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Kalarippayattu is a system of martial practice belonging primarily to Kerala, India. Among practitioners of a variety of styles and lineages, the common elements in this martial system include preliminary techniques of exercise combined with seasonal full-body massage and daily application of medicinal oil to the entire body.

The word kalari refers specifically to the traditional roofed pits which served as a temple for worship, a gymnasium for martial exercise, and a clinic for treatments.

Kalarippayattu is 'a set of techniques of particular kinds of agency and/or power within specific contexts'. A martial art like Kalarippayatty is 'one means of "craftting" a particular self' (Zarrilli in 'Actualizing Power(s) and Crafting a Self in Kalarippatattu' [link])

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'Kalarippayattu is rooted in the ancient Indian "sciences" of war (Dhanur Veda), "life" (Ayurveda), and yoga. By the 12th century A.D. kalarippayattu emerged as the distinctive traditional martial/healing art of Kerala, South India. Kalarippayattu combines beautiful, yet dynamic and powerful forms of yoga-based bodymind training and solo-forms with intermediate and advanced weapons and empty-hand combat techniques, and a complete massage and healing system to make it a "complete" martial/healing/meditation system.

In its own unique way, kalarippayattu joined elements of the most ancient martial systems of North and South India, as well as the spiritual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islamic Sufism. The training begins and ends with the breath, and then moves through a variety of exercises in order to access "stillness at one’s centre," and eventually allows the body to "become all eyes." Long-term training promotes excellent fitness and health, awareness, concentration, and a "fighting spirit"--a unification of body, mind, and ‘heart’. Practice has the potential to activate the yogic subtle body, contributes to circulation of the internal energy, and can lead to healthful congruence of Ayurveda’s "body of humors and saps".

Northern Style emphasizes repetition of basic psychophysiological forms closely related to yoga, and including: animal poses (vadivu); leg kicks (kal etupp); combined bodymind exercises (meippayattu); the kalari vanakkam (salutation to the deities with the body); and (in intermediate/advanced courses) weapons practice (long-staff, short stick, otta, dagger, sword and shield, spear, mace).

Southern Style emphasizes empty hand forms and techniques for basic self defence training and bodymind coordination. It includes more upright stances, and students learning this style are immediately involved in attacking and/or defending in four basic directions.' From [link]

Abstracts from [link]

For more information about Kalarippayattu see also Phillip Zarrilli's articles Traditional Kerala (South India) Massage Therapies and To Heal and/or To Harm [link]

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