It takes at least 12 years to become a Kalaripayattu master, and some of the advanced techniques, such as marma, are not taught until mastery is achieved. Kalaripayattu training is taught in four stages. The first and last are body conditioning and barehanded fighting respectively; the middle two are weapons fighting.
THE WAY OF KALARIPAYATTU
Kalaripayattu initially was an unrefined mode of combat which, in later periods, became a method of self-purification and self-realization. Passed down from generation to generation, the teacher and holder of the lineage is called the Gurukkal or master. The Gurukkal is responsible for the students’ discipline and development, and is dedicated to the advancement of Kalari knowledge and practice.
Self-defense is the principle of kalaripayattu, rather than attack. If the kalari warrior can avoid combat, this is the best technique. In kalaripayattu, there are thousands of self-defense techniques such as grappling, kicks, jumps, locks and other movements. Kalaripayattu training is given to students through poetic vocal directions called Vaithari. The student is taught principles and techniques of meditation and eventually given the honour of offering kalari pooja.
To learn more about the spiritual aspects of kalari, please see our Kalaripayattu Spirituality page.
FIRST STAGE: KALARIPAYATTU TRAINING MEITHARI
Meythari is the preparatory stage of intensive body conditioning, designed to train the body and mind of the student for more advanced levels of training. Meythari consists of movement sequences aimed at building strength, balance, and dexterity, as well as concentration and ability to focus. Emphasis is placed on learning basic body positions, stretching movements for the legs, basic kicks and jumps, and total body flexibility conditioning. After mastery of the basics are achieved, more advanced moves are taught such as aerial kicks, twisting and other jumps, rolls, and body bends. These exercises increase speed of delivery, and the overall power of the move. After advanced Meythari training, the student’s mental and physical skills are honed to the highest level and they are ready to learn weapons.
SECOND STAGE KALARIPAYATTU TRAINING : KOLTHARI
After Meythari, the next level of kalaripayattu is Kolthari, the practice of wooden weapons. Wooden weapons are less lethal than metal weapons and so weapons training is begun with them. Weapons training is at the heart of kalaripayattu, as the art grew during the feudal times of ancient India, when battle was a regular part of life and weapons was unavoidable. Weapons training means practicing against another student in the kalari, and requires skill and confidence to master. In ancient times, a great many different wooden weapons were used, and the main ones are still used in kalaris today.
THIRD STAGE TRAINING : ANKATHARI
Ankathari is the practice of metal weapons, and is the third stage of kalaripayattu. Metal weapons are highly lethal and are designed to kill opponents quickly, sometimes many at a time. Skills learnt in Kolthari must become very precise during Ankathari training, and applied with a great amount of focus and intent. In the beginning, students learn to fight with matched weapons. As they develop their skills the Gurukkal will guide them to see how they handle themselves when using mismatched combinations, such as dagger versus sword.
FOURTH STAGE TRAINING: VERUMKAI
The last stage of kalaripayattu training, Verumkai, is the practice of barehanded fighting. This means that after the student has mastered the practice of classical weapons, they have to learn how to do without them. Techniques acquired include various blocks, throws, joint locks and grappling, among others.