Fighting arts of India and Pakistan
Fighting Arts of India and Pakistan

Little has been written about the fighting arts of India and Pakistan in a Street Fighter context, though the ancient classics of Indian literature provide ample referance to them. The only known example of a Street Fighter style from India, is the rather Focus-heavy kabaddi. However, as Indian literature shows, the fighting arts of India is and was much more than that. This information is taken from a martial arts reference book, and should be fairly accurate.

Historical Background

Hindu society depended on a noble warrior caste, the kshatriyas, to provide military support for a liege lord, or local king. This elitist caste developed traditions of fighting over a period of years. In the absence of wars military games maintained these traditions. Thus it was that the games, called samajya, came to include elephant combat, must-yuddha (muki boxing, which is still practiced today), staff fighting and wrestling.

In a country as vast as India, many different forms of martial art inevitably developed and even in the vestiges left to the present day, some differences can be seen. Northern styles tend to use high jumps, expansive movements and kicks. Southern styles favor smaller movements and higher stances, using more arm than leg work. This pattern is repeated in China.

Unarmed Combat

Indian wrestling pre-dates military tradition and has been variously known as mallak-rida, malla-yuddha, and niyuddha-kride. These names covered four activities, one of which was dharanipata, the techniques of taking an opponent to the ground. It is not clear whether dharanipata involved striking techniques. Asura was a second type of wrestling and certainly did include striking. However, all blows had to be delivered above the chest if they were not to foul. Nara was a third type but no clear details about the rules under which it was fought have survived. Yuddha was an extremely bloodthirsty variant in which opponents frequently died from their injuries.

A further variant of Indian wrestling introduced during the Muslim conquests of the 13th century lasted until the arrival of the British in the 18th century when it declined and all but vanished. It owed its survival to the patronage of local princes in such states as Baroda, Indore, Mysore and Patiala.

Indian wrestling survives today in much the same form as it has been practiced over the last 150 years. It is quite popular and in Lahore there are no fewer than 600 gymnasia today. Training begins early, with some students as young as six - though the average age for entrance is in the teens.

Indian boxing is as old as wrestling and, as in the Greek pankration, contests were often lethal affairs. The advent of Western boxing in the 1890s eclipsed traditional forms with the exception of muki boxing. This extremely rough and violent activity can still be found in such places as Benares.

The system known as marma-adi uses pressure and strikes to vulnerable areas of the body. It is based on the theories of periodic energy flow through the body along certain lines called meridians. A blow on an active meridian is said to cause damage out of all proportion to the physical force used. Marma-adi teachings are taught secretly to selected students.

Striking techniques use all the customary hand and foot weapons, including the fore-knuckles, the hand-edge, the palm-heel, the fingertips and the elbow. Kicks are delivered with the ball of the foot, the instep, the heel and the big toe. Northern styles generally kick high, whereas southern schools seldom kick above the waist. Forms use sequences of techniques performed against imaginary opponents. They are analogous to Japanese kata and Korean poomse.

The village martial artist often also practises medicine - as in China. This is not as strange as it first might seem because in learning how to attack the body, it is helpful to know how it works.

Armed Combat

The typical Indian sword is less than a metre (40 inches) long. It is light, well balanced and flexible, and was either wielded in pairs, or singly with a shield. Training drills use a recurring sequence of cuts and counters from opponents circling each other. No grappling is permitted. Training with the sword has now virtually died out completely. The spring-sword uses two or three sharpened bands of steel ribbon and is flailed in a circular manner. This had a strong deterrent effect but unless it caught the throat, it tended to inflict nasty gashes rather than fatal cuts.

The Indian spear is about 1.5 metres (5 feet) long with a cord of equal length attached to the butt. This cord was wound around the thrower's wrist and allowed him to recover the weapon when it missed. The Indian spear was a cavalry weapon.

Staff and Stick
The Indian quarterstaff (lathi) is a near 2 metre (6 foot) length of bamboo. It is bound with leather and weighs about a kilo (2 pounds). Quarterstaff training uses prearranged drills with a partner, free sparring taking place only when students are proficient. Competitions are held according to rules. Stick-fighting is also popular and lengths vary. Staffs and longer sticks are wielded with both hands whereas shorter sticks are grasped with one hand.

The dagger is a concealable weapon with many uses and a tradition devoted to its use grew up in Northern India, where the Bundi dagger was developed. This has a grooved double edged blade with a curious grip equipped with long metal wrist guards.

Competitions are held to assess the effectiveness of practice. These use pre-arranged sparring, though highly dangerous unprogrammed sparring occasionally takes place. An interesting variant pits an unarmed man against an opponent with a dagger. The unarmed opponent must disarm the adversary, secure the dagger and use it against him.

Weapons are normally used to injure, or to threaten injure. Except in police arrests, they are used less frequently to restrain an opponent physically. The techniques of bandesh were devised several hundred years ago to permit an armed warrior to use his weapon to immobilise the opponent by means of a joint lock or strangle.

Reference: The Complete Book of Martial Arts, David Mitchell, ISBN 1-85152-289-1