So old, yet so cool

So old, yet so cool
A 'Gatka' performance.

Karate and taekwon-do have been the mainstream martial arts for too long now, with every third boy aspiring to become the next Bruce Lee. But there's a twist to this dream for the younger generation of Indians in Singapore - they are becoming increasingly aware of martial arts that originated from their homeland.

Those martial arts include Kalari Payattu (from Kerala) and Gatka (from Punjab). They are the two most well-known among the many that used to exist in India - or rather, the ones that have prevailed over the ban on the practice of martial arts during British rule in India. The two forms are a major part of the culture in both the states but have transcended the regional boundary and are slowly spreading across the globe.

Kalari Payattu is possibly the oldest martial art in existence, dating back to the 6th century. It was practised by the warrior class in Kerala to defend their king.

According to scholars, it is said that young prince and Kalari Payattu fighter Bodidharma, who became a monk, travelled to China to spread the doctrine of Buddhism and taught it to some Shaolin monks who were unable to defend themselves.

These techniques then spread over the centuries to all over China and even to Okinawa and other parts of Japan, forming the basis of all martial arts. Today Kalari is mostly used for demonstrations and performances, and remains an important element of the south Indian culture.

Gatka is a weapon-based martial art and originated from north-west India.

It is said to have been imparted by the Rajputs (Hindu warriors) to the Sikhs in the 16th century. The 10th guru of the Sikhs encouraged them to train seriously in martial arts, which were used very successfully in battles during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, Gatka has always been associated with spirituality as well.

Just like Kalari, Gatka is nowadays used mainly for performances and demonstrations, especially during Sikh festivals.

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