Regarded as the oldest and most scientific in the world, kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala, is an integral of the Malayali culture. Bodhidharama, a Buddist monk, who visited China during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Ling dynasty, is believed to have presented the world with a self-defense system; from which evolved almost all the present day martial are forms. Scholars believe that his philosophy was influenced by the ancient martial culture of malabar - kalaripayattu the mother of all martial arts. Malabar is considered to be the home of kalaripayattu. The folklore of malabar is full of ballads depicting the heroic deeds of men and women, who were exponents of this marital art form.


Kalaripayattu had different styles, which is generally classified into two. Thekkan or the southern style and vadakkan the northern versions of which thulunadan style is better in all respects. It was written in the history and in ballads, legendary warriors likeThacholi Othenan and Chandu after obtaining general training in Kalaripayattu, had gone to Thulunadan schools and undergone further studies and rectified the defects in the training they had already obtained. Kalaripayattu is basically a philosophical system aiming to nurture a precise way of 'non-violent life' far from any form of aggression and structural more towards introspective self-analysis and self-control. The final goal of a kalari practitioner is not just to know exactly all the techniques of defense and offence or the proper use of the various weapons, but also to overcome and rationally tame the anger and any kind of impulsive and violent behavior, which can have extremely dangerous effects on oneself and others.

Kalaripayattu literally means acquired skill of art. 'kalari' means school or arena and 'payattu' is skill training or practice. Inherent in the training for combat is a system for healing. One inflicts upon an opponent an injury that one also has the capacity to heal. It encompasses an invigorating Ayurvedic herbal treatment for chronic ailments like arthritis and spondylosis, and a massaging regimen which repairs physical damages and makes the body young and supple. The training in martial art begins with an oil massage of the body, which goes on until the body is agile and supple. Feats like chattom (jumping) ottam (runnig) marichil (somersault) etc then taught followed by lessons in the use of weapons such as dagger swords, spears, maces, the bow and arrow and so on. The training system is divided four sections meythari (body control exercise) kolthari (training with wooden sticks) ankathari (metallilc and heavy wooden weapons)


A number of Kalari exercises can be found in the craft and training of many south indian performing arts. Elements of kalaripayattu can also be seen reflected in the repertoire of modern dance and theatre. Basic training in Kalari perpares performing artists for the stage at a very fundamental level, in terms of their awareness of body and mind, concentration and flexibility. The philosophy of this martial art stretches the limits of the human body to degree where non-ballistic weapons from wooden staff to spear sword and shield become extensions of the body.