Kalarippayattu (Malayalam കളരിപയറ്റ്) is a Dravidian martial art from Kerala in south India. Possibly one of the oldest fighting systems in existence, it is practiced in Kerala and contiguous parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well as northeastern Sri Lanka and among the Malayalee community of Malaysia. The word is spelled variously as kalarippayatta, kalaripayatte, kalari payatt and many others depending on the dialect and romanisation system used. It includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods.
Regional variants are classified according to geographical position in Kerala; these are the northern style of the Malayalees, the southern style of the Tamils and the central style from inner Kerala. Northern kalari payat is based on the principle of hard technique, while the southern style primarily follows the soft techniques, even though both systems make use of internal and external concepts. Kalarippayattu is considered to be the father of the grandfather of all martial arts, Kung Fu.
Training is mainly divided into four parts consisting of Meithari, Kolthari, Ankathari and Verumkai.
Meithari is the beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. Twelve meippayattu exercises for neuro-muscular coordination, balance and flexibility follow the basic postures of the body. Kalari payat originates not in aggression but in the disciplining of the self. Therefore the training begins with disciplining the physical body and attaining a mental balance. This is crucial for any person and not necessarily a martial aspirant. This first stage of training consists of physical exercises to develop strength, flexibility, balance and stamina. It includes jumps, low stances on the floor, circular sequences, kicks, etc. An attempt is made to understand and master each separate organ of the body. These exercises bring an alertness to the mind, and this alertness helps one understand some of the movements and processes of the self defense sequences that are taught at later stages.
KolthariOnce the student has become physically competent, he/she is introduced to fighting with long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is the staff (kettukari), which is usually five feet (1.5 m) in length, or up to the forehead of the student from ground level. The second weapon taught is the cheruvadi or muchan, a wooden stick three palm spans long, about two and a half feet long or 75 cm. The third weapon taught is the otta, a wooden stick curved to resemble the trunk of an elephant. The tip is rounded and is used to strike the vital spots in the opponent's body. This is considered the master weapon, and is the fundamental tool of practice to develop stamina, agility, power, and skill. Otta training consists of 18 sequences.
Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons, he/she proceeds to Ankathari (literally "war training") starting with metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to their lethal nature. The first metal weapon taught is the kadhara, a metal dagger with a curved blade. Taught next are the sword (val) and shield (paricha). Subsequent weapons include the spear (kuntham), trident (trisool) and axe (venmazhu). Usually the last weapon taught is the flexible sword (urumi or chuttuval), an extremely dangerous weapon taught to only the most skillful students. Historically, after the completion of 'Ankathari', the student would specialize in a weapon of his choice, for example to become an expert swordsman or stick fighter.
Only after achieving mastery with all the weapon forms is the practitioner taught to defend themselves with bare-handed techniques. These include arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the pressure points (marmam). This is considered the most advanced martial skill so the gurukkal restricts knowledge of marmam only to very few students whom he trusts.
There are three styles: Central, Southern and Northern.