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The Martial Art of Silambam  
Silambam is a martial art that originated from India, more particularly from Tamil Nadu in South India. It is a martial art that uses the walking stick or the long staff. This practice of using the long staff for defense and fighting began in South India as early as the 1st to 2nd century AD. Young men were given training to so that they could defend themselves using staves; either for ritual purposes or for an actual emergency. The staves that were used by very good fencers were given very special names and even revered.

There is some debate on where the name Silambam comes from; but it is believed to be a combination of the words Silam, in Tamil it means hill, and the word Bamboo. Silambamboo or Silambam for short means “Bamboo from the Hills”, since the sticks the people used were made of bamboo. There are sticks with many lengths but Silambam usually uses a five and a half feet stick that is nearly the height of a person.

Even though using sticks to fight is quite common, Silambam differentiates itself with moves that are quite complex, intricate and very efficient. Other fighting styles that also use staves hold the stick with both hands facing down. Silambam prefers holding the stick with the main hand face down and the other hand face up. In addition, those who learn Silambam must be able to use both hands to wield the staff, unlike other martial arts where only one hand is used.

Footwork, known as kaaldi, is also very important in Silambam. It uses swift foot motions, and beginners are taught footwork patters before they can begin studying how to hold the staff. With proper footwork, the whole body is used to create power; there are sixteen footwork routines, four of which are important. Eventually as they get better, they study footwork together with movements of the staff. Their goal is being able to defend oneself against many opponents who are armed.

Modern Silambam can be used for self-defense, as a demonstration or recreation, or it can also be performed as a sport. As a sport or contest, it can be subdivided into three types. It can be a fight where the goal is to remove the staff from one player. It could also be the number of touches a player can make on the other or even protecting a pouch of money placed in between a player’s feet.

But Silambam is more than just fighting. Virtuous qualities like discipline, knowledge, humility, peace, and brotherhood are fostered and developed. Another striking difference between Silambam and other martial arts is that there are only two positions: one is either a Student or a Master. Graduations or exams are also not present in Silambam.

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