Traditional Kerala Kalarippayattu Martial Arts Training and Kalari System for Supporting Health & Fitness of Sportsperson

Traditional Kerala Kalarippayattu Martial Arts Training and Kalari System for Supporting Health & Fitness of Sportsperson

PEF India - 4th National Conference on Physical Education and Sports Sciences, New Delhi, India.
Dated: 9th & 10th February, 2018

Traditional Kerala Kalarippayattu Martial Arts Training and Kalari System for Supporting Health & Fitness of Sportsperson

Himanshu Srivastava, Murugan Pillai Dr. Sreedharan Vijayan

*Nithya Chaithanya Kalari ®
Kalarippayattu Martial Arts Institute and Marma Research Centre, 50-B Pocket A1,
Mayur Vihar Phase III, Delhi -110096, India


Traditional martial arts training focus on different aspects or styles of fighting, personal combat and self-defense and as such have been practiced since centuries now. Martial arts have long been found to be a source of comprehensive training for improving mental and physical strength, body balance, proper breathing, and meditation for stress relieving to disciples. They also provide moral ethics due to their unique disciplinary regimen, righteous traditions and philosophical elements. Sport in China has been long associated to the martial arts. Olympics sports such as gymnastics and wrestling also have beginning in the martial tradition of ancient Greece.
In India the indigenous ancient Martial arts Kalaripayattu originating from Kerala, southern part of India and which is alive today is a comprehensive, methodical and holistic training art form which has much to offer to Indian sports with its applications in many dimensions of sports training such as flexibility, agility, strength training, mental health, stress relief and all over stamina development of sportsperson as well as for sports coaches. Kalaripayattu also has a systematic and comprehensive healing system called Kalari Marma Chikitsa earlier used to heal battle injuries which is being applied for sports injuries treatments by the imbibed knowledge and application of human anatomy studies and Marma Shastras (vital point treatment) doctrines credited to Agasthya, Sushruta, Charak, Vagbhata and others. Traditional herbal medicines in Kalari Chikitsa based on Ashwagndha, Bala and Brahmi etc. provide alternative to sports diet supplements.


History: Kalaripayattu (pronounced as Kalarippayatt) is a martial art, which originated as a style in Kerala, southern India (North Malabar). It is the most ancient traditional systems of physical, culture, self-defence and martial techniques still in existence. Kalari first appears in the Tamil Sangam literature (300 BCE to 300 CE) to describe both a battlefield and combat arena. The Purananuru, 'a treatise on kingship and praise of Chera Kings' is one of the eight books in the secular anthology of Sangam literature and is a source of information on the political and social history of prehistoric Tamil Nadu.

Kalarippayattu Sports Training including its Disciplines and Stages

Training in combat is given at the Kalari (traditional training school). The teacher in Kalari is called Guru or Gurukkal or Asan depending upon the stage and order followed. The combat training can be divided into four categories: Meithari (Physical exercise), Kolthari (Wooden weapon combat), Ankathari (Pancha Loha weapon combat) and Verumkai Prayogam (Unarmed combat.) Meithari is further divided into Angasadagathvam and Meipayattu. Training in Kalari commences with Angasadagathvam or Leg Movement Exercises. With 108 different exercises in this category, the student learns to grip the floor with his toes, to keep his balance and to focus while performing the exercises. Practicing the leg exercises everyday stretches the muscles well and improves the performance of the student. The movement during these exercises is from east to west and back while the Gurukkal (Kalari Master) gives side commands, known as Vaithari, which are rhythmic and aid in timing of various movements. This basic training is necessary before advancing into the techniques of Kalarippayat. Meipayattu is a pattern of exercises that integrates all categories of body exercises. Regular practice of Meipayattu results in controlled, flexible and graceful movements of the body and helps develop breath control (Pranayama), strength, flexibility and stamina. The movements have to be performed with a continuous flow of energy. In meipayattu, one seeks to achieve the softness of a cat and the swiftness of an antelope and can act even on a very restricted surface. Through these body control exercises, the student’s body becomes very agile, flexible and strong.

Kolthari (Wooden weapon applications in training): Kettukari is, a moderately thick and resilient long stick of cane, 12 span/6 feet in length. Blows to various parts of the body are dealt and parried with this weapon. Both ends are deftly used for this purpose. Cheruvadi a strong and stout Short stick of 3 span in length. Blows are dealt and parried in rapid succession, some times as fast as 100 blows in a minute. The stick is used for both offence and defense. On Otta Kol in Kalari is a wooden curved stick, 18 to 20 inches long with a knob at the point end. With the shape of an elephant tusk. It is important because it is linked to the knowledge of the vulnerable points (Marmas) of the body. Finally, Gada (Mace) is a heavy wooden weapon (4 to 9 kg) which is wielded by well-built person.

Structural composition

KuzhiKalari is a sunken area in ground made with mud. It is four feet in depth, forty-two feet in length and twenty-one feet in breadth, entrance to the Kalari is in the east, which leads into forty-two foot leg running East-West while the twenty-one foot leg runs North-South. Kalari itself is built in the south-west side of the main plot. Same way the Puttara/ Poothara (pukal- dhharaa: "platform where flowers are kept") is kept in the South-West corner of the Kalari itself. The floor of the Kalari is leveled using mud. In southern and central Kerala some Kalaries were constructed in circular form. Ankathattu is a four to six feet high platform constructed temporarily for the purpose of fighting duels (Ankam: war in Malyalam.)
Poothara: Poothara is a seven-tired platform (dhara) where flowers (pookal) are offered to the guardian deity every day and located in the south-west corner of every Kalari signifying the bhava that kalari a temple of learning and religious warship. Seven presiding deities of Kalari comprise the seven steps of the Poothara i.e., first Vignesha or Ganapathi ( giving initiating power), second Chandika, Bhumi or Parvati (Earth Power), giving patience of earth, third Vishnu for Agnisakti or commanding power and chakrapani as destroyer of all enemies. On the fourth step is Vadukisca (Ayudha parasakthi) that gives the lighting power associated with speed and quickness. On the fifth step (Gurusakthi) are the power and blessings of the guru . On the sixth step is Kali in her Raudra aspect to get special power of fury. Finally, at the seventh is Vaga-stha-purusha, Saraswati (power of voice or sound) to terrify enemies with voice command only. A man who perfectly knows all these seven and keeps his mind always concentrated will be able to have superior Manasakti. Poothara Pranamam is an important and foremost feature in Kalarippayat.

Body Conditioning, Practice Stances and combat steps

The principles of Kalari education stipulate that training in martial art begin with an oil massage of the body, which goes on until the body is agile and supple. Feats like Chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault) etc. are then taught, followed by the lessons in the use of weapons practice. This adds to the agility of the student. Further Practice stances are taught in order:
Chuvadu: While performing most fights, the student’s feet will be in one of the four defined positions. Chuvadu: A frisk step of small distance, ready for action - defense or offence. Neeka chuvadu: A moving step to avoid or to respond an opponent. Vatta chuvadu: A parallel step like in elephant stance, Chatta chuvadu: A jumping step , Ottakal chuvadu: Balancing on one step, Kon chuvadu: A diagonal step Vettu chuvadu Vettu means to beat, and Chuvadu means stepping. In vettu chuvadu, students perform the act of beating and taking steps in the same movement. However, an attack is always preceded by a blocking movement. The overall movements are made in four directions, which also involve intricate ground patterns. Speed, concentration and powerful strokes with the hands are enhanced in this cycle of exercises.
Astha vadivu: Ashta in Sanskrit means 8. Vadivu means posture. Postures inspired by animals form a very important part of Kalari training. These postures involve a lot of body movement, which requires a good control of the body, focus, concentration and balance. Through these postures, one also learns to control the breath. Following are the Ashta Vadivu: Gaja Vadivu (Elephant) , Simha Vadivu (Lion), Aswa Vadivu (Horse), Matsya Vadivu (Fish), Marjara Vadiva (Cat), Varaha Vadivu (Wild Boar), Kukuda Vadivu (Cock), Sarpa Vadivu (Snake).


Typically tournament get open for 2-3 years experienced students. There are separate age and height groups for participation. Levels of competition are sub-junior, junior, sub senior, senior and expert categories and there are separately tournaments for men and women, boys and girls. Tournaments are Held at district, state and national levels. Tests and points are scored by competitors for body agility, accuracy and speed of strikes, throws and accurate landing of opponent, body locks and release, stamina, duration of demonstrations etc. Only students from recognized and/or registered institutions can participate in the tournaments. Until recently tournaments have only been held in Kerala state. However other states including Delhi and Rajasthan have begun participating recently.

Healing System, Kalari Chikitsa

Kalaripayattu has a systematic and comprehensive healing system called Kalari Chikitsa earlier used to heal battle injuries which can be applied for sports injuries treatments by the imbibed knowledge and application of human anatomy studies and Marma Shastras (vital point treatment) doctrines established by Sushruta, Charak, Agasthya, Panini etc. and which are today practiced by traditional Kalarippayatt Gurakkals and Asans from Kerala. Higher knowledge of Kalari Chikitsa requires understanding of blood supplies, layers of skin, nadis, etc. and can be used for quickly treating joint dislocations, sprains, pains and spasms, blood flow and limited spinal injuries such as spinal hernia. Further, Dislocations, knee injuries, cuts, excessive blood drainage, sprains, recovery of unconsciousness, and boundaries of human safe body operation conditions are handled.
Marma Chikitsa is also a complete naturalistic healing system to rejuvenate the body by eliminating toxic imbalances, and to restore resistance and good health in the highly stressful environment of modern times.

Problems in Sportsperson

Following are usual issues seen in Sportsperson: Iron Depletion in Athletes, low hemoglobin, reduced performance, impaired muscle function, increases muscle fatigue, and inhibits improvements from training. There could be cases of muscle and bone degeneration for high performing athletes that may permanently impair performance. Other problems (not necessarily limited to these) are mental and emotional Heath in elite sports and Sports Injuries to the Foot and Ankle, sprains, slip discs, disc hernia, joint dislocations etc.

Body Toning and Injury Preventing Treatments in Kalari Chikitsa

The system of treatment and massage, and the assumptions about practice are closely associated with Ayurveda. The purpose of medicinal oil massage is to increase the practitioners' flexibility, to treat muscle injuries sustained during practice, or healing when a patient has problems related to bone tissue, muscles, or the nervous system. The term for such massages is thirumal and the massage specifically for physical flexibility, is chavutti thirumal. These are, Kaya thirummu: This system of massage relieves the body from aches and muscular pains, and also provides physical relaxation, comfort and rejuvenation. Katchakettu thirummu: This is given to increase a person's flexibility and physical endurance, and is particularly efficacious for those who practice martial arts and dance forms. It gives flexibility and suppleness to the body. This form of massage is combined with different yoga postures. Raksha thirummu (healing) massage is for healing. Abhyanga is a full-body oil massage designed to stimulate the circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems. Inflammatory blocks on Marma points are located and corrected, thus restoring the natural equilibrium of the body. Anga Dhara, also known as an oil bath is a rejuvenating experience. The effect of the warm oil is the opening of the pores of the skin and the relaxation of the muscular tissues. Shiro Dhara, also known as a warm head oil bath, is a gentle and powerful treatment for the head and scalp. This treatment is so relaxing it can often send people into a deep sleep. They awake feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Dhara treatments facilitate the body’s releasing of accumulated toxins, which are simultaneously removed by the flow of oil.
Kizhi: A Kizhi is a bundle of medicinal herbs which is heated in oil and applied to the body. It is often combined with Anga Dhara body massage for maximum effect. The hot oil activates the medicine within the Kizhi, and the heat stimulates and relaxes the body. Kizhis are used to remove inflammatory blocks, and improve circulation and flexibility in joints and muscles. Cheriya Avi is a localised steam treatment used in combination with Abhyanga body massage. The action of the steam on the skin helps to relieve stiffness, thus reducing pain and swelling. Medicinal herbs are added to the water in order to maximize the benefit to the patient. Valiya Avi is a full body steam treatment that is performed in a closed room. A great variety of medicinal herbs are added to a large clay pot of water, which is then boiled over a natural wood fire. The steam is carried through pipes into the room in which the patient sits. The effect of the steam causes the body to sweat profusely, thus removing large amounts of toxins. In addition, the medicine in the steam is inhaled by the patient. This is a powerful detoxifying treatment. Chavutti Thirummal is a full body oil massage performed using the feet. The practitioner supports himself by a rope suspended from the ceiling. This type of treatment allows for long strong feet movements that cover the whole body. This is a specialty of Kalari Chikitsa and is very effective in sprains, spinal injuries, muscle displacements and body posture correction. It activates complete body tissues with corrective fluid flows, improves respiratory and digestive systems as well as balances hormonal flows.

Diet & Supplements

Sudden changes in body temperature cause injuries and metabolic system collapses leading to cough an cold. In Kalari there is proper warm up training procedures before and during actual training and very cold prakruti drinks such as glucose water, Lemonades are avoided. For dehydration various formulation of herbal water which do not reduce body temperature called Dagshamam/ Panamrutham are provided. Instead of 200ml water 50 ml of such hydrants are provided which control sudden changes in body temperatures. Application of massages with oils prevents body shrinkages when exercises are stopped. Also Instead of steroids, natural supplements are available with traditional and herbal preparations.

Herbal Medicines

Balaashwagandha Oil: This vata pacifying oil can be used to nourish and strengthen the muscles. Useful for athletes requiring strength, this oil brings together two Ayurvedic herbs known for their ability to support muscle mass and energy: ashwagandha and bala and incorporated into any therapeutic massage where muscle or fascia may be damaged, debilitated, or in need of restoration. Ashwagandha is considered a toning herb known to rejuvenate both the muscular and nervous systems, in a stressful or changing environment. The actions of ashwagandha that include promoting strength, intelligence, and sleep, make this herb high on supporting a athletes. Bala helps to support energy and the nervous system, it also calms the nerves and pacifies vata. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): Brahmi has been used in traditional Indian medicine for over 3000 years for inflammatory conditions, fluid retention, mental and physical fatigue, exhaustion, restlessness, insomnia and over active mind, strengthening the immune system, stress, hysteria, nervous breakdown, insanity and to improve circulation and strengthen capillaries. Brahmi has been valued as a cardiac, nerve and brain tonic. There are various combination of Brahmi Ashwagandha as decotions, churna etc. e.g., the typical Sarasvataristha. Brahma rasayana / Ashwagandha Leham/ Agastya rasayanam is very good rejuvenator. and strengthens the body. It acts as an antioxidant and also reduces degenerative process of cells and immune power. It is natural remedy for stress and chronic tiredness.


Kalarippayattu is recognised under Indigenous sports and martial arts (IGMA) category by Sports Authority of India and is traditional sports in its own right and can provide vocation to Kalari trainers just like traditional Akhara and other sports as well as is supported by SAI NTSC scheme for young kalari students. Kalarippayattu has comprehensive sports and martial arts training and body healing system used and trusted upon since centuries and which can be used for sports injuries prevention and treatments. With this paper Nithya Chaithanya Kalari Institute and Marma research centre, Delhi having its empanelment under Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) calls for dedicated sportsperson and sports trainers and researchers to join us in quest for Kalari based sports training and Kalari research with its various application in sports sciences.


Kindly note that much material in this paper is directly referenced from sources such as Kalarippayattu and Marma books and online web resources (with few references listed in References section below) and from the direct directions and notes of our Gurakkals from their experiences of long time practice in Kalari, Siddha and Marma, and since the methods and techniques of Kalari training and treatment are well established since centuries. The novelty in this paper is the exploration of various dimensions of Kalarippayattu System towards supporting health and performance improvements of Sportsperson in particular. We apologize for inadvertently causing any errors or omissions in the compiled text.

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