Vyayam, the most ancient martial tradition of India


The Vedas, the mother tradition that inspired great ways of spirituality and knowledge like the Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Taos in the beginning of time, from the cedars of Lebanon to the confines of the Japanese cherry trees, proclaimed (Rig Veda): “Oh men who search for the truth and wisdom, open your arms and let the knowledge come to you from all parts, the truth is one and wise men will teach it to you in different ways…”

In this the new edition of our section of “Know how to Be” and in order to learn a little more about the integral ways of Yoga and Vyayam practices, the Strengthening Serenity of Meditation, Transcendental Wisdom and the Reintegration of Tantra, the Impeccable Knowledge of Health and the Longevity of Ayurveda, we offer advice, explications and revelations about the thousands of processes of self enlightenment that are becoming more and more valid each day. In order to learn a little more, I am going to write about “Vyayam, the most ancient tradition of India”.

The director of the magazine Budo International Publishing CO Alfredo Tucci recently wrote about Vyayam: “The origins of the disciplinary Arts are confusing. It isn´t the first time that we have heard speak about the thousand year old techniques of India, especially that of Kalaripayat, but there are not many who know it as Vyayam.

There are two basic theories in the study of history. One considers that discoveries and technical developments are made in a point from which they are diffused, and the other understands that in one same moment and in different places the same spark can be synchronically lit.

It doesn´t make much sense to argue which one came before or after except for a few nostalgic people who consider that the oldest is always best. What is important in any martial formula is that it works.

During the photography session we were able to assist a Vyayam demonstration. Its movements were full of energetic sense and are similar to some systems of Chi Kung; they ooze energy, harmony and power. Without doubt when practised in the correct way they are very energizing and its sequence seemed to us to be full of sense. There is beauty, strength and spark in its execution.

No one should expect to find difficult or confusing movements. They are really simple combinations and for this reason they are very effective, and just like in other martial forms, animals and nature are the symbolic inspiration that lie behind all the exercises.

I. The origins of Vyayam
The word “Vyayam” comes from Sanskrit and means “to tame the inner breath”. In some countries it is practised under Dravidian names (not Sanskrit ones) like: Maypayat, which are aerobic energy and harmonic exercises, and Kalaripayat or “gymnastics of the mastery of movement”. Vyayam and Kalaripayat are the same. The first is a Sanskrit and ancestral denomination and Kalaripayat is the most recent Dravidic name.

Vyayam comes from India, more concretely from the southern zone. Its most essential principle is based on the deep knowledge of our energies and its internal and external projections and its origins go back thousands of years. Its disciplines were already practised in India by the ancient warriors of the Vedic age, long before the Buddhist age. In the 5th century of our age, the Hindu monk Boddhidharma introduced it into China with the purpose of helping the religious people of the Shaolin Temples to strengthen their bodies which were weakened due to their ascetic monastic life and also to defend themselves against bandit attacks. From there the Chinese systems of energetic gymnastics and traditional Chinese martial arts were born, which was followed by the Japanese disciplines and then afterwards the essentials of Martial Arts in the rest of the world. For this reason they say that Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Kung Fu, Sorinji Kempo, Aikido etc. are inspired in Vyayam techniques.

II. Vyayam (Kalaripayat)
Vyayam has always been pursued throughout history, first by the Muslims and afterwards by the English in the colonization age. Its practise was prohibited by law and since then has only been practised in a clandestine way. In spite of this, and thanks to the secret transmission of some Masters it was able to survive. For this reason there are barely any written documents in existence. In India there are still some schools in the Kerala and Tamil Nadu area, but everyone knows they are restricted and difficult to access.

Vyayam was introduced into Europe by a traditional school inspired by the teachings of Swami Tilak. This Hindu master inspired his disciples in a unique and exceptional way and established a wonderful synthesis of Yoga and Martial Arts, converting this ancient martial art in an excellent Dynamic Yoga or Gymnastics. In India it is still used as a Martial Art, but in a very restricted and very selective way.

Vyayam grants its practitioner great power and control, helping them to make their bodies more flexible, to decongest articulations, to liberate the spinal column, and to tone muscles. It makes the body compact and strong, and regenerates the energy of the person making it more vital, creative and positive. In a word, it balances the body, mind and spirit. The Vyayam positions have been inspired by the observation of the Masters in Nature, and the movements imitate animals, positions, the dynamics of natural elements and also the work that men do. In this way we learn to acquire the strength that each one of these elements intrinsically has.

Vyayam is the spinal cord of warrior disciplines, of which the warrior´s personal training contributes to a noble spirit, inner knowledge and the light to be able to follow the way of enlightenment.

Formally, and even in an isolated way today, this art was practised by warrior families and by princes. Warriors were being formed in the art of war, bow and arrow, fighting with swords and body combat through the practises of Vyayam, because this discipline physically and energetically prepared them giving them great mental and muscular strength, and it taught them to project their energy to every part of their body. They were perfect warriors, powerful in body and mind.

Today, martial arts are so popular that it has lost a great part of its essence, and this essence is found in the great knowledge of the energy of the body and the form in which it is projected and expressed.

III.Basic Vyayam principles to establish strength in the body
1. The breathing should be audible, soft or strong, according to the intensity of the movement.

2. The body should follow the breathing taking strength and projecting it in the movement.

3. The mind is the observer of the movement of the body and of the respiration, adopting a position as an implicit witness. In this way the energy is concentrated in the body and with just an order, the energy is projected adopting the form and intensity it wants.

When we move in an ordinary way to generate a hit or a touch, we do it taking in intrinsic muscle strength. In Vyayam it is done taking the inner power and developing it through the practise of breathing. For this reason, in this practise the breath is fundamental, we could even go to such an extent to say that if you are not breathing correctly you are not practicing Vyayam. The secret of energetic movement is the breath, this is the secret of the strength of martial arts.. To explain it more clearly, we could use the example of when we talk to someone and we want to transmit something to them, we try to project strength in our words and this can have a more superficial or profound effect on our speaker depending on how we articulate our words, the volume and tone we use, the inflexions of the voice and the sense that we give them.

Equally, when we put all our strength in a movement, in a hit, the real power of the impact will depend on the inner strength that we put into the projection.

The alert state of a warrior comes from the awakening of the body and mind, what is achieved through very specific training. One of these techniques is the work done in “Microgymnastics” in which we condense the energy in the body, in each cell, in the nerves and arteries and even in each thought, compacting and compressing everything to later expand it and project it discharging all pressure and liberating the centres of energy that expand and are put into movement. So the senses are completely alert, the mind attentive, concentrated and serene and the body strong, compact and agile prepared to project or receive strength from the opponent.. All of this work results in a magnificent learning experience about the projection of energy, given that we put into play the deepest elements of our being.

There is a Sanskrit sentence that has been taken from the kathopanishad that says: “wherever the breath is, is where you will always find the mind. The mind determines power and strength.”

We could say that Vyayam is included in the path of the knowledge of energy or the knowledge of Tantra. For this reason it is considered a Tantric teaching. Vyayam possesses all the techniques that the other martial arts teach and the flexibility and agility that is developed with practise is surprising, even in older people. It can be practised by everyone and in all conditions, for this reason it has a great application as energetic gymnastics, and within it exists higher and lower practise levels, but it is equally effective in each level.

The most well known weapons for training are the long and short wooden sticks, the wooden sword and metal sword and the technique of attacking vital points was also practised. Each point is located in a very precise part of the body and in order for the hit to be truly effective it should be given in a very specific way. These hits can produce intense pain, temporal paralysis, loss of consciousness or even death. Through Vyayam we can get to know perfectly well where these vital points that the Masters have transmitted from generation to generation in a careful and precise way are located. Specific breathing techniques are also worked so as not to feel pain, to expulse it and even to calm it. The knowledge of Vyayam is applicable to Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine whose origins began 2.000 years before Christ. Like this the Vyayam masters can also practise this medicine based on the deep knowledge of energies. Applied as Ayurvedic massage, it acts upon the vital points (Adi Tala) improving and toning muscle flexibility, stimulating blood and lymphatic circulation and balances the energies of the body helping to prevent diseases or helping to cure them.

IV. Vyayam and the movilization of the hands
The hands in Vyayam help to dramatize the breathing of the practitioner and to balance our magnetic energy meridians. The hand movements called mudras are essential, this means there is no movement in Vyayam that doesn´t indicate where the movement goes, all body movements are governed by the hands. In a phrase from the Natya Shastra (classic dance text) it says, “Where the movement of the hand is, is where your attention will be, and where your attention is, is where your sight is. Where your sight is, is where your breathing is. Where the breath is, is where your mind will always be. The mind is what determines power and strength.”

When we move our hands they are magnetically open to different meridian coordinates and Talas (centres of energetic distribution in the body). We are not only moving articulations but also energy. If at the same time we breathe correctly then we indicate where the breath goes so the mind obtains success and strength. The movements have a concentric point, the Tan: its inner projection is found four fingers below the belly button and its external projection is found four fingers above the belly button corresponding to the kidneys and the influential area of the suprarenal glands.

The hands are taken with their large Talas toward the Tan to absorb the strength and distribute the energy. You can do many things with it; expand it, concentrate it, absorb it, make it blurry or gobble it up. But the place where it all goes, as if we were a great governor, is always the Tan, in fact it is the great governor given that it coincides in its physical regency with the kidneys as has already been indicated.

The mastery of a practitioner of Vyayam is noticed in the expression of the movement of their hands at any moment in their daily lives. The hand movements are what indicate the breath control and the control of the mind. The middle finger regulates movement and the balance of our body, not only in Vyayam. The middle finger always marks the regulation of the exercise and its dynamics. The middle finger is always projected from the inside to the outside, governing the movement. The index finger helps to fix the movement and the energy, and the thumb helps to stabilize it, it´s like the wings of a plane, it helps to stabilize the movement. Whatever is moving always has to be governed by the hand movement, it´s not only a language but also an inner energetic order.

We move the hands spontaneously when we truly feel what we are saying, when we have stability the fingers of the hands speak with us.

For this reason, when someone practices Vyayam and is reaching the level of a master, you can tell there is perfect synchronization by the movement of the hands.

But where the great importance of the hand movement in Vyayam is demonstrated is in the fact that the Masters can practise it with barely small finger movements.

Apart from the fact that this wonderful art was condemned to disappear during many years, we can say that in our days it is beginning to re-emerge in an authentic way preserving its true essence.


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