Kalari is a traditional discipline emanating from Kerala’s unique historical heritage as well as a scientific system of physical culture training. The arena of practicing this spiritual art is also called as Kalari, which literally means a place where the knowledge is being taught. The historical antecedents of this martial art form combine indigenous Dravidian systems of martial practice such as ‘varma adi’ or ‘marma adi’. There are two distinct traditions in Kalari, the Northern and the Southern schools.
In the Northern tradition the emphasis is laid on progressing from body exercises to combat with weapons and last of all to unarmed combat. In the Southern tradition the patron saint is Sage Agastya whose strength and powers of meditation are legendary.
The Kalari legacy is considered as a scientific system of physical training beneficial to the modern sportsman and physical culturist. Kalari is today emerging in a new avatar, a source of inspiration for self -expression in dance form, both traditional and contemporary, in theatre, in fitness and in movies too. Training is mainly divided into four parts consisting of Meippayattu, Kolthari, Ankathari and Verumkai
Meippayattu or Meithari is the beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. Eighteen meippayattu exercises for neuromuscular coordination, balance and flexibility follow the basic postures of the body
Kolthari- once the student has become physically competent, he is introduced to fighting with long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is the Kettukari staff, which is usually five feet 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. 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 weapon is considered the master weapon, and is the fundamental tool of practice to develop stamina, agility, power, and skill. The training in ‘Otta’ consists of 18 sequences.
Ankathari-Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons; he 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 sword (Val) and shield (Paricha). Subsequent weapons include the spear (kuntham), the flexible sword (Urumi or Chuttuval), an extremely dangerous weapon taught to only the most skillful students. Historically, after the completion of ‘Ankathari’ training, the student would specialize in a weapon of his choice, to become an expert swordsman or stick fighter.
Verumkai- only after achieving mastery with all weapons forms is the practitioner taught to defend his person with barehanded techniques. This includes arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the Pressure Points (Marmam), the vital points of the body. The Gurukkal teaches knowledge of Marmam only to those students whom he trusts, restricting knowledge to the very few.