Many martial artists don’t realise that India has a rich background in martial arts, not only because the founder of the Shaolin was an Indian Buddhist visiting China. One of India’s most famous martial arts is Kalaripayattu, which has a history dating back over 3000 years – older than the Shaolin.
Kalaripayattu originated in Kerala and has spread to nearby areas of Tulu Nadu, in the South of India. It’s closely related to Angampora, the ancient martial art of Sri Lanka – an island off the southern tip of India. Kalaripayattu is often called Kalari for short, which is also the name of their dojo / training hall and literally means ‘battlefield’ in the Malayalam and Tamil languages.
Each Kalari hall is a spiritual place with flowers, candles, incense and symbolism of dieties in each corner, especially in one corner of the room.
There are estimated to be around 100 Kalari centres in India today.
This art spans various weapons systems, energy & flexibility exercises (like Yoga and Qigong), hands-on training with partners, and a rich cultural tradition. The movements very much resemble Chinese Wushu in how they’re so diverse and athletic. Due to its age, and depth of content, Kalaripayattu is often called “the mother of all martial arts”.