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Friday, November 14, 2008

The blessing of gods of war

Martial arts have been an area of interest for me for some while now. I think that writing this post will help me know more about them and allow me to share ideas with you about what you think of these. Hope you find it interesting enough.

The name martial arts has been derived from the Roman god of war better known as 'Mars'. The term Martial arts applies to the codified set of practices for art of combat. They are also practised as dance forms. All martial arts share the same aims: Defeat one or more people in combat and defending oneself in case of an assault. Many of them are related to spiritual beliefs. Moreover, they are a way to attain better physical fitness and mental stability. The Shaolin Kung-fu's existence has been credited to a buddhist monk 'Bodhidharma' who had come to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" I don't know what that actually means but the relevant thing that grabs my interest is that he invented this martial art and saved the monastries from plunderers(since the monastries had and still have attractive and sparkling artefacts in abundance). He taught the art to the monks and since then it is being taught in monastries. A major feature of his teachings was meditation (zen). The monks have now adopted 'zen'(chan or dhyana) as their lifestyle. Many such martial arts have originated in the same manner and this is where they get their religious aspect from. Though, in some versions of his legend, Bodhidharma's focus was so single-minded during his nine years of meditation that his legs atrophied(became futile).

Popular forms
Some of the very popular martial arts are Taekwondo(Korea),Judo(Japan), Karate(China), Savate(Japan), Kungfu(China), Muay Thai(Thailand), Jijutsu(Japan), Pankration(German) and the indigenous Kalaripayat. Others are boxing, wrestling and ninjutsu. They all may involve strikes, grappling or even weapons.

Some people have the belief that martial arts competitions with rules don't give an appropriate measure of an individual's fighting abilities. Not even the ones with minimal rules such as 'vale tudo' would suffice for them. They elected instead to study fighting techniques with little or no regard to competitive rules or, even perhaps, ethical concerns and the law (the techniques practiced may aim to kill or cripple the opponent). As a result Mixed Martial Arts was invented which included in it the best practices from all martial art forms and was not limited by a set of rules. However, it has created many controversies (due to which it became more famous). One should never forget that martial arts have not been developed for determining which one is better and should be respected as they are and for their sanctity.

There is a whole list of martial arts weapons among which the Japanese curved sword Katana(Nihonto) is the most renowned. It may be 70 -90 cm long and is commonly used by a samurai. How costly will it be? Well a fine quality one may easily cost you about Rs.1,00,000. The cost mainly depends on the extent of tempering and queching which provide it requisite hardness and a gentle curve. It must be handled carefully and polished regularly as even the slightest moisture from the hands of the user may cause it to rust. Apart from the initial and the maintenance cost it has another cost called as the 'fine' - possesing it is illegal in most of the countries and those who possess it may be strictly punished and severely fined and the sword confiscated. So, don't ever think of possesing one if you are not a martial arts practioner(or a Samurai).

Martial arts and Marmas
The martial art Kalaripayattu(Kalari means school, Payattu means fight) focusses on the study of Marmam which are pressure points of the human body in Indian martial arts in general and Dravidian in particular. It is claimed that experienced practitioners can disable or kill their opponents by a mere touch in a Marmam. Another legend associated with it is that the exceptional practioners by varying the accuracy and impulse of their blow can decide the time after which their adversary will get killed after the attack (this time can even be years), although I don't believe it to be true at all, but imagine a person who had been assaulted in 1990 and injured due to its effect in 2010. Sounds like a bomb which can have its effect even after a generation. The study of Marmam is also vital for treatment of injuries. It is said to be as sophisticated as the uzhichil treatment of Ayurveda. This system of marma treatment is part of Sidha Vaidhyam, whose origin is attributed to Sage Agasthya and his disciples.
The earliest evidence of the concept of vital pressure points dates back to the Rig Veda, where Indra is recorded as having defeated Vritra by attacking his vital pressure points (marman) with his vajra. References are also found in the Atharva Veda. With numerous other scattered references to vital points in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that India's early martial practitioners knew and practised attacking or defending vital points. Sushruta (c. 6th century BC) identified and defined 107 vital points of the human body in his Sushruta Samhita. There are six types of marmas:

  • Maasa Marma (on the skin/muscles)
  • Asthi Marma (at bones)
  • Snayu Marma (at the nerves)
  • Dhamani Marma (at arteries)
  • Sandhi Marma (at the joints)
  • Shira Marma (at the veins)