The Kalari : a traditional martial art from Kerala

Octobre 2014, The Drama School Mumbai

This month, we had been following the Drama School Mumbai's students and teachers, a drama school in the heart of Mumbai. The first course we present is the Kalari lesson, by Belraj Soni.

Kalaripayattu is a traditionnal martial art from the State of Kerala, in the South of India. The word Kalari, abbreviation for Kalaripatyattu, actually means « threshing floor » in Malayalam, an official Indian language spoken in the State of Kerala. This discipline is taught at the Drama School Mumbai by Belraj Soni, a renowned instructor. Twice a week, the course begins at 8:00am with a sportive warm up from head to toe.

Then start the Kalari exercises. They all require flexibility, dynamism, balance, musculature, rigor, concentration, accuracy et above all perseverance. Each body member should be control at any time. You point your feet forward, you repet the movements, you breathe and you wait for everybody to have finished before starting again, nobody should stand on the sidelines.

During the pure flexibility exercises, such as side split, the instructor slowly comes by everybody to push on each back.

After 28 minutes, between two series, one can hear a shy and begging « Water... Please ». « After », answers calmy Mr. Soni. He will explain me at the end of the course that, in many traditionnal Indian practices, it is usual to drink or eat only before and after the training. At 8:33am, the instructor anounces at last « Wait 30 seconds before drinking water, breathe normally, no panting». Strict and benevolent at the same time, he doesn't allow them much respite : a few minutes later, the training starts agin.

During the last part of the lesson, the students work in pairs. The instructor join them one the other to show them how to do the movement properly. Despite the prohibition, one of the students takes advantage of the situation to grab his bottle of water and take a sip. Unfortunately, another student immediatly notices it, he's laughed at : his punishment is 50 jumps.

It's mid-October in Mumbai, it's 08:45am and already 35°C. Despite the precious air stream that this 5th floor room offers, the sweat pours off the students and the kicks splatter the air. Only two or three students don't seem to suffer agonising torment : Niketan, first row, swears that he owes all his flexibility to this few months of Kalari, and Srishti, one of the two young women of the group, keeps smiling and does not miss any mouvement.


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