ATTENTION EUROPEAN CUSTOMERS: Please order from our Europe site


Your Cart is Empty

The Many Faces Of Martial Arts Part 1 – Kalarippayattu

December 08, 2018 4 min read

The martial arts have many different styles. If somebody just wants to get into this it can be quite confusing to find the right one for you. Although martial arts are pretty much all over the news it must not be confused with mixed martial arts. The big difference is that martial arts are a way of life and mixed martial arts is a sport.

The traditional martial art is a philosophy of mental discipline and physical training designed to become a lifestyle out of the ring; the mixed martial arts is a rigorous training system on the other hand and students become gladiators so to speak and MMA fights have become extremely popular on the web as well as on TV.

With mixed martial arts becoming a worldwide phenomenon, many of the fighters train various martial arts and master the techniques. Even military and police forces combine martial arts technique in their training.

Some martial arts focus on strikes, some on grappling maneuvers, with weapons or a combination of all three. They all are different but they all have in common that when used forcefully, martial arts can be dangerous.

In our  Summer Series on various types of martial arts we are covering today KALARIPAYATTU:

Kalarippayattu or “Payattu” is an Indian martial art from the southern state of Kerala and is one of the oldest fighting systems in existence. It is practiced in Kerala as well as northeastern Sri Lanka and among the Malayali community of Malaysia.

The term kalaripayattu stems from kalari (Malayalam:കളരി) meaning school or gymnasium and payattu (Malayalam:പയററ്) is derived from payattuka meaning to “fight/ exercise” or “to put hard work into”.
Kalaripayattu includes strikeskicksgrappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods.There are regional variants like the northern style of the Malayalis, the southern style of the Tamils and the central style from inner Kerala.

Northern kalaripayattu is based on elegant and flexible movements, evasions, jumps and weapons training, while the southern “Adi Murai” style primarily follows the hard impact based techniques with priority in empty hand fighting and pressure point strikes. Both systems make use of internal and external concepts.

Some of the flexibility training methods in northern Kalaripayattu are applied in Kerala dance formsand kathakali dancers who knew martial arts were believed to be markedly better than the other performers. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate kalaripayattu as part of their exercise regimen.

Kalarippayatty was first documented around the 11th or 12th century. Kalaripayattu became more developed during the 9th centuryand was practiced by a section of the Hindu community, warrior clan of Kerala, to defend the state and the king. The writings of early colonial historians show that kalaripayattu was widely popular and well established with almost all people in Kerala transcending gender, caste and communal lines. It is said to have eventually become as prevalent as reading and writing. Among some noble families, young girls also received preliminary training.

Training is divided into four main parts


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. Kalaripayattu 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.


Meipayattu concentrates on flexibility. Also divided into 18 stages, it is said to make the practitioner aggressive and increase battle awareness. This exercise should be practiced with speed and agility.


Kaikuththippayattu consists of punches, leg moves, stretches, twists, and jumps performed in a particular sequence. It is preceded by warm-ups or mukakattu. Like most exercises in it is divided into 18 stages and its complexity increases from one level to another.


Chumattadi teaches how to attack and defend against multiple opponents from all sides. It  consists of punches, cuts, throws and blocks. The movements are repeated in four directions. This exercise should be practiced with intense speed and power.


Once the student has become physically competent, they are 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.


Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons, they proceed 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 their choice, to become an expert swordsman or stick fighter for example.

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 the knowledge of marmam is restricted only to very few trusted students.