SILAMBAM   Indian Stick Fighting






Nilaikalakki Silambam Fighting Art

Neil Phillips


An introduction to Nilaikalakki Silambam

R. Anbananthan


Some basic facts about Silambam

Denis Brunet


Le Silambam, art du bāton indien

Denis Brunet


Le Silambam

Denis Brunet
Philippe Pratx




Nilaikalakki Silambam Fighting Art

Neil Phillips




During the past eleven years, a colleague and I have undertaken numerous research missions to Europe, Japan and Asia. Our main focus has been to research the Japanese jujutsu, Atemijutsu and Kuatsu arts of the late Professor Kam Hock Hoe. Professor Kam opened a branch of the Kyoto Kokusai Jujutsu Dai Gakuin (International Jujutsu Institute) in Malaysia in 1935.

Draeger Sensei and Master Anbananthan

In my travels I have met many devotees of Japanese Budo, as well as practitioners of Chinese and Indian martial arts. Occasionally I have the pleasure of meeting exceptional exponents who are far from the commonplace. Early this year, by chance, I found myself again in the footsteps of the late Donn F. Draegger sensei, the most famous Western "explorer" of the traditional Japanese, Chinese and other Asian martial arts.
During my most recent visit to Penang, Draeger sensei's most respected and senior jodo (Japanese staff art) student, Mr. Karunakaran s/o Chindan sensei, introduced me to a number of his friends, including Malay, Chinese and Indian martial artists.


Master AnbananthanOne of the people I was introduced to was master Anbananthan an expert in the ancient Indian art known as Silambam. Master Anbananthan was wuite happy for me to recount his history, and a brief history of his Silambam arts.
Living on Penang Island, Malaysia, is a traditional Indian Silambam Master who specialized in the use of a 1.68-meter staff referred to as a Silambamboo. Although the length of the stick is meant to be 1.68m it is usually cut to suit practitioners'height and thus can vary in length.

The word Silambamboo is broken down into two words. The first word Silam in Tamil means "mountain" while bamboo remains the same in English. The most senior ranks are allowed to train with a sharpened spearpoint on the end of the stick.
The art is not widely known, although it has a long lineage. One of the first Westerners to study this fighting art in the early 1970's was the late Donn F. Draeger Sensei.

Draeger sensei first met mahaguru Mariapakiam (1900-1986), Master of Silambam, during a research visit to Malaysia in 1972 and was most impressed with the narikuru (animated animal movements) of the art.
It was during this time that Draeger sensei developed a close friendship with Mahaguru Mariapakiam's senior student Mr. Anbananthan, who was in later life destined to continue the teaching of the Silambam art.
Master Anbananthan lives in Taman Tun Sardon, Penang, surrounded by his family, friends and selected students. He currently works with the Malaysian postal service and is due to retire in a few years. Mr. Anbananthan is looking forward to retiring so that he will have more time to teach the silambam art to his many students.
Master Anbananthan's only disappointment in life is that Draeger sensei did not live long enough to finish a publication on the art of Silambam.



First stage Otthai Vitchi, salutation.

History of Silambam

Silambam is said to have its origins in India 5000 years ago. The art traces its history back to the Kurinji mountains located in South India. Natives of the region, the Narikuravar, used the staff to defend themselves against wild animals and other attackers.
The staff also played an important part in early religious festivals amongst the indian people when they would display their skills. Religious rites had to be performed to the goddess Sakthi (goddess of strength, courage and guidance) before a student sought permission from the Master to learn the art.
During religious festivals it was commonplace for Hindu scholars and yogis visiting the Kurinji Mountain area to view the highly-skilled spinning displays of the Silambamboo.
The scholars and yogis were attracted to the Silambam art and they adopted it for themselves. In time the scholars brought the art to the Royal Court during the reign of the powerful rulers Cheran, Cholan and Pandian. Over a period of time Silambam became an exercise expressing both the physical and spiritual aspects of Hinduism.
Competitions were held to promote the art during Royal birthdays, with handsome rewards paid to the Silambam. The winners of the competitions were honoured with selection to the rank of King's Guard.



Mahaguru Mariapakiam, late master of the Indian Art Silambam.Lineage of Silambam in Malaysia

In 1936 Mahaguru Mariapakiam, Nilaikalakki Silambam and Yoga Master travelled to Penang from South India. During 1964 Master Anbananthan became a student of the Nillaikalakki Silambam.
On the Mahaguru's death (12th of August 1986) Master Anbananthan became Master-teacher and leading authority in Malaysia for Silambam. He maintains the lineage from South India and is regarded as one of the few living Masters teaching the traditional aspects of the art.













Once a person has been selected as a student of Silambam he is informed of correct behaviour, given a staff and then commence learning the basics of the art. This basic training takes seven years to complete and is comprised of ten different stages.


Mr. Amuthan Ajurnan (second stage Yiretthai Vitchi).

The first stage "Otthai Vitchi" focusses on physical fitness, with special exercises to strenghten the nerves and muscles of the body.
During the second stage "Yiretthai Vitchi" the student learns to spin the staff, incorporating rotating movements using both arms. This stage builds up the student's coordination skills. When twirling the silambamboo the practitioner must relax and breathe normally.

The third stage, the "Varusai/Silat Varusai" is the most difficult and involves spinning techniques and patterns at ninety-six different angles.


Master Anbananthan at work...Once the student has mastered the ninety-six patterns they are taught stage four "Sandai Marutham" which also uses the ninety-six patterns and incorporates striking movements based on four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four and ninety-six sets of attacking options.
After the first four stages the student is introduced to defence techniques known as "Othokal Murai" which teaches how to evade attacks by rotating the staff. At stage six "Piruvugal, Adi Kambugal" thirty-six movements are taught in which each set consists of twelve movements in a sequence. Strinking of the vital points, "Kurivaithu Adipethu" with the focus on the target area is the seventh stage. This is followed by the "Kanthan" eighth stage, which teaches the difficult rythmic movements of the art with their tactical application. There is no shouting when strinking but the student does exhale.
The ninth stage, "Narikuru" is where the animated animal movements are taught. These movements are the most difficult and beautiful of the art. Only the most senior and dedicated students are taught them. The fox movements in the ninth stage is unique and extremely difficult to copy without years of training. On gaining mastery of the ninth stage the student is ready for the final tenth stage "Utchekattha Nillai" where all the earlier skills are tested.



Use of vital points

Silambam not only teaches how to attack vital points but also teaches students revival techniques and general medical remedies for the promotion of good health. Master Anbananthan described one such procedure for reviving someone from a heavy blow to the head.
The treatment involves rubbing the nerves at the side of the head and ears and massaging the scalp. Betel nut is also sometimes used in this treatment. The Betel nut is chewed and then blown into the patient's ears to insert heat and speed up the healing process.



Master Anbananthan (empty hand kata).



Senior students, R. Ponnudorai (right) and S. Thanabagan on 25 december 1988.During the meeting with Master Anbananthan I was privileged to meet his students and view the training weapons. Master Anbananthan and his students then put on a demonstration using the silambamboo. The techniques of Silambam were performed with speed and control. Of particular interest to me was the performance of the various set routines.


Two special highlights were demonstrations by Master Anbananthan of the unusual Narikuru fox movement and of an empty hand form, which closely resembled a karate kata. The form was unique due to the openness of the hands when not actually striking the opponent and the execution of the foot to target the oppenent's ribs. This seemed to bear out that research which points to karate having an Indian origin.




Group photograph taken on May 2000 near the Taman Tun Sardon market, Penang.

In conclusion I would like to thank my friends Master Anbananthan and Karunakaran sensei, both of whom are truly humble and sincere individuals.













©Denis Brunet and the article's author, if specified. Last modified: 6 December 2006


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