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Silambam (Tamil: ????????) or Silambattam (Tamil: ????????????) or Chilambam, is a traditional Dravidian martial art based on stick fighting. This style supposedly originated from the Kurinji Hills some 5,000 years ago. The Narikuravar of the Kurinji Hills used a staff called Chilambamboo as a weapon to defend themselves against wild animals, and also to display their skill during their religious festivals.
Silambam is a mainly a form of stick or walking staff fighting. The length of the staff is roughly 1.68 meters (five and a half feet). Size of the staff is related to the height of the silambam player. It should just touch the forehead about three fingers from the head, although different lengths are used in different situations. The 3 feet stick called “sedikutchi” can be carried covertly. Separate practice is needed for staves of different lengths. The usual stance includes holding the staff at one end, right hand close to the back, left hand about 40 centimeters (16 inches) away. This position allows a wide array of stick-and-body movements, including complex attacks and blocks. Unarmed silambam utilizes several routines based on the movements of animals, primarily snake and eagle forms.
Beginners are taught Footwork patterns and they must master them before learning spinning techniques and patterns, and methods to change the spins without stopping the motion of the stick. Footworks (Kaaladi) are the key aspects of Silambam and kuthu varisai (bare hand version). There are sixteen of them among which four are very important. Gradually, fighters study footwork to move precisely in conjunction with the stick movements. The ultimate goal of the training is to defend against multiple armed opponents.
Footworks (Kaaladi) are the key aspects of Silambam and kuthu varisai (bare hand version). Traditionally, the masters first teach kaaladi for a long time, then proceed to kuthu varisai which is also called kai silambam (hand silambam). The teaching of kuthuvarisai trains oneself to get a feel of silambam stick movements using our bare hands, that is, fighters have a preliminary training with bare hands before going to the stick.
In Silambam as well as kuthu varisai the kaaladi (foot work or foot step) is the key in deriving power for the blows. Kaaladi teaches how to advance and retreat, to get in range of the opponent without losing our defence as well as it aids very much in hitting and blocking. It also strengthens the body immensely enabling the person to receive blows (non lethal) and still continue the combat. The whole body is used to create power. There are sixteen of them among which four are very important. Gradually, fighters study footwork to move precisely in conjunction with the stick movements.
When the student reaches the final stage, the staff gets sharpened at one end. In real combat the tips may be poisoned. The ultimate goal of the training is to defend against multiple armed opponents. The expert in this field knows varmakkalai (art of pressure points) and knows where to strike anywhere in the body to produce fatal or crippling effects by the least use of power. In a man-to-man combat an expert would just slide his stick to opponents wrist many times during combat. The opponent in the heat of battle may not notice this and feels sudden pain in his wrist and throws the stick automatically without knowing what hit him/her. When two experts match against each other one may challenge the other that he will hit his big toe. Hitting the big toe can produce crippling effects on the fighter making him/her abandon the combat. This is called “solli adithal” (challenging and successfully hitting) and this phrase is often used in Tamil movies most often by the leading characters in different contexts like “challenging and successfully revenging”.
Almost all cultures have some forms of stick fighting. But what is unique in silambam is the nature of silambam combat itself.
Most stick fighting style grip the stick in the center using poker grip (both hands facing down), Silambam prefers hammer grip (main hand facing down behind the weak hand which faces up). The strong hand grips the stick about a distance hand’s width and thumb’s length from the end of the stick and the weak hand is a thumb’s length away from the strong hand. Actually the weak hand is just touching the stick and it is just for guiding the movement of the stick. Silambam stresses ambidexterity (use of both hands) and besides the preferred hammer grip there are other ways of gripping the staff.
When facing man to man a fighter held his/her stick in front of the body stretching his arms three quarters full. From there he/her starts all his attacks by the sheer movement of the wrist. In fact most of the silambam blows are derived from wrist movement. Wrist is the key component of silambam. The bow gets speed from the wrist and power from the body through kaaladi (foot work or foot steps).
Since the stick is held in front, Silambam strikes are telegraphic, that is, the Silambam fighter does not intend to hide his intentions from the opponent. He/she beats the opponent by sheer speed, overwhelming him/her with continuous non-stop rain of blows. In Silambam, one blow leads to (aids) another. Besides there are cheating blows (one blow disguised as other). In addition to the blows Silambam has a vast variety of grappling methods called Poottu (locks). A fighter must always be careful while wielding his/her stick or he/she will be grappled and lose the fight. The locks can disable the fighter or simply capture his/her stick. There also counters or openings (Thirappu) for these locks. But the counters must be used before the lock gets finished. In addition to locks, Silambam also has many different types of evading an attack like, blocking, parrying, receiving (with the stick), rotary parrying, hammering (with the stick), kolluvuthal or sliding (attacking and blocking simultaneously) and purely evading moves like sitting or kneeling, moving out, jumping high and so on.
A person who is trained in other staff martial arts but not in Silambam will find its very difficult to match against the Silmbam fighter because of the unique nature of Silambam.
The speed of Silambam is unparalleled, some serious research is needed on this topic. Because of the way the stick is held and the relatively thin diameter of the stick blows to the groin are very frequent and difficult to block.