Rajinikanth J

December 29, 2020

Silambam’s Specialty

Translated by Kavin Pradeepkumar

தமிழில் படிக்க இங்கே சொடுக்கவும் https://jrkanth.com/2020/08/10/312/

There are a variety of martial arts in the world, which use a stick as its primary weapon. However, the Tamil martial art “Silambam”, is one of its kind and it’s true that it has a unique technique.

When someone thinks about self-defence with a stick or self-defence in general, they will start to develop some basic moves and techniques in general.

For example, martial arts like Kuthuvarisai, Karate and Kungfu having many similarities between the punches, kicks and blocks that can be identified.

Similarly, in the martial arts where sticks are used, some similarities in the basic technique can be identified between them. These include lower attack (Vaaral), upper attack (Vettu) and punches (Kuthu).

Now, many people may ask: In what ways is Silambam unique from the other martial arts where sticks are used?

  1. The way the stick is moved or swung
  2. The uniqueness of the different footwork
  3. The different methods to skillfully maneuver the stick
  4. The various types of basic techniques
  5. The ability to express emotion, beyond the techniques
  6. The classic nature of the art itself
  • The way the stick is moved or swung:

Generally, in other martial arts, the lessons and fighting methods focus on fighting one opponent at one time. In addition, these fighting methods are shaped in a way where you move left to right or front to back to attack or defend from the enemy. However, in Silambam there are a variety of stick movements that allows the person to attack/defend opponents in all directions. For example, the basic technique “Vaaral” (வாரல்), is a lower attack where the stick moves from the bottom, towards the head. When “Vaaral” is done in different directions and variations, it is known as a “Kalaippu” (கலைப்பு).

“Kalaipu” (கலைப்பு) is a great technique that allows the fighter to break up or scare away opponents surrounding them. This type of technique is not found in many other martial arts. The “Kalaipu” technique can also be done with footwork by pivoting 360 degrees on the foot which allows the fighter to defend themselves from opponent attacking from anywhere near them, which is a specialty of Silambam. A technique like this is “Veedu Kattuthal” (வீடு கட்டுதல்).

  • The uniqueness of the different footwork

Commonly, Tamil people use words and phrases to express that they are the best when it comes to fighting or battling. One of these significant phrases are “Veedu Katti Adippen” literally meaning “Build a house and attack”. This phrase expresses a type of special footwork, which allows the fighter to maneuver in different directions, while attacking the opponent. The variations of “Veedu Kattuthal” are “2 Veedu”, “4 Veedu” and “16 Veedu”. The “Vaaral” technique that I mentioned previously is a great technique as it efficiently blocks all types of attacks thrown at the fighter from all directions (the effectiveness of “Vaaral” varies between each fighter, depending on their ability of strength and speed, which differs based on the amount of practice). This “Vaaral” technique is mostly used while doing the “Veedu Kattuthal” footwork as these two techniques complement each other very well. While the fighter moves their foot in a “X” formation (“4 Veedu”), their hands perform the “Vaaral” technique with the stick, soon they pick up speed to build a strong defense against opponents. The technique “16 Veedu” is based on “4 Veedu” except it is done in all four directions allowing the fighter to stop attacks from all directions. This technique is again unique to Silambam and can’t be found in other forms of stick fighting. Similarly, other Silambam techniques such as “Udaan”, “Kiriki” and “Thulli Varuthal” are also unique to Silambam.

  • The different methods to skillfully maneuver the stick

In other stick fighting martial arts, they are mostly taught to only move the stick from the front to the back or back to the front. However, I think only Silambam can skillfully move the stick from one direction to any other direction. Even in the globally famous martial arts from Japan and China, I haven’t seen such technique where they could move the stick from one direction to any direction in any world competitions (based on what I saw on the internet), only their stunts, such as jumping and twisting of the body in gymnastics, makes spectators jaws drop. In Silambam one of the basic training methods is to change the direction of the stick to any side at its minimum range and power. In other stick fighting martial arts, when changing directions of the stick in the middle of a fight, they are taught to slow down the motion of the stick or stop and use another technique to change directions. Therefore, Silambam is special as it doesn’t require the stick to stop or slow down and allows the fighter to skillfully change directions of the stick using the momentum of the previous technique. In other stick fighting martial arts in India such as “Kathi Samu” from Andhra pradesh or “Lathi Kela” from West Bengal, they are not as complete or perfect as Silambam. These arts don’t even at least do “4 Veedu”. They are only taught to do techniques at a maximum of 2 or 3 directions. Furthermore, in those arts, most of their techniques are done for decorative purposes (Alangara Silambam) and aren’t as effective in combat methods.

  • The various types of basic techniques

“Vaaral” and “Vettu”(lower atack and upper attack) are common throughtout most of stick based martial arts. However, “Bagul- right/left”, “Kiriki”, “Kalaippu”, “Thalai Maanam” (head/ shoulder block attack), “Thulli Varuthal” (jump), “Mel Veechu” (upper swing), “Keel Veechu”(lower swing) are basic techniques that are only found in Silambam.  “Mel Veechu” (upper swing) and “Keel Veechu”(lower swing) are like “Vaaral” and “Vettu”, except they are done without being closer to the shoulder. Particularly in the Silambam type “Naagam 16” lessons, these  two types of “Veechu” are regularly used.

  • The ability to express emotion, beyond the techniques

In most martial arts there isn’t a way to express emotions through body languauge or facial expressions. The main reason for this is because the opponent may easily understand our mood and what we might do next. This is somewhat true. However, we can easily see the confidence level of someone who has practiced effectively, through their eyes and their body language. People have said that in Ramayanam, the character “Vaali” has a blessing where he gets half the strength of his opponent when thay stand in front of him to fight. We don’t know for sure if Vaali had such a blessing, but its true that if a well-trained fighter stands in front of his opponent, the fighter’s confidence and movements will cause fear in the mind of the opponent and that fear will reduce the opponent’s skill by half. Similarly, Silambam has its own way of showing a fighter’s confidence through the “Baavala” (“பாவ்லா”) method. Two people who are about to fight, face each other while going around in a cricle and move their sticks in a way which they scare the opponent. This “Baavala” method has been practised traditonally in Silambam. Beyond this method, there are also other ways to show the fighter’s confidence and sway the opponent, for example: by tapping on any part of the body to make a noise and confuse the opponent, such as the thigh, by quickly jumping forward, by leaping forward in a technique known as “Sarukki” (“சறுக்கி”) and many more other variations.

  • The classic nature of the art itself

In most martial arts, the lessons are usually done by imagination as imaginary fight. Those that are learning the martial art, are taught how to defend from and attack opponents if they attacked from a certain direction with a certain technique, this is what most martial art lessons are based on. The teacher of that lesson will modify these different scenarios of where an opponent might attack them, to teach their students. Similarly, the lessons in Silambam are also based on imagination. Every Silambam teacher will give their students scenarios of how and where an opponent may attack, to help them practice and polish their skills. However, when modifying the intensity of the lessons, the teacher should be aware of the skill level of their student. The teacher would change the intensity of their lesson depending on whether their student is a beginner or if they are advanced. Not everyone can watch and enjoy an improved lesson that has been modified. When watching someone doing Silambam, the general public are usually amused by the speed of the stick and the sound it makes when it is swung. However, only an experienced Silambam person can see and enjoy the minute details of each move and technique. They can also differentiate between who is more focused and who can make it look as if there is an actual fight going on and they are fighting an opponent. Realizing this, makes the Silambam more interesting and enjoyable to watch. This is the reason why Silambam is being practiced in many varieties across Tamil Nadu. In Silambam, most basic techniques are very similar. However, each teacher or teachers in a district slightly modify the technique to suit their imagination, this variation creates various types of Silambam like “Kuravanji” (“குறவஞ்சி”), “Saarpatta” (“சார்பட்டா”) “Naagam 16” (“நாகம்16”), “Kathambam” (“கதம்பம்”), “Kallapathu” (“கள்ளப்பத்து”) etc. The wide variety of basic techniques and the different dimensions of the basics in Silambam and its numerous combinations are making this art as a classical one with endless creations. These are the factors that helped to keep this ancient art alive and will keep this art alive for future generations.

1 thought on “Silambam’s Specialty

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