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West takes to Sikh martial art

July 26, 2006 12:31 IST

The traditional Sikh martial art of 'gakta' is finding many takers in USA, UK, France and Germany where it is being taught as a science of combat for self-defence.

So much is its popularity that in 2005, 60 Sikh men, women and children performed 'gatka' at the American Independence Day parade in Washington, DC.

Teams from across Britain took part in this traditional Sikh martial art tournament in Oldbury in March 2006.

Gatka is the name of a stick used to practice sword-fighting.

It originated in Punjab in the 15th century, but much of the gatka forms practised today in the West are Europeanised versions of what was the original martial art of Sikhs known as Shastar Vidyaa.

Experts here say gatka, which helped Sikhs defend themselves against Mughal invaders, has eventually evolved into a sport and exhibition form that is shown at Sikh festivals and is shorn of the ancient and actual combat skills.

"Gatka has been passed down as a tradition among the Sikh generations. With the emigration of Sikhs to western countries, gatka has grown again in the hearts and minds of the new generation of Sikhs. Martial artists in the West are slowly beginning to recognise gatka and inquire about it," says Kawaljeet Singh of Taran Taran based International Veer Khalsa Gatka Dal.

"However, there it is practised as a hobby and sport. NRIs come to us from England, Hong Hong, France to learn gatka and they in turn go back to teach the groups there, which includes both Sikh children and foreigners," Singh told PTI.

Singh's group includes 400 gatka experts, the youngest oneĀ being a five-year old. Though such things do not have a place in present day warfare, Singh says, "Gatka is very much relevant today. It is like any other martial art. It keeps both your mind and body fit. Moreover, since it was started by Sikh gurus, it is a part of our culture, which we need to learn," he says.

Nanak Dev Singh of Berlin based International Gatka Federation said they conduct research, teacher training and the promotion of gatka, including classes, workshops and camps and sword raising ceremonies.

The organisation was founded in 1982 and formalised in 1987. Weekly classes are held in Berlin, Hamburg (Germany) and Bordeaux (France), he says on his Web site.

Hamburg based Kirtan Singh and Wolfgang Frank have been practising this art together since years as a hobby.

"It has become a part of our life," say the duo on their Web site. They are teaching it now to groups across Hamburg.

Weekly camps to teach gatka are held in Berlin, Hamburg (Germany) and Bordeaux (France) by the International Gatka Federation. Local groups also teach gatka in San Jose, Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles and California.

However, Singh rues that there are not many takers for this martial art in India. "It is only taught in few Sikh schools and that too for some performance at the religious processions once or twice a year."

Jathedar Gurcharan Singh, a gatka teacher, in New Delhi says, "We are trying to revive the interest of people in this martial art. Already, the SGPC has introduced it as a subject at university level in Amritsar. It is a self defence art like Judo Karate. We are trying to convince schools to teach it to their children. There is no dearth of trained teachers who can teach this art."

Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee chief Harvinder Singh Sarna, meanwhile says to popularise gatka, they plan to have annual competitions so that theĀ interest of both children and parents can be aroused.

Arvinder Kaur in New Delhi
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