Who doesn’t like watching action movies where the hero performs death-defying stunts? Actors like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan would wow their audience with their fluidic martial arts actions. Those actions looked so swift and easy that it was hard to believe the amount of effort, discipline, and practice it entails.
Countries like China, Japan and Korea have long been credited with popularizing Martial Arts. And why not? Popular forms like Judo, Taekwondo, Kung-Fu, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, Ninjutsu etc. have originated here. But little do we know but the rich heritage and history of the indigenous Martial Arts Forms. In fact, Kalaripayattu, from Kerala is widely believed to be the oldest form of martial arts, mention of which dates back to the 3rd Century BC.
The fertile lands of Punjab have been producing courageous men and women, who are not afraid to lay down their lives for their cause. Such chivalry has resulted in the evolution of a form of Martial Arts which has extremely effective combat techniques.
Gatka- The History of ‘Self-Defence’
The work ‘Gatka’ is believed to have originated from the Persian word ‘Khutka’, which means a ‘short, thick stick’.
One of the Sikh Gurus, Guru Angad Dev Ji, encouraged his disciples to take care of the physical, spiritual and mental aspects of the body. After the disciples went through their spiritual studies, Guruji would ask them to partake in physical activities.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was summoned when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was forcibly converting Kashmiri Brahmins to Islam. Guruji was martyred due to this chain of events. His son and successor, Guru Gobind Singh Ji was a master in self-defense techniques like Gatka and he propagated the use of force, swords and Kirpans for self-defence. In 1699, he founded the Khalsa brotherhood which stood for the values of assisting the poor, fighting oppression, worshiping one God, abandoning superstition and defending the faith.
The main foundation of Gatka is the Panthra. Panthra refers to the fluidic movement of the hand, feet, body and the weapons, all in unison.
The Art of the warriors
Gatka should not be misunderstood only as a means of self-defence. It stresses on the spiritual, physical and mental aspect of one’s being. The art form involves bare handed combat, sticks, kirpans, swords and various Shastars(weapons).
This martial art which was earlier restricted to Gurudwaras and Akharas, has now been recognised as a sport.
Way to the future
In 2008, the Gatka Federation of India was formed. It is now a recognised sport and is played at the national level.
Earlier, this art form was more of a freestyle form with no set rules. With the formation of the federation, a proper set of rules have been laid out. This has also helped Gatka sportsmen to avail of all the benefits like reservations and sports quota, similar to other sports.
Also, in one of the seasons of the popular dance reality show, Dance India Dance, Rashpal Kaur wowed the audience with her Gatka skills. You can watch her performance here.
The innate philosophy of this martial arts form is to strike a balance between the inner and outer elements. To never back down. To never shy away from laying one’s life for a just cause.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji summarised the true essence of Gatka, beautifully.
“They alone are truly and fully live on this earth who remember the Lord and are ready to fight for the righteous cause. Brittle is our body; it does not last long. Let us use it and get into the boat of YASAS (nobly earned repute) and cross the ocean of repeated births and deaths. Let us make this body the residence of forbearance and fortitude and light in it the excellent lamp of wisdom. Let us there-after hold in our hands the sword of knowledge-realisation (Gnana) and bravely destroy with it, the demon of cowardice in us.”