The ten cornerstones of Kalarippayattu and their relevance in the modern world. Part-1
Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Scott Kelly and I am a scholar from the far-off land of Australia. I was first introduced to the ancient art of Kalarippayattu during a long self-discovery adventure around the Spiritual continent of Asia. The fact that I found myself in South India during this trip was actually surprising, as I had only planned to travel the North of India due to the tropical monsoon season in the south. But none the less I made contact with a beautiful family down the southern province of Kerala, the secret birthplace of the mystical art of Kalarippayattu, the prince of all modern-day martial arts.
First off let’s get rid of something that has been bothering me for a while now, the term “Martial Arts”. Now being someone who does not have much of an experience with martial arts, one thing has become increasingly apparent to me whilst living the in ancient land of Kerala.
“Kalarippayattu and all that surround it is much more than just a martial art. It is a way of living, a mindset and an all-around code in which to base the way you live your life”
Being a scholar myself I took a different approach when introduced to Kalarippayattu. I attended training sessions to observe and ask questions from the masters about this immensely interesting subject. The first training session I attended consisted of at least a dozen children from the ages of eight up to around fourteen. During the two hours in which they went about their training under mastery tutelage, the children performed many exercises. All of which seemed to work at maximizing their flexibility, strength and overall physical fitness. I was truly amazed at the length of time they were able to keep up the high-quality execution of these exercises. This spurred me on to study the art of Kalarippayattu and how its benefits could positively influence the modern society that we live in today.
Kalarippayattu has its roots set deep into the earth of Kerala, the land of the coconut palms. Ever since the British outlawed the use of Kalarippayattu in their colonial conquest of India, the knowledge of the ancient art was generally lost to the outside world, only passed down in the confides of homes and Kalaris of the masters did it survive to rise again. With guns and modern technology at the forefront of military strategies around the world today,
it would be easy to think that the use of Kalarippayattu has lost its relevancne. And you would be right if Kalarippayattu were simply a way to attack and harm your enemy, however it is not. I believe the use of Kalarippayattu in the correct and proper way could possibly improve our lifestyles and quality of life.
In my homeland of Australia, children go to school, they come home and immediately find themselves glued to some sort of screen or another. In a society where obesity is rising at an alarming rate this is not a good look. Here I would like to look at how the application of the ten cornerstones of Kalarippayattu could change our society for the better.
1: Discipline of one’s responsibility
It could be argued that discipline in any sort of meaningful way in modern society has been thoroughly crushed through the implementation of unearned justification. What I mean by this is that in the west we teach our children that if something becomes too hard, and you do not like it anymore then it is okay to give up and do it with a half heart. In ancient Kerala there were people of the Kalarippayattu known as the Nair. These Nair were noble and disciplined warriors dedicated to the protection of their king and as such could be found at the epitome of their society.
There has been much evidence to show that lessons we learn in our childhood we take into our adulthood and help to shape the person we become. Children growing up in Southern India under the Kalarippayattu are dedicated to becoming strong of mind and body. Two times a day they train their bodies and their minds setting themselves up for a healthy adult mindset for the future. In contrast to this, most adults in our generation of the 21st century living in the western world find ourselves without discipline not just of the body but of the mind also. There is a good reason as to why the Kalarippayattu has survived for more than two thousand years. I think the implementation of this into western schools would have a drastically positive effect.
2: Respect for the Guru or Master.
Nowadays more than ever, we in the western world can see a major paradigm shift in our way of thinking about our own place in society. Where once it was all about community and getting along with each other, we now lock ourselves away in our large brick houses and are taught that the only person we need to worry about is ourselves. There is no inbuilt blueprint for respecting the people in our lives that we owe respect to. The people of Kerala and the ancient warrior race of Nair have different ideas.
Back before the Kalarippayattu was outlawed by the British, the general attitude of someone was always that of respect for those above them. If that person was there to teach you then they are giving you their time and their experience. Because of this you gave them the respect they deserve. Through the mutual respect between the master and the student, the student was able to thrive in their combat training and their mastery of the mind. Today you still see the same respect towards the masters of Kalarippayattu that was shown eight hundred years ago. This has not changed because it is the healthy and proper way to relate to other people in your life. Implementation of this simple cornerstone of Kalarippayattu in western culture would almost certainly yield exponentially positive results.
3: Regularity of practice and training
Students of the Kalarippayattu are dedicated to training themselves multiple times a day, every day. They do not miss a training or meeting and to do so is seen as wrong and weak. In every sort of scenario that we find ourselves in western society, a regularity in the task that we are performing will always improve your skills in that area. For example in the pursuit of losing weight or becoming stronger one must regularly show up to practice and train or risk losing the progress they have made. In the same way someone writing a book requires regularity in their writing schedule.
Too many times I hear of people losing their regularity only to fall back into the same negative state they were in to begin with. The art of maintaining a regularity of training is at the forefront of learning the Kalarippayattu and should also become a cornerstone in our own society if we are to improve ourselves such as the people of Kerala do.
4: Strength and unity of Body and Mind
As mentioned earlier, students of the Kalarippayattu do not only train themselves in combat and physical strength, but also in the mind. In order to become the best version of yourself, your body and your mind must be at peace with one another, this way they can work in accordance with each other.
Students of the Kalarippayattu as well as being proficient fighters must also be able to conquer the enemy within themselves. This requires a strength of the mind. The ancient Nair who lived Kalarippayattu had their ways of defeating fear and other mental states that may inhibit their ability to walk strong and unified. These ways include the Mudra and the Mantra. The Mudra, a series of hand gestures made in accordance with the Mantra voice command. Seated in a meditative state the Nair performing these tasks must practice these with regularity and discipline if he is to see results and fear driven away from his mind.
Here in our society of Australia we do not have a steadfast way of dealing with fear. We see this become a problem when children who develop a fear of something at a young age do not deal with the fear in the proper way and therefore become slaves to that fear even at an old age. Mudra and Mantra practices used in the Kalarippayattu would prove very useful in combatting this debilitating disease of the mind.
5: The patience of waiting
Waiting, listening and being patient are all ways students of the Kalarippayattu make sure they stay strong and healthy. Patience can be seen as the root to all good things such as discipline, reward and success. It is not easy living a life in accordance to the Kalarippayattu, however with enough training and a sound mind one can become patient enough to learn all that is needed to become a great master. In-fact it would take over twelve years of constant practice to become a master of the Kalarippayattu. All of these years are spent in discipline and training. There is no question then as to why the Nair were thought of as some of the most patient warriors in the world.
Embarrassingly I think of how many times throughout my life I have been told to have more patience. In a world all about screens and instant gratification, our children could learn valuable lessons from the Kalarippayattu. How many people in your life can you think of who have worked at something for more than twelve years without giving up because the results they wanted did not come quickly enough for them? Many spring to mind. This is why we need this cornerstone of the Kalarippayattu more than ever before in our homes and schools.