The world’s most populous democracy and the seventh largest country by geographical land mass, the Republic of India shares its borders with China, Nepal, and Bhutan in the northeast; Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east; and Pakistan to the west. It has given birth to four major world religions Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduigni, and Jainism and the region’s long history and diverse culture has spawned many philosophies, great thinkers, brave warriors, and influential martial artists.
India is often considered the birthplace of martial arts and, although this claim may not be strictly true, it could be said that the existence of many of today’s martial arts is due to the actions of an Indian monk called Bodhidharma, who was also known as “Da Mo” in China.
Born around 440 CE in Kanchi (at that time the capital of the southern Indian kingdom of Pallava) into the warrior caste, Bodhidharma received Buddhist teachings from a young age and was also said to be proficient in kalarippayattu, an empty-hand and weapons-based form of Indian martial arts. He later traveled to China and started what became known as the Chan (or Zen) School of Buddhism.
Arriving at the Shaolin temple in Song Shan in Henan province, Bodhidharma was initially refused entry but, according to legend, he went off to meditate in a cave close to the temple for nine years, not speaking for the entire time. The monks, realizing Bodhidharma’s dedication and wisdom, eventually allowed him to enter the temple. While he was there he taught a number of Zen principles and yogic martial-art exercises to strengthen the weak and sickly monks who, after years of static meditation, lacked physical strength and vigor.
Bodhidharma was later credited, somewhat contentiously, with writing the Chinese classics Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing. These books were effectively the first “qi-gong” manuals and are thought to form the basis of modern Shaolin kung fu.
India’s varied landscape has it pocketed with mountains, vast plains, jungles, and deserts have also had a major influence on the country’s martial-arts scene. Various cultures evolved in isolation and the martial arts that grew within them were influenced by the terrain, the religious beliefs, and the philosophical practices of each particular region. As a result, a number of unique indigenous martial arts such as aki kiti, mukna, and type of kung fu have evolved over the centuries.
Similar to boxing, this is an ancient, bare-knuckle system of fighting, practiced in Banares, northern India. Players are known for their devastating fist striking techniques, and for the exercises they undertake to tone and harden their fists, which include repeatedly striking solid objects such as bricks and stones. Smashing a coconut with a bare fist is a test of strength for which many are famed.
Practitioners claim the art is a full system of physical, emotional, and intellectual development. However, during practice matches between individuals it has been noted that, on occasion, the fights turn into “free-for-alls.” Team members and spectators join in the fray and continue until one group forced to withdraw, signifying victory for the other group.
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