This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributor: Arun Singh - firstname.lastname@example.org)
A Sikh martial art.
Origins and History:
Gatka is the martial art of the Sikhs, and is tied in with the
religion Sikhism. It's a weapons-based martial art, which was
imparted to the Sikhs in the time of Guru Hargobind Ji (the sixth
Guru of the Sikhs) by the Rajputs (Hindu warriors of northern India)
in the 16th century, in gratitude for their release from imprisonment
by the fledgling Sikh army of that time. The Sikhs at that time
opposed the Mughal Empire, which violently oppressed both Sikhs and
Hindus in the name of Islam.
The Tenth Master of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was an extremely
proficient martial artist.
He continued to encourage the Sikhs to train seriously in the martial
arts, and in 1699 founded the Khalsa, a special Order, to which all
Sikhs would thereafter aspire to joining. The Khalsa was subject to
strict military and personal discipline, and were enjoined to, inter
alia, always carry 5 items with them: the Kanga (a small wooden
comb), Kachhehra (long drawers instead of a loincloth), Kara (a steel
bracer worn on the right wrist), Kesh (uncut hair) and Kirpan (curved
sword). The Khalsa was enjoined to train to fight, and to vigorously
resist the oppression of any religious community, including Sikhs and
Hindus. The wearing of the kirpan represented the martial character
of the Khalsa, and all Sikhs, men, women and children, were
encouraged to resist their Mughal oppressors, and to train diligently
Gatka was used succesfully by the Sikhs throughout the 16th and 17th
centuries, in numerous battles against the Mughal forces. Eventually,
the Sikhs succeeded in deposing the Mughal overlords, and in creating
a new, tolerant rulership in the Punjab (the "Land of Five Rivers", a
region in modern-day India and Pakistan).
Gatka is, and has always been, taught as a spiritual exercise in
Sikhism. Sikhism requires its followers to become absorbed in
honouring the Name of God, and this is taught through the ecstatic
exercise of gatka. Sikhism and gatka are inextricably intertwined, in
Gatka actually refers to the soti, a wooden stick used in training,
which is equipped with a basket hilt. The entire martial art is based
on the correct use of a vast array of melee (hand-to-hand) weapons.
The foundation of the art is the panthra, a basic form and
methodology for moving the feet, body, arms and weapons correctly, in
unison. Gatka is normally taught with rhythmic accompaniment, and the
object is to achieve fluid, natural and flowing movement, without
hesitation, doubt or anxiety. The attacking and blocking methods are
all based upon the positions of the hands, feet and weapon(s) during
the panthra dexterity exercise. Many weapons are taught with special
methodologies, in addition to the panthra exercise.
There are set of unique "chambers" and other techniques, which are
unique to certain weapons, such as the khanda (two-edged sword), the
tabar (axe) and the barcha (spear).
The most common weapon used by gatka exponents today is the lathi (a
stick of varying length), but all of the other traditional weapons
are still taught. A common combination in that hands of gatka
practitioners of today and in the past is the sword and shield.
The panthra exercise is a flowing, non-stop movement, and there are
no specific "techniques" as such in gatka. Rather, the methods of
attacking and defending are the same, and the application depends on
the circumstances at the time. The panthra exercise is practised at
the same time as the "Jaap Sahib" prayer is being sung. Also, a
three-beat-per-cycle is played by a drummer at the same time. This
assists in developing natural and flowing co-ordination.
Most gatka groups train in a religious or semi-religious situation,
such as in a gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) or in a Sikh cultural
centre or school. However, in recent years a number of "Akhara"
(regiment or gymnasium) organisations have been founded, with the
express purpose of teaching and disseminating the skill of gatka.
Gatka students always train with "both hands full", as this is both
an excellent exercise for matching the two halves of the body and is
emphasised as ideal for combat. Gatka emphasises the superiority of
having something in both hands, whether it's two sticks, or a stick
and a sword, or a sword and a shield or any other combination.
At an advanced level, gatka is always tailored to the practitioner.
Hence the gatka practitioner will eventually focus all of his effort
on training his or her abilities with a chosen weapon or combination
Gatka was never originally intended as a competitive sport. However,
recently a number of modern gatka organisations have introduced
competition. Normally, these are based on a "best of two" or a "best
of Five" hits contest between two practitiners.
How to find an instructor:
The best traditional gatka practitioners outside the Punjab are known
by word of mouth only. However, some organisations have recently
begun teaching their own variation of gatka, in schools and clubs, in
the same way as any other martial art. These organisations usually
advertise, too. However, their gatka may differ significantly from
the traditional form of the art, either by accident or design. It may
be fruitful to consult your local gurdwara (Sikh temple) officials in
order to find a reputable gatka instructor who is willing to teach
you. Discretion (most gatka experts disdain being the centre of
attention) and courtesy will be indispensable in finding yourself a
willing instructor in the art.