While Indian jori and Persian meel practices are documented to have evolved from the 13th century, the lesser known Karlakattai tradition claims to have been around for much longer. Temple carvings and ancient scripts connected to the practice have been found in southern India dating back thousands of years. When the British invaded India, they closed down all the training schools (gurukulams) that were teaching this art, due a perceived threat to British control. Thankfully the karlakattai practice survived in southern Tamil India, and is still taught today thanks to a small and dedicated lineage of teachers (gurus) that risked persecution by training secretly during this period.
While any form of club swinging can build strength, stamina and dexterity – karlakattai is a much broader art. It carries a deep philosophy and vast structured system of disciplines with and without clubs.
The karlakattai practice includes over 1500 movements which are either practiced first thing in the morning in order to wake up the body, preparing it for the rest of the day, or in the evening to induce better quality sleep. Each exercise is performed 108 times, to strengthen the nervous system, improve posture and stamina, build strength and mobility, detox the body and develop a stronger person ready to engage with the world with vitality as well as strength. Mei-Padam (understanding your body) is a range of body-only movements that are designed to benefit bodily systems such as digestion, skeletal, nervous, respiratory etc. Udal Kattu Paadam (bodybuilding lessons) are the strength based part of the body-only moves. Much like asanas (postures) are only one part of yoga, strength building is just one aspect of karlakattai.
The above methods are also used to prepare the body for the more demanding karlakattai club moves (suttrus). There are 64 types of movement sequences using clubs – each with 5 variations of complexity. This is the most complete system of club training I have come across. Different suttrus may require different types of club – even the oils used to treat Karlakattai clubs are designed to nourish both the wood and the person using it.
The main focus of the practice is on energising the body for the day, rather than creating fatigue – which is a common outcome of some of the intense strength-based training programmes around today. After practicing karlakattai with a trained guru/teacher for the past four months, I have noticed a substantial improvement to my flexibility, less stiffness in my almost 60 year old body, the disappearance of a year old ganglion cyst on my wrist, and a long-term shoulder pain (from an old injury) has almost disappeared.
While there are some basic Karlakattai training videos available online, I sincerely recommend finding a trained professional who can teach you the correct techniques safely and effectively. Feel free to send me an email if you need help selecting the right club for you, otherwise just ask your trained guru/teacher. It is both pointless and dangerous to start off too advanced or too heavy and without an understanding of why you are doing each move. While muscles adapt fairly quickly, tendons and connective tissue do not. Build a strong foundation and it will serve you for life.
There are gurus currently leading classes online and (when C-19 allows) in person. I would highly recommend the teacher Karthik Vilwanathan. You can contact him for more information via Instagram. The main source is the International Karla Kattai Sports Federation at https://www.karlakattai.com.
Our 3.5kg Karlakattai style club is inspired by the kai karlai (wood club) style of training where a single club is swung either single or double handed to perform a huge variety of suttrus. You don’t need to perform complex moves to gain benefit. This is what I love about karlakattai.