorously.”
Shaji's Chennai classes are tailored for the city urbanite, but he sounds faintly homesick for the sweaty rough and tumble of the Kerala pits where he learned to fight. “It's raw — a village art. Men with bare bodies in loin cloths,” he says, adding, “Classes are beautifully structured and systematic. If you're very good you can learn it in ten years.”
Kalaraipayattu is not just about physical training, it also involves healing. “When you hit someone, you may break their bones. We learn vital points. We study anatomy.” Artistes don't just heal themselves, and each other, they also tend to people from the village. “The medicine involves some Ayurveda but we also have our own preparations and mixes. Our own secrets.” Expertise comes with experience. “Every hand fracture is different… Doctors tell with an X-ray. We have to understand by touch.”
Not many parents today encourage their children to train in this martial art, since it requires so much sacrifice, with very few monetary returns. “My parents had no idea about degrees or status,” Shaji says, adding, however, that being the youngest of four sisters and three brothers probably took a lot of pressure off him. After two years of training, he competed in a district-level championship, which he won. Then, in 1986, his teacher sent him to Chennai, to work with Chandralekha for an avant-garde performance incorporating kalari movements within the fabric of Bharathanatyam.
“It was an Indian festival in Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev was president. I had come from a village, couldn't speak English and it was my first time abroad. But when you are so young you have no responsibility. I was given a specific sequence I had to perform — and that's all I was concerned about,” he shrugs. “I did my job.”
Once he was convinced that kalari was his life path, Shaji began to teach in Auroville. However, after four years of the “spiritual resort” life, he decided it was time to go home. “Then Chandralekha encouraged me to take classes.” In 1998 he began with one student.
How old is he now? “Very old,” he laughs. “Forty-one.” There's no fake modesty here. “I don't know what my personality is… I've been told I'm arrogant,” he states, adding blithely, “Well, I'm now a teacher, and gurus are a bit bossy only.” He adds, “I worked with Chandra and I learnt a lot from her. Her house is simple. No chairs — Just some oonjal (swings). She would sit on the floor...”
Today, his classes are still determinedly non-commercial, costing roughly one-third of what most gyms charge. “I'm not very money-minded. Simple living makes it simpler to deal with other people.” As for that trademark reticence? “I don't talk much unless I have something to communicate,” he states. “I do what I preach.”
this style was showcased on the show fight quest.
For whoso comes amongst many shall one day find that no one man is by so far the mightiest of all.
We expect no less of NG.
December 18, 2011
Martial Arts Practice, India
Photograph by Nicolas Chorier
This Month in Photo of the Day: 2011 National Geographic Photo Contest Images
Kalaripayatu fighters practicing on a beach in North Kerala. Kalaripayatu is one of the most ancient martial arts, supposedly more ancient than Kung Fu. This photo was taken with no special setup, just during a regular practicing session. I was using a kite to lift the camera, in order to remain steady above the subject for more than an hour, without disturbing.
It seems that in many Bollywood movies of action, they is everything but Kalaripayyarit!
It isn't showcased as much and when it is, it tends to be substandard.
Now Shaolin Kungfu/wushu is the rage to the detriment of Kalari!
Yeah, if only we could tell that to the Bollywood directors and producers. That may be a northern/southern thing though since Bollywood's north, and Kalari is practiced in the more central and southern regions. But Bollywood fight choreography is always substandard anyway for some reason. Every other part of the industry they've figured out, but the fighting for some reason remains and enigma to them.
I was on the metro earlier, deep in meditation, when a ruffian came over and started causing trouble. He started pushing me with his bag, steadily increasing the force until it became very annoying. When I turned to him, before I could ask him to stop, he immediately started hurling abuse like a scoundrel. I performed a basic chin na - carotid artery strike combination and sent him to sleep. The rest of my journey was very peaceful, and passersby hailed me as a hero - Warrior Man
I spend a month living in Pune, studying yoga. I wish I had known about this class.
Garima Mishra : Pune, Mon Mar 19 2012, 01:15 hrs
PMPML employee Narendra Suryavanshi has been conducting free Indian martial art classes for the past three years. He hopes that the art form will someday find a place in the Olympics
Every Saturday around 4 pm, 20-year-old Rasika Sillisidha Balge is spotted on the grounds of Golwalkar Guruji Vidyalaya in Aundh. A student of BMCC, she dons a completely different avatar once she reaches the venue. First, she offers a prayer followed by some warm-up exercises. Then, from the bunch of weapons, she picks up the lathi and starts performing various tricks that she has learnt from her Guruji. She twirls, swings and swirls the lathi in the air with lightning speed. Rasika completely immerses herself in practising Indian martial arts with different weapons like kathi, bhala, sword, daanpatta, barchi, katiyar and so on, one after the other.
For the past three years, over 35 students have been gathering at this venue every weekend to learn the art of working with ancient weapons from Narendra Dattatreya Suryavanshi. He does not charge a single penny for imparting training on the age-old skill, which also had a mention in epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. “My only aim is to revive this dying art form and bring it to a position so that it finds a place in the Olympics some day,” says 43-year-old Suryavanshi, who works in the administration department as a selection grade clerk of PMPML five days a week and devotes his weekends to training his students.
Suryavanshi himself learnt the art when he was 13 years old and based in Sangamner. “There were some performers who were a part of the famous play ‘Janata Raja’ who taught me the art,” he recalls. Though he kept practising it individually, it was only three years back that he decided to promote it amongst the younger generation. “I realised that the art was gradually losing its identity,” he adds. Today, he along with his students has formed a group called Shivdigvijay Mardani Lokkala Prabodhini, which aims to promote the Indian martial art. It takes minimum three years to master the art, says Suryavanshi.
The students, including four girls, are in the age group of 12 to 20 years. The youngest is 12-year-old Prateek Suryavanshi. The group recently performed at Bhimthadi Jatra. They are also regularly seen wielding their weapons at the Ganesh Festival and various cultural programmes. “Whenever we need to buy some additional weapon, we all contribute,” says Suryavanshi.
Do parents hesitate in enrolling their children for such dangerous tricks? He's quick to reply, “They are hesitant only till they don’t see me teaching. Till date, none of the students has received any major injury while performing these stunts.”
Working with these weapons and mastering them helps the students to build concentration, gain flexibility and become courageous. Besides, says Suryavanshi, it also imbibes the spirit of sportsmanship. “I am quite confident that if a situation arises, I can easily deal with at least 10 people with one lathi," says Rasika, who feels that every woman should learn this art. “Owning a pistol requires a licence but lathi, kathi and other such weapons which can easily be used for self-defence,” she adds.
Suryavanshi is currently trying to collaborate with others who are teaching similar art forms in different parts of the country. “We will work together towards bringing this game into the Olympics,” he concludes.
I wish I had caught this thread earlier into our discussion of India and MMA/Olympic Competition. Its a long thread to catch up through...
"if its ok for shaolin wuseng to break his vow then its ok for me to sneak behind your house at 3 in the morning and bang your dog if buddha is in your heart then its ok"-Bawang
"I get what you have said in the past, but we are not intuitive fighters. As instinctive fighters, we can chuck spears and claw and bite. We are not instinctively god at punching or kicking."-Drake
"Princess? LMAO hammer you are such a pr^t"-Frost
...yet good to see on the college level.
Kalaripayattu demonstrations in colleges too
A lecture-demonstration series organised by the Travancore School of Kalaripayattu and the Public Education Department of the government has given a new lease of life to the ancient martial art form of Kalaripayattu.
Following the success of the programme, titled ‘Health and confidence through Kalaripayattu,’ in various schools, the Kerala State Youth Welfare Board has joined hands with the institute to conduct similar sessions in colleges.
The first such college-level programme got under way at Government College for Women on Monday. It was inaugurated by Youth Welfare Board vice-chairman P.S. Prasanth. Papers exploring the origin and evolution of the art and its role at present were presented.
A press release issued by the institute said the plan was to conduct the classes in one college in a district.
G. Radhakrishnan, secretary and troupe leader of the martial arts school, led a 12-member group during the demonstration.
Aiming to revive Kalaripayattu by teaching the youth the basic principles of the art and its various benefits, both physical and mental, the school has staged performances in 20 schools. It has been conducting regular classes for free in two schools since the start of the academic year.
Since we've been talking about IMA on the '70's thread, (of all places), does anyone know of any traditional IMA still being practiced that have a full contact fighting tradition?
There has to be some wrestling going on still somewhere. Pehlwani I think, right?
It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. - Apache Proverb
True--many Indians do not know much about their own history and many aspects of culture
India is a big place and there are lots of diverse but still localized skills and artists.
So Bollywood often imports from the outside. The fun part of Bollywood are the songs.
But then most Chinese do not know good kung fu. The first time I went to Hong Kong I was seeking directions to a specific small kwoon- and I was directed to a club in the basement of a shopping center, to a gym with mirrors where young Chinese were using dumb bells to develop their biceps and admiring themselves in the mirrors.