Originating in Kerala, India, Kalaripayattu is often referred to as “the original martial arts” that many claim spread to China via Bodhidharma in the 5th century, giving rise to today’s various Chinese Martial Arts styles. While there is little historic evidence to support this notion, it is still to this day among one of the oldest fighting systems around.
The earliest reference to this form of martial art stems from Sangam literature dating back to the 3rd century B.C. The word “kalari” means both “battlefield” and “combat area.” During this period, warriors were trained in military tactics and also specialized in the use of weapons namely, spears, swords, shields, as well as bows and arrows. These combat techniques were said to be the origins of Kalari as a martial art.
After almost a century of suppression under British rule, interest in Kalaripayattu surged during the 1920s as traditional arts were rediscovered in South India and then again in the 1970s when martial arts became popular worldwide.