Meenakshiamma has been practicing the ancient Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu since she was 7 years old. She is now 73, and has many students of her own in Vatakra, a place in the state of Kerala, India, where the style originated.
The martial art looks like something off of an ancient Indian battlefield, especially the saber swords and round shields.
Part of the reason Meenakshiamma is such an expert in the art is that she married her Kalaripayattu teacher. Her father was also key in encouraging her to continue her training.
Nowadays, she finds more women and girls are joining her classes, turning into female Kalaripayattu warriors. Meenakshiamma feels martial arts is essential for women to stay safe in today’s society.
She told NDTV the response to her classes.
“In today’s times’ women cannot walk outside freely. They should train themselves in Kalaripayattu.
Unlike before, there are so many elderly women and young girls who are coming forward to get trained.”
The video of her sparring with her son became a YouTube hit.
Kalaripayattu is only one of many Indian martial arts styles. These arts have yet to propagate into other countries, despite being some of the oldest martial arts in existence.
Indian martial arts and the development of Kalaripayattu dates back to the Sangam period, which spans from 300 B.C. to A.D. 300, and refers to southern Indian civilization. Works of literature from the time period mention martial arts styles that contain similarities to Kalaripayattu.
In a similarity to Chinese martial arts, Indian martial arts are also related to dance and spirituality. In Indian martial arts, elements of yoga postures can be seen, and similarities with the dance styles of the region are also there, perhaps because warriors used their fighting movements as performing arts movements during periods of peace.
Just as in Chinese and Japanese martial arts, the fighting style varies by region. In Chinese martial arts, southern and northern styles of praying mantis hold little resemblance to each other.
In Japan, the sumo wrestling practiced on the mainland looks almost nothing like the sumo style practiced in Okinawa. Kalaripayattu has such variations that you can find by looking at northern, southern, and central variants, along with individual lineages of schools having differences in teaching traditions.
Healing arts are also usually incorporated.
Fighting consists of a collection of steps and postures. Upper level practitioners learn pressure point strikes.
The knowledge of pressure points is also used in the massage and healing components of the martial art. There are also a number of weapons, like various kinds of swords and staffs, shields, and bow and arrow, some of which are hard to find in practice sessions today.
The history of Indian martial arts is quite extensive, with other arts that focus on boxing, kicking, wrestling, etc., spread throughout the span of old India, which consists of current day India, along with its former territories of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, to a certain extent.
Meenakshiamma’s agility at her advanced age testifies to the power of Kalaripayattu and Indian martial arts. Actually, to even begin training in Kalaripayattu is quite a journey.
Fightland talks about how people who want to begin training need to approach a school, called a karali.
“Part of the gym is dedicated as a shrine to various Hindu gods and patron saints. When one joins a kalari, one must first undergo a ritual initiation.
“Part of this initiation involves praying to the Hindu gods, touching the instructor’s feet as a sign of deep respect, and being wrapped in the fighter’s loin cloth. Some kalaris also require new students to undergo an extensive massage, sometimes for several weeks, performed by the master using only his feet.
“This is supposed to loosen the muscles, so as to prepare the martial artist for future training.”
As for claims that Indian martial arts like Kalaripayattu were passed into China along with Buddhism and preceded Chinese martial arts, it is more complex than that. Not all martial arts in China were carried in with the spread of Buddhism.
China had warriors before Buddhism’s arrival, and China also has countless martial arts that come from its Taoist traditions.