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Gatka Punjabi: ????, gatka (Meaning: one whose freedom belongs to grace), is a defensive and offensive Sikh martial art[1] associated with the Sikhs (but open to anyone) that focuses on infusing the physical martial art with both the spiritual and mental. Gatka is also the name of a stick used for practicing sword fighting. Gatka originated in the Punjab region and was used by Sikh armies & forces against the Mughals, primarily in reaction to oppressive or aggressive policies. Gatka is rarely used in combat today, and has evolved into a sport and exhibition form shown at Sikh festivals.[1] Gat: means grace, liberation, and respect in one’s own power. Ka: means one who belongs or one who is part of a group.

The system for the present day Gatka is derived from an older version of Shaster Vidiya (literally knowledge of the arms). This system was used for military training by the Sikhs. According to tradition, the roots of this art can be traced to the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, who received it through a divine summon. Guru Nanak passed this art to Baba Buddha, and stated that he would claim it back in his sixth form. The sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, received training in the Shaster Vidiya system from Baba Buddha. Baba Budha also trained an army of Sikh warriors, soldiers of the Akal Bunga (the Immortal Fort, built in 1606), known as the Akalis (Immortals).[2]

Guru Hargobind propagated the theory of the warrior-saint, and emphasized the need for his followers to engage in self-defense martial practices. Arrangements for training in martial arts and combat were made and the guru himself learnt the use of weapons.[3]

Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of the Sikh faith, trained in the Sikh martial arts in Punjab. One of his achievements was the founding of Khalsa, the collective society that galvanized the martial energies of the Sikh community.[4] In regards to training the Khalsa, he pledged that he would “teach the sparrow to fight the hawk”. Both men and women were known to have practiced the art. There were and are no gender restrictions iterated by Sikh teachings or the Gurus.

Tradition holds that the Guru carried two swords, symbolizing the temporal, as well as heavenly power. Later, this came to be known as Miri-Piri, Miri (Emir, a temporal leader); this solidified the belief that the Guru could engage in righteous armed struggle, and Pir (the Sufi word for a mystic) designating a spiritual leader, acknowledging the Guru’s religious standing.[5]

Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa was a body of warriors dedicated to the Guru, outwardly defined by the uncut hair and other Sikh symbols. The Khalsa served as an armed wing to defend the Sikhs and others in the region in face of increasingly aggressive and intolerant policies. The Khalsa was involved in armed struggle against the armies of emperor Aurangzeb and his local allies.[6]

The men and women of the Khalsa were skilled fighters, and in many conflicts, came out ahead despite being severely outnumbered. Khalsa Sikhs were accustomed to view military service in terms of individual and collective honor. According to the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh, extreme courage and even death in the heat of battle was said to bring honor to the Sikh community.[7] , successfully captured areas of the Mughal empire.[8]]] Guru Gobind Singh altered the structure of the Sikh army in such a way that only a high ranking soldier of the Akali Sena was to be known as an Akali; the lower ranking soldier was called a Nihang, or he who is not attached to life nor fears death.[2]

Following the establishment of the British Raj, the traditional Sikh martial traditions and practitioners suffered greatly. The British ordered effective disarmament of the entire Sikh community. Even tools and farming equipment were banned. The Sikhs who refused to surrender their weapons were punished severely by the British authorities. The traditional martial knowledge of the Sikhs, previously preserved to a high standard, almost ceased to exist in the Punjab.[2]

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Sikhs assisted the British in crushing the mutiny. As a consequence of this assistance, restrictions on martial practices were relaxed in the Punjab. However, the form of martial arts which re-emerged after 1857 in the Panjab had altered greatly.[2]

The new Shaster Vidiya was no longer designed to produce soldiers to serve in war. Instead, during the 1860s, it had evolved into a ritualistic martial art called Gatka (derived from the name of the weapon used, the sword training stick). Gatka was mainly practiced by the British Indian Army. As Sikh colleges opened in the Punjab during the 1880s, European rules of fencing were applied to Gatka, resulting in further evolution. This development led to the formation of two branches of Gatka, rasmi (ritualistic) and khel (sport) Gatka.[2]

From the Zafarnama, in which Guru Gobind Singh addresses Aurangzeb (translated from Persian):

22: “When all the stratagem employed for (solving) a problem are exhausted, (only) then taking your hand to the sword is legitimate.” [9]

Gat means grace, liberation, and respect in one’s own power. Ka means one who belongs or one who is part of a group. Gatka means one whose freedom belongs to grace. It was originally created along three principles:

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