Kalaripayattu is a martial art native to the state of Kerala in Southern India. It is believed to be one of the oldest Asian martial arts, and may in fact be the basis for many martial arts practices in Asia. Records of people practicing kalaripayattu date back to at least 1,000 BCE, illustrating how venerable this martial art is, and how remarkable it is that people continue to practice kalaripayattu today. Resemblances to kalaripayattu can also be seen in many traditional Asian martial arts disciplines, suggesting that they have a common root.
The term “kalaripayattu” translates as “practice in the arts of the battlefield.” Practitioners work in a structure known as a kalari which provides a great deal of space for instruction and practice, along with room for bouts in which two students work with each other in a mock duel. In addition to being a noted method of combat, kalaripayattu is also an art in itself, and it has heavily influenced the dance and performance traditions of Kerala.
There are several styles of this martial art, with some focusing more on grace and beauty of movement, while others concentrate on creating powerful, efficient movements which are designed to quickly incapacitate the enemy. People who practice kalaripayattu learn a number of physical techniques including steps, grappling, rolls, and blocks, and they also work with weapons such as staffs. The blend of physical techniques and weapons ensures that practitioners can perform well in a variety of settings, using their bodies along with any tools which are available.
This martial art also includes a healing component. This is in fact common to many martial arts, with students learning how to take care of their bodies in addition to developing physical skills. The medicine of kalaripayattu has a basis in Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medical practice, and practitioners are said to be especially skilled at bone setting. Massage is also an important component, reflecting the role that massage plays in Ayurveda.
Teachers of kalaripayattu can be found in many regions of the world. When seeking an instructor, students should ask where the instructor trained and what qualifications he or she has. Students may also want to ask about the style offered by the instructor, and the instructor's own approach to martial arts. Some have a focus on the physical and self defense aspects, while others are more interested in the spiritual side of kalaripayattu, including meditation, massage, and traditional healing practices.