Hi guys, I’m back & today’s blog is based on my initiation & subsequent training in one of the most famed martial arts, Kalaripayattu. Kalarippayattu or Kalari as it’s more popularly known is believed to be one of the earliest martial arts invented & originated in God’s Own Country – Kerala.
Now my association with sports was a long & troubled one. I had, as several Indians before me, tried my hand at the beloved sport of cricket, even going so far as going for 3 ( or was it 4) years of coaching before quitting. I had juggled said cricket with swimming, which too was thrown out of the window due to a deadly bout of dengue. Then came my brief 1-year exposure to India’s national sport – Hockey. That had been a been a year ago. Since then I had settled into playing alley cricket & football with my mates. But there is no formal coaching. I had also become a more of a TV show connoisseur.
Then came the tongue lashing, where my frustrated mom, decided to don the role of a sales manager (albeit a sports one), pitching games ranging from a return to the pool to Basketball. Naturally, these were all rejected by me, forcing my mom to declare an ultimatum, if I didn’t choose a sport/physical activity soon, I would lose access to both Amazon Prime & Netflix subscriptions & my tech devices would be seized.
Using this motivation (Or Blackmail) I proceeded to dredge the all-knowing sea of knowledge that is “Google” in search of an ideal sport. Soon I was ready with a massive portfolio of unique sports to show my mom. This time, it was my suggestions that were rejected. There was one last suggestion left, so with great trepidation, I squeaked out the word, Kalari. To my surprise, this recommendation was actually met with an “I’ll look into it“, which is mom code for ” Ok“.
Cut to April 2018. It had been over a year since the above conversation & the previous year had been a continuation of the status quo, with the notable. Anyways, I had bounded into my house, excited due to my upcoming holidays. I was stopped by my mom, who said that she had good news. She told me that one of my friend’s mom had decided to start a Kalari class!! Up till this, my conversation about this had been stored deep in the attic of my mind, but this new information soon caused me to run around the house in joy! I spent all my time learning more about this course & wondering if I was better at the javelin or the nunchucks. Little did I know that what awaited me was so much more than I had ever imagined.
Soon came the prophesied day, April the 3rd, 2018. I leaped into the car & soon we had reached our destination (a little delayed due to the shenanigans of Google Maps) My first impressions? Excitement, Awe, Pain, Sweat, a dachshund named Choco & more pain (The recipe for an Oscar-winning movie). The first day was dominated by pain & sweat, still, there were moments that made it seem all worth it. Watching the Kalari master’s (we address him as Sir in the class) amazing strength & flexibility, trying to decipher his instructions given in Malayalam, managing to beat my companions at Surya Namaskar & the exciting techniques of Kalari, were the things that got me to go back for the second day, then the 3rd, then the 4th, and, soon I was so eager to keep going that not even a herd of rampaging bulls could keep me away.
Then there where my companions, who not only annoyed the hell out of me but also pushed me to do better. Let me describe them & the general setup of the class. First were the juniors (ranking here is based on age), they were this motley group of 15 – 20, 5-year olds who as long as they didn’t kill anyone, had the run of the place. To this date, I have no idea how Sir keeps them under control long enough to perform a few basic exercises. A few were judged as capable enough to be “promoted” & that’s when they joined us, seniors. They were 3 of us, including me. I shall now attempt to describe this bunch of brave & a bit foolhardy people.
First up, the promotees. These group consisted of two people, Surya & Johnna. While they were both 5-year olds, you could not find two people as different in the whole universe. Surya was a dude with a mop of prickly hair & chubby cheeks. Despite his resemblance to the Smiling Buddha, do not be fooled, because beneath lay the mind of an evil genius and being his favorite target, I should know. Headbutts, Clawing, Kicks, Slaps & Terrifying battle crys composed of words of his own creation, this was his arsenal. But to be fair, he is a 5-year old & once you get to know the wee lad, he was actually nice to hang around with. He had an amazing resolve, endless amount of energy & some fantastic ideas. The kid also cracked us up with his antics. His exploits while playing football & kabaddi would provide enough satire to have anyone lying on the ground in splits.
Then there was Johnna. She was the exact opposite of Surya. With a very unusual bun on her head, she was this silent, shy & tiny kid who literally did everything with the “I want to sleep face“. She even had a patented exclamation which literally was the only words she ever said!! Despite her silence, she did have a knack for the art & was an island of calm. No matter what happened, her feathers never ruffled & just kept performing whatever task she had taken up. Even being around her made everyone feel a little bit calmer.
Then the intermediaries. This was the group was a step above the promotees but not yet at our level. This faction was commanded by Aryan & Vibha. Aryan was Surya‘s self-appointed rival, the duo would constantly be trying to outdo each other in almost everything. Aryan was a living dynamo, nothing could ever run him down. An expert at football, this chap could give even Mo Salah a run for his money!! He was also the only male companion who I could converse with without having to shield my vulnerable parts. He also could do things none of us even dream of trying to do. His handstands were pure awesomeness. He also had a Golden retriever & any person who has a dog is a good person in my book. He was also quite skilled with his staff, so don’t anyone him or you may be bonked on the head.
Vibha on the other hand, was a person who could execute any position or excercise with ease. Her flexibility rivalled Sir‘s & no Ballerina could perform splits like her. A bookworm like me, we had quite a few interesting conversations. Her dedication to the martial art was also amazing, even during her vacation, she continued to practise relentless. She also had a decent-ish cranium , which proved very useful, particularly in weasling our way out of performing a few excruciating exercises.
Now we come to us, the Seniors. We were composed of Me, Shreyaa & Adwitha (or Adhu as we know her). You might remember Adhu, who was my friend in Alchemy Theatres & whose mom was the one who had set up this class. Shreyaa was a schoolmate. I’ll explain our positions as a Star Wars fan might do. Me & Shreyaa were Padawaans (Dibes on Luke Skywalker), Adhu was a nearly full fledged Jedi Master. Sir was our equivalent to Master Yoda. Adhu as expected, was far ahead of us, having already been in the training for a year. Though she was with us for only a short period of time, her command over the art & silent aura of determination inspired us all.
Then comes Shreyaa. As we both started on the same day & the same experience level, we became self-appointed rivals. Shreyaa excelled at the opening exercises & at understanding Sir‘s instructions. Despite her ability to perfect any pose, she was a bit of a whinner who regularly emptied my water bottle (without my permission!) & did not appreciate doing anything that she felt was waaay difficult. But that doesn’t mean she lacked conviction, evidence of which is the fact that she cycles all the way from Porur. Being my equal, we often conversed about the class & joked around a bit. She also was the Queen of pranks & taunts, which was a huge sense of annoyance to me.
Then there’s yours truly, I, of course, was instantly hailed as a prodigy.
Ha! if only.
While I could run & jump longer & higher than anyone, a master raider in kabaddi, a goalie who rivalled De Gea, a whiz with the staff & could balance on one toe all day long, I also had a few shortcomings. Due to the fact I was the only “senior” boy, I was instantly made the guinea pig for all of Sir‘s terrifying techniques to be practised upon. I can’t recall the amount of times I have been subjected to the techniques that made my head almost burst with pain. I’ve also been the victim of several pranks & taunts about my inability to perform push ups.
Finally Sir. He was amazing! Despite his Malayalam only instructions, we didn’t have any problems understanding him & several of his tongue-in-cheek jokes. A maestro at Kabaddi, a brilliant footballer & a person with awe-inspiring strength & flexibility. His vast knowledge & deep passion for his art was evident & he always pushed us to do better. Even when we felt like collapsing, he constantly taunted & pushed us to keep going, helping us push our limits & tapping reserves of power we never knew we had. His techniques always had extremely practical uses while making us stronger & way sharper.
A typical session went like this. A game of football between us & Sir would start & would often involve us getting wiped to the floor. Then we would perform a salutation exercise after which we would proceed to perform various limbering exercises, including an adapted version of Surya Namaskar. After these, were a set of “Vadivus” or poses such as “Gajja Vadivu” or “Varaha Vadivu” (Boar pose) each Vadivu is part of a sequential order that strengthend one specific part of the body. Then Sir would teach us new techniques which we practiced. After this, the excerises varied day-to-day, sometimes we would do leg exercises or sometimes advanced variants of the Vadivus. Then came stick excersises which would continue till the end of the class. Lastly, we would play a few games, usually Kabaddi or Blind folding people. Chellamma & Sushila Akka who were the helpers also joined in during this time & they were great fun to play alongside. The day would get over as it started, with a game of football.
At the time of writing, I have two months of experience tucked under my belt & am eagerly waiting to do more. The pain & sweat that I started with has translated into greater strength, a forging of several new friendships, new experiences, an initiation into a glorious martial art & a whole truckload of fun.
I may not have a great track record with sports, but I promise you this, that isn’t going to stop me or any of my companions from stepping back onto the chalky dust of our terrace, ready to get head-butted, twist into a pretzel, sweat enough to fill an ocean if it means we can continue having the bragging rights of being pupils to this great martial art.
Hope you guys loved this new post & are excited for more to follow. Until next time, vita!
(Featured Image on top, Courtesy: kerala calling you)