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Closely linked to Kalaripayattu, one of India’s oldest martial arts, Silambam is a stick fighting style of indian martial arts that is believed to have derived 5000 years ago. Involving great precision and grace to properly maneuver around an opponent, Silambam has grown in the recent years as a practical means of meditation for men and women alike, breaking out from the shell of its former buried self.

Trainings in Indian Martial Arts: Silambam

Silambam indian martial arts

When a new student enters the world of Silambam, they are first introduced to the kaaladi – the foundational footwork involved in proper maneuvering. Even though the sport involves the swinging around the stick, there is nothing more important in the martial art style than how one moves their feet. With sixteen footwork motions to remember, students are expected to learn these before giving the privilege to hold a stick. Until then, trainees are taught to get a feel of the stick while bare-handed. One of the reasons why kaaladi serves as such an important part to the training is that it is integral to how a fighter conjured up power for an attack. It helps students how to effectively advance toward an opponent, as well as properly retreat.

Once the student gets better at his/her footwork training, they are then taught spinning techniques and patterns. During this period, they are taught how to use their body to smoothly spin around their opponents, setting them up for an open, opportune moment to strike. With just the right amount of grace and skill, a student can get closer to an opponent without lowering the defense. Like a dance, practitioners learn to use their whole body to create power.

Silambam indian martial arts
Silambam indian martial arts
Silambam indian martial arts

Finally, if the student has progressed far enough to hold a stick, they implement their bare-handed training in the same way, except possessing a long range of attack. The staff is typically held at one end with the right hand, while the left grips from several inches away. Besides this, there are other ways on gripping the staff, all meant for different strikes at various body parts of the opponent’s body.

Outside of stick striking and defense, veteran students possess a wide array of knowledge in pressure points. Skilled fighters know just the right spots to hit on the human body to produce crippling effects using as little power as possible. An example of this can be seen from some adept fighters continuously hitting the same pressure point on the opponent’s wrist throughout battle. While the inconspicuous strike may not seem like much during the bout, over the course of a fight, the opponent will inevitably feel a creeping pain that prevents them from gripping properly or continuing.

The Decline of Indian Martial Arts: Silambam

Silambam indian martial arts

Although Silambam has remained a part of India’s culture and may be one of the older existing stick fighting styles out there, the reason for the lack of awareness toward it is due to its ban back when the British had colonized India. When realizing, many soldiers were prepared to wage war on the British using this foreign fighting style, the practice of Silambam was immediately banned, preventing it from further growth or development.

Dr. Sahul Hameed, a master practitioner in Silambam explains, “Sharp spears and lethal movements of the Silambam practitioners alarmed the colonizers, who were more focused on using high tech-weaponry like metal cannons and guns. They were also very confused by the use of free body movement. This perplexed and scared them, and hence they banned the practice altogether. They did not want the Indians to oppose them with lethal martial art, so they put a stop to it.”

From Combat to Meditation

There are many various weapons one can use in the martial art style of Silambam. However, the primary weapon that a person should first familiarize themselves with before moving onto anything else is the bamboo staff. Measured at the same height of the user, it serves as both a long-range weapon to aggressively take down their opponents.

The staff is the very first weapon that is taught to a silambam practitioner and forms the basis for all other weapons and techniques. The stick almost becomes an extension of oneself and a wide range of movements can be achieved with it.”  (Aishwarya Manivannan, a Silambam practitioner)

Over the years after its resurgence, Silambam shifted from a fighting technique employed in warfare to a performing art. Long time practitioners such as Aishwarya Manivannan, an educator and artist by day, has commented that training in Silambam has served to be an almost meditative experience. Believed to boost creativity, the graceful appeal of Silambam’s spinning and swinging can be compared to that of an elegant dance, and it is this performing aspect that has enticed people like Manivannan into the art.

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