Varma Kalai

Varma Kalai (meaning “the art of vital points”) is an ancient martial art which has its origins in Tamil Nadu, India. The art itself originally began as a healing art from Varma Cuttiram (the “Tamil science of medicine”), which later turned into a martial art, thus the name Varma Kalai.

The attacks in Varma Kalai are meant for self defence and though they target the vital pressure points throughout the human body, the emphasis is on stopping an attacker without actually damaging him permanently.

Even in the most extreme situations there is an emphasis on using as little violence as possible. Varma Kalai teaches one to attack with or without weapons. The effect of Varma Kalai based offences is effective yet rarely damaging a human being. One who teaches and masters this art is called aasaan.

According to legends, wrongdoers eventually learned the art and this upset the masters who trusted in the character of their disciples.

This led to a code of secrecy in which a master never teaches all of what he knows to one man. A few secrets on how to counter the misuse of the act are always safe with a chosen few who excel in the art and have unimpeachable moral values.

Though Varma Kalai is still taught at Tamil Nadu the art is not popular with the youth who choose to study less time-consuming martial arts. Worth mentioning is the fact that it would take about 10 years for a student to learn about 75% of Varma Kalai his master knows.

Bodhidarma and Varmakalai: Bodhidharma (A.D. 520) went to China from Kanchipuram to spread Buddhism. He stayed at the Shaolin monastery and preached Buddhist ideologies. At that time he trained the local people in the art of Varmakkalai. The art underwent many changes and came to be known as Shaolin boxing or Kung-Fu. In Japan it came to be known as karate and judo. But it is interesting to note that the Chinese school agrees with the southern school of this art in that it has the same 108 varma points.

Kundalini and Varmakalai: If one has to know about Varma kalai it is very important to know about Kundalini yoga. The Kundalini yoga masters teach only about Seven Chakras in human body, where as there are 108 Chakras and how to concentrate them.

The Varma Kalai is a martial art coming from Southeast India, more exactly from Tamil Nadu. Literally, “Varma Kalai” means “the art of vital points”. This art is composed of hand-to-hand fighting, fighting with weapons, and also martial gymnastics. The study of this art goes beyond learning fighting techniques. Its aim is to produce healthy and stable individuals.

Some precisions before starting: The pictures of the techniques which illustrate this website mostly come from old articles which the magazine Karaté Bushido devoted to Varma Kalai. By the way, it’s after the reading of one of these articles that I started to practice this venerable martial art.

There is a martial art called “Kalarippayat”, coming from Kerala, a neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Although they’re geographically close, Kalarippayat and Varma Kalai are two separate and very distinct martial arts. They’are different in the nature of the techniques studied, and on their external aspect.

The training: In Varma Kalai, the respect of the body is essential. All training is done in order to prevent the body from suffering any shock or traumatism which could damage it. The teaching is an accumulation of several generations of masters. It has evolved in order to train oneself without destroying oneself. So, the techniques executed are always practiced in a fluid and fexible way. This art is taught in France by Master Zacria who began to practice Varma Kalai at 8 years old in Tamil Nadu with Master Krichenan then Master Tirougnana Sambadar. It’s been about 15 years since he has been teaching in France. He’s very concerned about his student’s health and I can tell you that the extent of his knowledge about the human body is amazing.

Gymnastics: The lesson starts with gymnastics. There are different kind of gymnastics, with different phases, each one with a particular aim. The warm-up, the stretching, the muscular reinforcement, the breathing exercises, the meditation exercises, the exercises for the spinal column, the “ regenerating” exercises (which allow, if we are tired, to be back in top form). During those exercises, we focus on breathing, circulation. The breathing exercises have for goal the liberation of the circulation of the body.

When the students progress, they are able to practice exercises closer related to martial gymnastics. In that aim, the student must first practice varied exercises which prepare the body in stages. Twisting and rotation movements make all the muscles of the body work (including some of them which are not usually used), stretch and relax the spinal column, relax the body and strengthen the articulations. Last, they have regenerating and invigorating properties. It is obvious that we don’t practice all the exercises at each session. According to the student’s needs and many other factors, this stage can be very different from one lesson to another. It can be done within a few minutes or take much more time depending on the point of the lesson.

In a general way, the movements and postures of Varma Kalai stretch, strengthen the limbs and “massage” the internal organs. In that way, repeating series of movements and martial techniques, the students are doing an internal and external gymnastic… without knowing it.

The hand-to-hand combat: Every part of the body is used (open or closed hands, elbows, knees, feet, shoulders, etc.) may it be for hitting, throws, grapplings and locks. There’s a huge variety of movement in the space, both with an opponent and by oneself (in order to move advantageously against an enemy, or when we are surrounded by several enemies) based on animal postures (tiger, elephant, snake, eagle, monkey, etc.). One of the particularities is that we also learn ground techniques for moving.

There are several kinds of exercises:

  • The ondi padom : exercises alone, or practiced with others
  • The adi-varisaï : series practiced alone
  • The kuttu-varisaï : series practiced in pair, then with more people (from the simplest to the most complex, codified at the beginning, and progressing to more and more free movements, the counter-attacks linked together endlessly, in perpetual movement)
  • The padom (lessons) : series of lessons practiced alone, bare hand or with arms
  • The tode : whirling lessons in pair

The Kuttu Varisaï: There’s a whole range of short series of movements which can be declined in several ways. One is practiced with an opponent, staying in place while moving your body and consists of linking movements. These exercises go beyond a “defence followed by a counter-attack”. It’s about series of attacks and counter-attacks from both the opponents, always moving, which makes neither “defender” nor “attacker” but two opponents countering the series of the other in a simultaneous flow of movements.

They put in practice the techniques that they learned alone. With these movements, we focus on vivacity, the use of coordination of several limbs at the same time, linking movements, simultaneous “defence / counter-attack”, the permanent contact of limbs, etc. Other families of techniques in pair complete this work in order to develop other qualities, like this range of series (see under the “tode”) which we can qualify “whirling” where both the opponents are turning around one another, attacking and defending at the same time. The defences are done without “blocking”, never “bone against bone”, everything done in absorption… except in the case of certain defences aimed at “hitting” the attacking limb.

The Adi Varisai: The students practice exercises called Adi Varisaï, which are a series of movements that one practices alone. Each lesson contains one or several objectives : linking movements together, the piston and the rebound effect, the dissociation of limbs, the moving in space, fluidity, the muscular reinforcement, etc. The body gets used to moving, becomes more flexible, looser, more obedient… For me, this work is used in order to “sharpen” the body.

The Tode Varisai: The students practice these codified exercises in pairs. Both the opponents are linking movements together very quickly, always moving in a way which aim to move round the other, may it be moving forward, pivoting, whirling, going by the side or by the back, without ever interrupting the attacks and counter-attacks.