By Hisham Barbhuiya:
The name “Gatka” is perhaps unknown to most people in the land of its birth. Many people mistake the word for “Gutkha” or betel-nut when asked about it. To be precise, it is an old martial art practiced in the Indian part of Punjab. It is a style of fighting using sticks and sometimes swords. It is not an open-handed technique of fighting like karate or kung-fu. It is mainly practiced by the Sikh community.
The sport has a very rich history. It was imbibed among the Sikhs by the Rajputs during the era of Guru Hargobind. The tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh actively encouraged his community to take up the sport as a means of resisting the Mughal rule. As a result of this, the Sikhs won many battles against the Mughals during the 16th and the 17th centuries. From that stage onwards the sport only moved forward. Soon, the sport was seen to be a huge success in Punjab.
Having evolved in a religious environment, Gatka lessons are mostly imparted in Sikh religious institutions like the Gurudwara or a cultural center. The latter is popular in countries with a significant Sikh diaspora such as the UK and Canada. The importance of carrying weapons in both the hands forms the essence of this sport. This is believed to give a significant balance to the body while fighting. Usually, it is the combination of two sticks; or a sword and a defending shield. Gradually, however, the learner begins to use any two weapons of his choice. More popularly, traditional weapons like kirpan, khanda, khukri, chakram and katar are used.
The sad part about the sport is that it is not as popular as Karate, Kung-fu or even the Kalaripayyittu. It is thus the responsibility of the government agencies, particularly the Ministry of Sports to popularize the sport, throughout the country as well as internationally. This can easily be done by explaining the rich history associated with this sport. Such kind of efforts can take the sport a step closer to the levels of international martial arts.
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