From June 24 -July 14, 2003, the International Hoplology Society (IHS) led a field trip in and around the state of Kerala in southwest India to conduct a survey of combative systems and sports martial arts currently in practice . The party included Hunter (Chip) Armstrong, Director of the IHS, Hunter C.S. Armstrong (son of the director), Karunakaran from Penang, Malaysia, a long time practitioner of combative systems and student and colleague of Donn F. Draeger, and Moses Thilak, one of India's foremost authorities on Indian fighting arts.
Thanks to Karuna's preliminary work and Moses Thilak's vast knowledge of Indian fighting arts and innumerable contacts, this was probably the most productive field trip the IHS has conducted. In a short three weeks the IHS team drove over 1300 miles (2100 km), from the southern tip of India in Tamilnadu, through the length of Kerala, and up to Mysore in Karnataka. They interviewed over twenty teachers, took over a thousand photos, and about 50 video clips.
The trip started inTrivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. Due to the exigencies of travel by mass transit in India, the IHS team hired a vehicle and driver for the three weeks of field work. Without going into the gory details of a highway trip in Southern India, suffice it to say that a road trip is an adventure in itself.
Most of the trip was spent in Kerala interviewing and observing the gurukkal (teachers), training, and demonstrations of Kalaripayattu, the predominant native combative system of Kerala. Observations and interviews were also conducted among the instructors of a number schools of the Silambam, a combative system primarily practices in Tamilnadu. In addition to these two main streams of southern Indian fighting arts, interviews were conducted with teachers and students of Varmam, an Indian system of body energy points analogous to the point and meridians utilized in Chinese acupuncture and fighting arts. Among the interviews was one with Dr. Manickavasagam, one of the foremost Varmam authorities and a history professor who did his doctoral thesis on Varmam. Among some of the other combative systems whose practitioners we were able to interview were Vajra Mushti, a northern Indian system of hand striking that utilizes the vajra (a kind of knuckle duster), and Thang Ta, a weapons systems indigenous to the state of Manipur in the north eastern region of India.
In the city of Coimbatore, in Tamilnadu, we were fortunate to meet with Dr. Maheswaran, an anthropologist and curator of the Government Museum at Erode. Dr. Maheswaran's specialty area is weapons, and he had recently uncovered an extraordinary cache of 4000 year-old copper and bronze antennae-hilted swords. These blades are currently on display at the Government Museum at Coimbatore.
Relatively few people are aware ofIndia's extensive martial history and culture. Its weapons and combative systems-weapon and empty hand-are among the most extensive and developed of any in region in the world. India’s martial culture is relatively unstudied by outsiders, and there is much work to be done throughout the country.
This was one of the most productive trips we have conducted, and we owe a debt of gratitude to too many people to list them all here. However, in addition to the profound thanks due to Moses Thilak and Karunakaran, the IHS would also like to thank in particular those who were hosts to the team in various areas:
--Vasudeva Gurukkal in Kaduthuruthy
--Jaideep Bhale Rao, Daljeet Ram Choudhary, and their karate organization in Mysore
--S. Paul Vickraman, his lovely wife, Sonika Sargunar, B.A. Devaraj and their karate organization in Coimbatore
--A more in-depth report of this trip will be presented in the upcoming issue of Hop-Lite.