Gatka is a form of martial arts primarily practiced by followers of the Sikh religion. It focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual training. The word Gatka literally translates fropm the Punjabi to “one whose freedom belongs to grace.” It is also the name given to the practice stick used in the martial art. The practice is no longer used in combat, but like many other martial arts, has become a form of competition.
According to Sikhism, Gatka was given to Guru Nanak Dev by a divine spirit in the 15th century. This divine martial art was taught to an army of Sikh warriors, and even Gurus of the religion trained in Gatka, believing in a warrior-saint ideal. The art was passed down through the generations until the 1800s when the Shaster Vidiya began to train a more ritualistic version to the British Indian army. Later, the merging British and Indian cultures caused the implementation of European fencing rules into Gatka. This resulted in the formation of two basic forms of the art, ritualistic, or rasmi, and sport, or khel.
There are three basic principles of Gatka. These are ease of learning, diversity of weapons, and the ability to fight multiple opponents. A primary teaching of the martial art is the movement of the entire body in unison as one complete weapon, and response without any hesitation. All attack and defense methods are determined by the current position of the feet, hands, and weapons. Rasmi Gatka is usually performed in time with a three-beat drum cycle, to help coordinate movement and promote focus.
The use of weapons that involve both the right and left hand is favored. This practice is believed to encourage the body to work together, and to display no weak points. Masters of the art are often ambidextrous, meaning they can use both their right and left hands with equal skill. Gatka is trained in groups, and usually in a religious atmosphere. Institutes that teach solely Gatka and sometimes Pehlwani, an Indian wrestling style, are commonplace in India.
Gatka supports a large variety of weapons, including swords called tulwars, bamboo rods called lathi, and whips, chains, and throwing weapons called chakram. Because the movement patterns, weapon choices, and individual style all play a role in the practice, many people that have received the same training have developed personalized fighting styles. The sword and shield, and lathi, are the two most common weapon choices. In battle, Gatka warriors were known for their unparalleled fighting skills and great courage.