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'The lone warrior': A Guinness World Record holder's love for Kalaripayattu

A "Kalari Gurukkal" since the age of 18, Harikrishnan G has mentored over 1,600 students from all ages and tribes -- from seven-year-old Achu to Vijayaraghavan Nair, a sexagenarian...

Published: 10th October 2021 06:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th October 2021 06:51 PM   |  A+A-

Harikrishnan and his disciple Neelakandan (Graphic | Vijayalayan R)

Online Desk

Harikrishnan S breathes Kalaripayattu.

A medical nurse by profession, his passion for the martial art form has seen him make popularising it his life's mission.

He remembers how as an 11-year-old he got drawn towards Kalaripayattu after his mother told him his grandfather, an army veteran, was a practitioner.

"My mother used to tell me how my grandfather used to practice Kalaripayattu. That led me to seek the tutelage of Sylvas Gurukkal to learn Thekkan Kalari. This was 15 years ago," said the 26-year-old Alappuzha native.

Today, Harikrishnan is an expert in several styles of Kalaripayattu including Thekkan, Vadakkan, Madhyakeralam and Thulunadan Lahalamura. A "Kalari Gurukkal" since the age of 18, he has mentored over 1,600 students from all ages and tribes -- Achu to Rinu -- a youngster with an amputated leg and Vijayaraghavan Nair, a sexagenarian.

He has won gold thrice at the Kalaripayattu national championship. He is a gold medalist in national sword fighting and has also bagged gold in 'Keralolsavam.' Moreover, he is two-time national real fight silver medalist, 'Urumi' (whip-like sword) expert and world-record holder. He has entered the Arabian Book of World Records, Indian Book of Records, Limca Book of World Records and Guinness Book of Records.

The champion martial artist's profile isn't limited to the record books and personal achievements. The youngster has proven his proficiency as a resourceful teacher as well. Following his hat-trick gold in Kalaripayattu national championships, that stage is now dominated by students of his academy. 

A video of his 10-year-old disciple Neelakandan went viral recently with the boy getting global applause. Celebrities including Anand Mahindra, Vidyut Jamwal and Baba Ramdev shared the clip on their social media handles.

Harikrishnan is always on the move, not ready to restrict himself to the large number of students across states (that include professional boxers and wannabe MMA fighters) he looks to further widen his circle so that Kalaripayattu can reach more people. 

"I feel Kalaripayattu has not received enough recognition from the government. We should learn from China how they promote Kung Fu. See where it stands now. And what about Kalaripayattu? Even all Keralites are not aware of it. Popularising it would help develop our culture and legacy," he said.

Hari named his Kalaripayattu academy "Ekaveera" or lone warrior. The name resonates with his journey so far -- a one-man mission to introduce and popularise an ancient art that is largely overlooked. 

"It is good if a person learns Kalari. But if a person encourages more people to learn it and pass it on to more, it would be great. Then, he is serving the art right," he explained. 

Social media publicity and record books

When he realised fame is the best way to capture the public imagination, Hari drew out a two-phase plan. For people to believe in him, he realised he would have to prove his mettle. With complete trust in himself, he decided to show he meant business at the global stage.

It was in 2019 that Harikrishnan entered the Guinness Book of Records by chopping off 61 pineapples placed on the heads of people in 30 seconds using a sword. He made it look so easy that the existing record of 22 fruits by an American became a distant runner-up. Soon, his attempt was accepted and included in the Arabian Book of Records and Limca Book of Records as well. Today, he is "Guinness Hari Gurukkal" and is happy that things are going as he planned.

"To enter the Guinness book is the best way to prove our skill and merit before the whole world. To find a place in it is equal to the world to accepting one to be the best. This is why I went for records. Whatever I've learned, I owe it to Kalaripayattu. The world accepting me for who I am mean recognising Kalaripayattu for its merit. Thus I am propagating this noble art form to more people," he said.

Soaring over pandemic trouble

The second phase of the plan was to lure youngsters to Kalaripayattu via social media. Harikrishnan and his senior students use their social media handles to showcase their skills in combat and athleticism. With the latest additions like reels and stories being introduced, short videos of the crew showing off Kalari techniques have gone viral and have increased recruitment across academies. 

But even then, people like him hardly thought they will be teaching Kalaripayattu over the internet to stay afloat. 

Harikrishnan S

"The routine style and discipline of the Kalari (academy) took a hit due to the pandemic.  But luckily we figured out it was coming long ago. So we were able to brainstorm in advance on damage control measures and the possibilities to take classes online. We ran trial classes for senior students before taking online admissions. We had to make a lot of adaptations from the regular style. For example, one technique that was easily taught in regular classes now had to be broken down into three parts at least so that students can learn them easily over the internet," he said.

ALSO READ | Kerala lockdown a punch below the belt for martial art teachers

However, spending more time online had its positives too as Hari later discovered.

"Some of our content became viral and it took the art form to people who had never heard of it before and wanted them to learn Kalaripayattu. Virtual classes allowed us to take it to a lot more people who had no choice earlier to learn the martial art as there were no academies nearby. We decided to give self-defence tutorials a try on YouTube too which was a success too," he said - pointing out the subscriber count increased many folds during the pandemic era.

Merits of being an "abhyasi"

Before Covid-19, his academy had 16 branches in four districts where around 1,800 students were practising. Post lockdown, Hari was forced to limit classes to the three branches of Alappuzha district where around 600 students are learning the art.

Kalaripayattu is the best gift that we can give to the coming generations as it can help us build a society that is mentally and physically fit. Boosting one's immunity is becoming vital for survival. Kalaripayattu offers a systematic theory and style of physical exercise, with clear mentioning of where to begin and when to stop.

"It is said every individual has two foes -- people around the one within them. Kalaripayattu, if practised with discipline, help us face both," Hari added.

Martial arts isn't violence

The master strongly disagrees with the argument that learning martial art forms make children aggressive. He dismisses such statements as "ignorant" and vouch for the disciplinary record of his students at schools.

Young Neelakandan at Harikrishnan's Kalari (Photo | Nandalal)

"Many people ask why sword fights and spear attacks are taught to students in these modern times. They must understand Kalaripayattu used to be trained by warriors and soldiers at a time when duels and battles were a way of life. Today, we learn these weapons not to hurt anyone. But when you begin to rigorously practice a weapon, you will feel it to be a part of your body and fear will gradually disappear. Technically, we are learning to evade attacks from all these weapons. The world is not a perfect place after all. An expert martial artist can even predict how an attacker is going to use the weapon and save themselves and the people around. Isn't that a good thing?" he asks.

"Knowledge is important to sustain life. Fitness is paramount to enjoy it to the fullest. Kalaripayattu is a treasury of such knowledge and skills that help us to live our lives to the fullest. No matter how many degrees one hold, you don't become a good individual if you don't have social skills to help and respect fellow lives and fulfil your responsibilities to society. Kalaripayattu helps us attain them all," he said.

"Come and know Kalaripayattu more closely, then you will have a better idea. It is never the same when you look at it from the outside. There are many good teachers out there," he concluded.

Harikrishnan can be reached at 8547968707

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