Kalaripayattu is an Indian martial art and fighting system that originated in Kerala. There is also a mention about Tulunadan Kalari in the Northern ballads of chekavar in Malabar. In Kerala, the warriors belonged to all castes.
There are different traditions in Kalaripayattu and various methods were practiced in different parts of Kerala. Generally, two systems are acknowledged. Namely Northern Style and Southern Style. Generally these two systems have a very different approach of teaching even though many techniques can be identified as common. The styles are variations that various masters have adapted and modified according to their understanding of the art. The maturity of Kalaripayattu comes from the tradition of constantly learning, adapting and improving the techniques by observing what techniques are practical and effective. There is a great amount of respect and observation of tradition which helps preserve ancient knowledge, and this knowledge is improved upon by subsequent masters who utilize keen observation, research various techniques and variations to update the knowledge. The adaptability aspect is due to Kalaripayattu being designed for use in battle, and with time, the attacker would utilize new methods of attack which the Kalari practitioner needs to learn how to anticipate, adapt to and neutralize. Kalaripayattu is taught not just as a martial art, but as a way of life that shows respect and compassion to others.
This is the actual Kalari – payattu kalari or otherwise known as Ayurveda kalari. This system generally gives much importance for physical flexibility exercises. These exercises are done individually and as combinations. After that meypayattu (equivalent of Karate kata) is taught. These are a combination of flexibility exercises with attacking/defence techniques but the actual techniques are taught very much later. Traditionally the number of meypayattu may differ as per the teaching methods of the Guru. After the student learns meypayattu, stick fighting is taught. Generally a majority of the Kalaris (schools that teach Kalaripayattu) start training with weapons within 3 to 6 months. But some Kalaris allow taking each weapon once in a year only. After long stick and small stick fighting, iron weapons are introduced. Training is begun with the dagger, sword and then the spear. Not all modern schools use specialized weapons. Traditionally, bows and arrows were commonly used in Kerala and students were trained in these techniques, but it is uncommon now.
Southern style is not actually kalari, but is another martial arts known as Adi Murai, varmakalai or Adi thada which has its origin from Tamil Nadu. It has a different set of exercises and no combinations are taught. It starts with the training in Chuvadus: a system of various combinations of fighting techniques like shadow boxing. Immediately after that, sparring with a partner is taught. These are pre-determined techniques trained repeatedly. Then weapons training begins with a small stick. Small stick training is done with two persons and generally only one uses the stick or dagger. These are defensive training systems. Fighting techniques with two persons having the same weapons include fights with long stick, sword, etc. Immediately along with this, the refining of un-armed combat also progresses; additionally, a small amount of knowledge pertaining to the marma points (pressure points) is also imparted if the student is considered worthy.
Kalaripayattu techniques are a combination of steps (Chuvadu) and postures (Vadivu). Chuvadu literally means ‘steps’, the basic steps of the martial arts. Vadivu literally means ‘postures’ or stances are the basic characteristics of Kalaripayattu training. Named after animals, they are usually eight in number. Styles differ considerably from one tradition to another. Not only do the names of poses differ, the masters also differ about application and interpretation. Each stance has its own style, power combination, function and effectiveness. These techniques vary from one style to another.