Gatka is a traditional weapon based Sikh martial art. It is based on the basic principle of unification of the mind, body and spirit in a rhythm of life to train a saint-soldier to be able to defend himself/herself. It originated in the north-western part of India i.e. in Punjab. The people of the area, especially the Sikhs, have a tall stature with a heavy build and are known to be fearless and feared warriors. The system of fighting there is termed as “Shastar Vidya” (knowledge of the weapons/sword).
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Sikhs became renowned throughout South Asia for their great martial prowess. The Sikh Gurus taught their followers to train the body physically, mentally and spiritually. The need to practice fighting for self defence against the Mughals encouraged the practice of martial arts. The tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, galvanised the martial energies of the Sikh community and founded the ‘Khalsa’ in 1699. The aim of the same being to fight oppression, worship one God, help the poor and downtrodden, abandon superstition and defend the faith. He professed the qualities, importance and aim of being a warrior-saint.
The word ‘Gatka’ variously means a three hand span stick with a leather cover, a truncheon, a mace, a club etc. It is very common in Sikh circles to use the word ‘Gatka’ for all traditional martial arts.
The various weapons used in Gatka are:-
Talwar - one sided sword, about three feet long
Tegh - long sword, ten hands long
Khanda - straight double edged sword
Dhaal - circular shield
Kataar - push dagger with H shaped handle
Chakar - circular edged weapon
Kirpan - dagger
Lathi - bamboo stick
Bagh nakh - ‘leopard claw’ – spiked weapon worn on the hand
The art emphasises having something in both hands e.g. sword and shield, two swords, sword and stick, or any combination of the above weapons. Training with ‘both hands full’ is believed to be an excellent exercise for coordinating the two halves of the body.
Gatka is meant to be offensive as well as defensive. The foundation of the art is a methodology for use of feet, arms, body and weapon in unison. It favours rhythmic movement without hesitation, doubt and anxiety. The attack and defence methods are based on positions of the hands, feet and weapon. Chanting of holy verses normally accompany the exercises. The three beat per cycle drum played by a drummer helps in coordination during practice.
Gatka is today taught to the youth to stay healthy and agile. The art of self control keeps the youth away from drug abuse and other intoxicants to lead a disciplined and pious life.
Many organisations in India and abroad are doing a yeoman service in keeping the tradition alive as also weaning away the Sikh youth from use of drugs.
As Guru Gobind Singh said,
“Chun kaar az haman hiltey dar guzasht,
Halal ast burden ba shamshir dast”
(When all other methods of setting right a wrong have failed, raising of sword is pious and just).