It takes many years of regular and dedicated practice to develop the necessary skills to properly wield the many kalaripayattu weapons. Weapons are intended to become an extension of the body, to be used fluidly and skilfully in different fighting contexts. According to kalaripayattu, there are only five parts of the human body that can be properly attacked with weapons when the base protective stance, or amarcha, is engaged. These five parts are; oathiram (head), olavu (both sides of face), poravu (between shoulder and elbow), katakam (below the knees), and vaari (sides of the body on the ribcage). Attack and defence moves and sequences are centered around these five parts.
“The primary physical skills to be acquired by the kalari fighter are likened to the qualities of Indian animals: simhasya garjanam, to have the roar of a lion, vygrasya sikram, to have the speed of a leopard, and marjara lagavam, to have the flexibility or agility of a cat, to be able to always on four feet and step silently”
Practicing with kalaripayattu weapons also has many benefits and develops superior reflex and focus skills, as intense and constant concentration on the enemy’s movements is necessary to avoid harm. The main mental skills are considered to be deep concentration (ekageratha), willpower (ichashakti), and self-confidence (atmavisvasa). There is a saying in kalari that ‘the whole body becomes an eye’, mey kannakuka, meaning to have such highly developed senses and skills that a fighter can become acutely aware of their environment, and assess and act with an intuitive clarity. With regular and continuous weapons practice, these skills increase and the fighter can achieve this heightened state of awareness.
Another aspect of the focus necessary for weapons practice is that it is like meditation: it trains the strength of the mind. Distraction is to be avoided at all costs as it could be fatal. This means that a regular practice of kalaripayattu weapons will give similar benefits to a regular meditation practice for ordinary people, such as mindfulness, clarity, and a greater ability to focus
Kalaripayattu weapons can be broadly split into two sections, Muktham and Amuktham. Amuktham are weapons that remain in the hand and are not thrown, which includes almost all the weapons of Kolthari and Ankathari, and most of the weapons that are used today. Muktham covers those weapons that are thrown by hand, such as the spear, bow and arrow and the cakra. The cakra is a metal disc that has an orbicular blade that is thrown (maiming or decapitating its target on the way) and returns to the wielder by means of a rope held in the hand. The spear belongs to both groups.
Weapons are all measured according to the ancient Indian measuring system, of fingerwidths (angulam), handspans (chan), and feet (adi: equal to 24 angulam).
The marapidicha kundam is the one of the most dangerous combinations of kalaripayattu weapons, and is the most advanced. The kundam (spear) is of human height (normally the gurukkal’s height), made from wood with a metal spearhead on the end, normally about 1-1½ feet/30-40cm long. The sword is the same sword and shield as described in valum parijaim. The combination of spear and sword is not used in any other traditional Indian martial art form, only in kalaripayattu (for example, you may find sword on sword or spear on spear in other areas, but not spear on sword). In kalaripayattu, two kundam cannot be used to fight against each other. The kundam is used in the lion fighting form as is the muchan, and is the only weapon to be used in the snake fighting form.
After the muchan, students progress to the kettu kaari, a longer, thinner weapon, normally made of bamboo or cane. The stick should be the length of the gurukkal’s eyelevel, regardless of student height. The rotational force produced makes this weapon formidable and its length provides a safer distance from the opponent. Both sides of the stick are used equally, for a balanced attack and defence; when faced with a kettu kaari expert, the enemy should never know which end of the stick is going to attack. Practice with this weapon will allow greater proficiency in the spear, which is introduced in Ankathari
Valum parijaim was the traditional set of weapons used in the battlefield. The best length for the val (sword) is 40 angulam (fingerwidths), approximately 70cm/2½ feet. The main fighting form used for valum parijaim is puliyangam, or large cat form (the word puli is used to denote tiger, panther and leopard in Malayalam interchangeably). Puliyangam is a combination of different types of sword swings and attacks, and defence with the shield, an imitation of the attack method of the puli. Practice of this weapon trains the fighter to become used to the sound of metal weapons clashing, and they will lose their fear and reaction to these sounds
A famously lethal weapon, the urumi is one of the most deadly of the Ankathari. Both sides of the urumi are sharp, the metal is thin, strong and pliant, and the length is normally the same height as a human (the Gurukkal is normally used for height when making). Because of the flexible nature and long length of this weapon, it has great range and agility, and in the hands of an expert, it is said to be able to slice an enemy into seven pieces. For the same reasons, it also requires a huge amount of skill on the part of the fighter to not hit themselves.
It works on different types of rotation and can move very fast, making a terrifying metal song, and is known for being invisible, a detail no doubt noticed by anyone who has observed it in full force. In an open field, the urumi will stir up dust from the ground as the rotations hit the earth, and make the fighters invisible. It is one of the best weapons for fighting against groups and several opponents can be quickly decapitated. Because it is flexible, the urumi can be also used as a belt, which means it is easy to move and travel with, and to disguise. In modern times, the urumi used in kalaripayattu is not sharp, though it can still be dangerous.
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