Friday, September 23, 2011

An Analysis

Prompt:  In 500 words or less, describe and analyze a form of movement you have studied in the past month and a half.

-| Kalaripayattu |-

The martial art known as kalaripayattu [kah-lah-ree-py-ah-tew] originated in the Indian state of Kerala, but is practiced worldwide [particularly in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia].  Roughly translated to "fight place," kalaripayattu is usually practiced in a clay room, the ground made of dirt to prevent the oiled practitioners from sliding during training.  It is argued by most kalari teachers to be the oldest, original, and therefore best martial art [1].  Kalaripayattu is recognized for its unique style in strikes, kicks, forms, grappling, weaponry, and healing techniques taught through four stages: meithari, kolthari, ankathari, and verumkai.

Meithari, the initial stage, consists of conditioning sequences focusing on twists, stances, jumps, and turns that increase the coordination, balance, and flexibility of the practicing body.  According to Magazine of Knowledge, in a recent study of world travelers who study kalaripayattu, 100% agree that this stage is unbearably painful when practiced two hours every morning, seven days a week with an instructor who bears an uncanny resemblance to previous karate teachers [2].  “Discipline” is considered the describing word of choice for this stage, as strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina are all practiced at the same time.

Kolthari, the second stage, focuses on the use of wooden weapons, such as the kettukari, the cheruvadi/muchan, and the otta.  Considered the master weapon, the otta is an s-shaped wooden stick that resembles an elephant’s trunk.  Ankathari, the third stage, is practiced only when proficiency with the wooden weapons is reached.  This stage introduces metal weapons, such as the kadhara, the val [sword] and paricha [shield], the kuntham, the trisool, and venmazhu.  The last weapon taught in ankathari is the urumi/chuttuval, the flexible sword, and is taught to only the most skillful students.  After mastering all weapon forms, the practitioner learns to defend themselves bare-handed in verumkai.  A recent poll of shotokan karate students suggest that this order of learning weaponry then bare-handed skills makes somewhat to little sense, but don’t question it considering it’s an incredibly old and proved useful martial art [3].

Legend has it that exceptional warriors can paralyze, disable, or even kill their opponents by only touching the correct vital point [known as a marmam].  These skills, known as marmashastram, are taught only to promising and arguably collected persons, so as to prevent misuse and abuse of the technique.  Accordingly, knowledge of marmam is vital for anyone striving to practice its use in combat; however, it is also used in practicing medicine and massage.  Kalaripayattu teachers usually provide massages with medicinal oils to their students to improve physical flexibility or to treat muscle injuries during practice.  As of September 2011, naïve travelers who chose to practice kalaripayattu have yet to experience the healing techniques.  Sigh.  Oh well [4].

In short, kalaripayattu is an incredibly intensive martial art to study.  Although the experience may be painful and the teacher believes no one should drink water in the 2-3 hours of cardiovascular distress, this form of movement is, in fact, worthwhile [albeit painful] [5].

-| Notes and Sources |-

[1]  According to any kalari teacher you ask.  Don't question it, just accept and move on.  Additionally, these teachers know that kalaripayattu is often applied to dance.  These dancers are thus considered to be noticeably "better" than other performers.

[2]  Gaujho, Mason. "Why Am I Doing This To Myself?" MagKnow September 2011: 4-22.

[3]  Majogo, Shaun. "Literally: Resurfacing Painful Memories." Karate Today, Dance Tomorrow September 2011: 19-89.

[4]  Shoogam, Juan. "Should I Have Proposed A Year of Massage Instead of Dance?  At This Point, Yes." Sore Legs Daily September 2011: 15-27.

[5]  The author[s] wish to note that at the time of this writing, not enough experience or research had been acquire about kalaripayattu.  Clearly, learning and practicing from one master for less than two weeks has not been sufficient enough time to properly learn much, regardless of how ‘fast’ the master claims his student is learning.  This, in turn, results in practices that are faster, longer, more intensive, and therefore more painful than the ones taught to other beginners [6].

[6]  Precaution, however, must be taken in that sufficient sustenance is taken when continuously and regimentally practiced.  According to interviewed teachers of practitioners new to the style, the country, and the vegetarian diet, one may risk falling victim to "losing weight" [7].

[7]  Shoguam, Joan. "Lose Weight?  Move to India!" The Ambitiously Optimistic Omnivore's Dilemma September 2011: 362-436.

[Hugo Jasmano]


  1. Josh - It took me a while to realize that those sources were part of your creativity. Clearly the Bowdoin Neuroscience department has trained you well. Miss you! - Devlin