A martial arts tradition from the coastal state of Kerala, Kalaripayatuu "the arts of the gymnasium" -- is believed to have a history extending back to the first century AD. It has been suggested that kalaripayatuu was taken by a Buddhist monk from the Malabar coast to China, where it led, in turn, to those martial arts that are now familiar in the West, namely judo, karate, and kung fu. Those proficient in Kalaripayatuu are said to have constituted themselves in medieval times into elite suicide squads, known as "chavars". At some point, the Nairs began to dominate the sport. The Madhya [Middle] Kerala Sampradayam [School] is noted for its accuracy, foot movements (kalams, said to number 64), and striking power; it acquired considerable popularity in the Middle East, where Arab traders who came to the Malabar coast in search of spices first introduced it. The Kadaanada [North Kerala] Sampradayam is known for its emphasis on speed, flexibility, stamina, body balance, and remarkable neuromuscular coordination. At the present moment, Kerala has two kalaris, or gymansia: in principle, the one founded by C. V. Narayanan Nair caters to Hindu students, and the one founded by Haji Ennam Kuty attracts Muslim students, but in fact students from both faiths intermingle. As with many other phenomena, such as yoga -- which in the West has largely been reduced to hatha yoga, or a set of exercises, so occluding the various profound associations yoga in India has had with sadhana (discipline), moksha (spiritual emancipation), brahmacharya (such restraint as makes one capable of approximating the divine) -- the modern instruction of kalaripayatuu has divorced the self-defence aspect of the art form from the philosophy and rituals associated with it over the centuries.
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