Indian Martial Arts

Martial Arts in India

Martial arts have been a part of India’s history for thousands of years.  Chinese martial arts, known as Shaolin Kung Fu, traces its origins to an Indian monk, Bodhidharma, who first brought Buddhism to China in the 6th century.  There are still monks today who study a variety of martial arts.  The popular forms such as Kung Fu and Ju-Jitsu are well-known, but there are many forms of martial arts that have been forgotten.


Kalaripayattu is also called “the Mother of all Martial Arts and has been around for thousands of years and was first practised in Kerala.  This form of martial arts uses raw power, quick movements and incredible strength.  Kalari means the place where this is taught and abd payattu means practice.  There are various levels where fighters are taught combat without or with the use of weapons.

Huyen Langlon

Huyen Langlon is a form of martial arts originally from Manipur.  It has two components, armed combat (thang-la) and unarmed combat (sarit sarak).  The main weapons used are the sword and spear.  The spear can be used for close combat or thrown from a distance.  They also use a shield and an axe.  Their unarmed combat includes hand strikes, kicks and grappling.  It is very similar to Bando and Banshay practiced in Burma.


Silambam originated in Tamil Nadu and means ‘mountain’.  The main weapon used is a bamboo staff and the length will be determined by the fighter.  The staff may be different lengths depending on the situation.  A shorter staff for example can be hidden.  Other weapons include a sickle, a staff with balls of fire or chains, curved sword, knuckleduster, knife, dagger and a short stick or cudgel. Traditional teachers of this will encourage their students to live a life of meditation and abstaining from smoking, drinking and should be vegetarians.  Once students have completed all the training they can teach other students.  This training can take years to complete.


Gatka is form of stick fighting, and if this sounds scary to you, you better stick to horse racing betting instead!.  They use wooden sticks as they would a sword.  It is mainly associated with Sikhs in Punjab.  It originated during the 19th century and there are two styles, as a ritual and as a sport.  This sport has lately become popular and is often found at Sikh festivals.  There are two opponents who fight with wooden staves known as gatka, and they may also use shields.  Other weapons may be used, but not used for full-contact combat.  As a ritual it is performed together with music at spiritual ceremonies.  Someone who practices this form is known as a gatkabaj and the teacher is known as guru.


Sqay is a sword-fighting martial art that originated in Kashmir.  It makes use of curved swords and a shield or a sword in each hand.  When unarmed it makes use of kicking, punching, locks and chops.  Competitors will spar and break with pre-set routines.  There are different regulations depending on gender and age.