As citied at (http://www.silambam.com/NilaikalakkiSilambamFightingArt.html) on 08 December 2011IntroductionDuring the past eleven years, a colleague and I have undertaken numerous research missions toEurope, Japan and Asia. Our main focus has been to research the Japanese jujutsu, Atemijutsuand Kuatsu arts of the late Professor Kam Hock Hoe. Professor Kam opened a branch of theKyoto Kokusai Jujutsu Dai Gakuin (International Jujutsu Institute) in Malaysia in 1935.In my travels I have met many devotees of Japanese Budo, as well as practitioners of Chineseand Indian martial arts. Occasionally I have the pleasure of meeting exceptional exponents whoare far from the commonplace. Early this year, by chance, I found myself again in the footstepsof the late Donn F. Draegger sensei, the most famous Western "explorer" of the traditionalJapanese, Chinese and other Asian martial arts.During my most recent visit to Penang, Draeger senseis most respected and senior jodo(Japanese staff art) student, Mr. Karunakaran s/o Chindan sensei, introduced me to a number ofhis friends, including Malay, Chinese and Indian martial artists.
One of the people I was introduced to was master Anbananthan an expert in the ancient Indianart known as Silambam. Master Anbananthan was wuite happy for me to recount his history, and a brief history of his Silambam arts. Living on Penang Island, Malaysia, is a traditional Indian Silambam Master who specialized in the use of a 1.68-meter staff referred to as a Silambamboo. Although the length of the stick is meant to be 1.68m it is usually cut to suit practitionersheight and thus can vary in length.The word Silambamboo is broken down into two words. The first word Silam in Tamil means"mountain" while bamboo remains the same in English. The most senior ranks are allowed totrain with a sharpened spearpoint on the end of the stick.The art is not widely known, although it has a long lineage. One of the first Westerners to studythis fighting art in the early 1970s was the late Donn F. Draeger Sensei.Draeger sensei first met mahaguru Mariapakiam (1900-1986), Master of Silambam, during aresearch visit to Malaysia in 1972 and was most impressed with the narikuru (animated animalmovements) of the art.It was during this time that Draeger sensei developed a close friendship with MahaguruMariapakiams senior student Mr. Anbananthan, who was in later life destined to continue theteaching of the Silambam art.Master Anbananthan lives in Taman Tun Sardon, Penang, surrounded by his family, friends andselected students. He currently works with the Malaysian postal service and is due to retire in afew years. Mr. Anbananthan is looking forward to retiring so that he will have more time toteach the silambam art to his many students.Master Anbananthans only disappointment in life is that Draeger sensei did not live long enoughto finish a publication on the art of Silambam.History of Silambam
Silambam is said to have its origins in India 5000 years ago. The art traces its history back to theKurinji mountains located in South India. Natives of the region, the Narikuravar, used the staff todefend themselves against wild animals and other attackers.The staff also played an important part in early religious festivals amongst the indian peoplewhen they would display their skills. Religious rites had to be performed to the goddess Sakthi(goddess of strength, courage and guidance) before a student sought permission from the Masterto learn the art.During religious festivals it was commonplace for Hindu scholars and yogis visiting the KurinjiMountain area to view the highly-skilled spinning displays of the Silambamboo.The scholars and yogis were attracted to the Silambam art and they adopted it for themselves. Intime the scholars brought the art to the Royal Court during the reign of the powerful rulersCheran, Cholan and Pandian. Over a period of time Silambam became an exercise expressingboth the physical and spiritual aspects of Hinduism.Competitions were held to promote the art during Royal birthdays, with handsome rewards paidto the Silambam. The winners of the competitions were honoured with selection to the rank ofKings Guard.Lineage of Silambam in MalaysiaIn 1936 Mahaguru Mariapakiam, Nilaikalakki Silambam and Yoga Master travelled to Penangfrom South India. During 1964 Master Anbananthan became a student of the NillaikalakkiSilambam.On the Mahagurus death (12th of August 1986) Master Anbananthan became Master-teacherand leading authority in Malaysia for Silambam. He maintains the lineage from South India andis regarded as one of the few living Masters teaching the traditional aspects of the art.
SilambamOnce a person has been selected as a student of Silambam he is informed of correct behaviour,given a staff and then commence learning the basics of the art. This basic training takes sevenyears to complete and is comprised of ten different stages.The first stage "Otthai Vitchi" focusses on physical fitness, with special exercises to strenghtenthe nerves and muscles of the body.During the second stage "Yiretthai Vitchi" the student learns to spin the staff, incorporatingrotating movements using both arms. This stage builds up the students coordination skills. Whentwirling the silambamboo the practitioner must relax and breathe normally.The third stage, the "Varusai/Silat Varusai" is the most difficult and involves spinning techniquesand patterns at ninety-six different angles.
Once the student has mastered the ninety-six patterns they are taught stage four "SandaiMarutham" which also uses the ninety-six patterns and incorporates striking movements basedon four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four and ninety-six sets of attacking options.After the first four stages the student is introduced to defence techniques known as "OthokalMurai" which teaches how to evade attacks by rotating the staff. At stage six "Piruvugal, AdiKambugal" thirty-six movements are taught in which each set consists of twelve movements in asequence. Strinking of the vital points, "Kurivaithu Adipethu" with the focus on the target area isthe seventh stage. This is followed by the "Kanthan" eighth stage, which teaches the difficultrythmic movements of the art with their tactical application. There is no shouting when strinkingbut the student does exhale.The ninth stage, "Narikuru" is where the animated animal movements are taught. Thesemovements are the most difficult and beautiful of the art. Only the most senior and dedicatedstudents are taught them. The fox movements in the ninth stage is unique and extremely difficultto copy without years of training. On gaining mastery of the ninth stage the student is ready forthe final tenth stage "Utchekattha Nillai" where all the earlier skills are tested.
Use of vital pointsSilambam not only teaches how to attack vital points but also teaches students revival techniquesand general medical remedies for the promotion of good health. Master Anbananthan describedone such procedure for reviving someone from a heavy blow to the head.The treatment involves rubbing the nerves at the side of the head and ears and massaging thescalp. Betel nut is also sometimes used in this treatment. The Betel nut is chewed and then blowninto the patients ears to insert heat and speed up the healing process.DemonstrationDuring the meeting with Master Anbananthan I was privileged to meet his students and view the training weapons. Master Anbananthan and his students then put on a demonstration using the
silambamboo. The techniques of Silambam were performed with speed and control. Of particular interest to me was the performance of the various set routines.Two special highlights were demonstrations by Master Anbananthan of the unusual Narikuru foxmovement and of an empty hand form, which closely resembled a karate kata. The form wasunique due to the openness of the hands when not actually striking the opponent and theexecution of the foot to target the oppenents ribs. This seemed to bear out that research whichpoints to karate having an Indian origin.In conclusion I would like to thank my friends Master Anbananthan and Karunakaran sensei,both of whom are truly humble and sincere individuals.