Thang Ta: A journey (Through the history of Kangleipak) from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport [3rd section]

Thang Ta: A journey

(Through the history of Kangleipak)

from an ancient combat art to a popular modern sport  [3rd section]


-6th Part-

(a) The Sports aspect:

However, there is another equally important aspect of Thang Ta (the sport aspect), which was left unheeded or not so seriously considered. Though the expressive or the performing form of Thang Ta on stage looks very impressive & attractive, but some modern Thang Ta lovers & practitioners fear that it might eventually just remain as any other exhibitory item or a commodity product. As the time has changed much, with the scientific advancement, & the availability of many futuristic weapons of mass destruction, training in martial arts for warfare is not as useful as in olden days, even the chance of using it in self-defense has much reduced.

What remains to learn is the spirit, the inner knowledge, & essence of the art, which has taken thousands of years, blood & sweat of our fore-fathers, to accumulate. The understanding of which not only fulfills one’s physical (including health & fitness), inner & spiritual necessity, but more importantly fosters the cultural identity & the nationalistic pride. But, the problem is to convey the message effectively to the youths in this fast, busy, highly competitive, result & career oriented, impatient present society. To be sincere, very few have the time, hard work, seriousness, sincerity & dedication- which too with no lucrative career option; becoming a warrior (that too of swords & spears etc., in this nuclear world) which generally is not the intended by many – as required in the teaching style of olden days.

As popularized by almost all martial art countries (mostly orient countries & some western countries), the sport aspect of Martial arts is becoming much more preferred. Along with the cultural & spiritual components, if additional benefit of a career in sport is there, no doubt, the concerned art will be much more readily acceptable & spreadable. Here, starts the birth of sport movement in the world of Martial arts.

Using this formula, we all know, how  much advancement are made by the Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai & many other south east Asian (some western also; which give their martial arts the status of their national sports – WTF Taekwondo, South Korea; Muay Thai, Thailand etc) countries in the development of their martial arts. Their martial arts have been included in our schools, colleges, universities, as a part of NIS teaching curriculum, even research-phd programmes. They are the official sport events in our national games, common wealth games, Asian games & some even in Olympic games

[Taekwondo (it was a demonstration sport in 1988 Olympic, & finally after 12 years, in the year 2000 Olympic, it became an official medal event), Judo (first introduced in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, but dropped from 1968 Mexico Olympic; & finally restored for Munich 1972 Olympic games.) etc].


(b) A Thought – Changing the way Thang Ta used to be viewed completely:

Does this mean they are superior to our Thang Ta of Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa? not at all. They- all of which were once battlefield, killing arts – have only been moulded & modified as per the need & demand of the time- the sport movement, gaining immense popularity. Not only their culture, language & national identity is propagated, these martial arts are also major source of foreign exchange for their countries; for which higher qualifications or certificates, one definitely has to go there & learn from their masters, or invite them (in spite of the popular belief that martial arts were originally exported from Indian in ancient times). No surprise, if the practitioners of these foreign styles come out to be far exceeding those of our own indigenous styles. So much manpower, time, resources including brains have been deflected due to them (foreign martial arts), the benefit of whose could have been ours (Thang Ta).

Just imagine how it would like to have Thang Ta in the international Olympic arena; with our young players competing & bringing medals & honor in our own art; just like the Meetei lalmee (soldiers), in olden days, using Thang Ta, for protecting the dignity of the motherland.


(c) A Master with a distant vision & a strong vow – Ojha H. Premkumar Singh:

Foreseeing the gravity of the situations much earlier, one Thang Ta teacher, with his modern & revolutionary ideas, much ahead of his time, not only dreamed of Thang Ta as an official Olympic medal event, but also constantly working for its realization. His name is Ojha Huidrom Premkumar Singh. Born in a lower middle class family, to Shrimati H.(ongbi) Shakmacha Devi, & (late) Huidrom Pashot Singh on 30th Sept.1959, he is the direct, first generation disciple of the  great Thang Ta master, Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal.

Although sparring in Thang Ta with Cheibi (a cane stick covered with leather, instead of sword) etc- with or without Chungoi, or buckler/shield- has been in practice since olden days, as a means to sharpen the actual battle field skills {Yanna Thang: sword fighting system; one among the many traditional training aspects  à Ta Khousarol (~ spears aspect), Thanghairol (~ swords aspect – Leiteng thang, demonstrative component; Yanna thang : fighting/combat component, including practice of various Thanglon: sword movements/techniques etc), Sharit-Sharak (unarmed combat aspect, including practice of various Khutlon – hand/upper limb movements/techniques, Khonglon – foot/lower limb movements/techniques, etc), Thengourol (sacred, spiritual & ritualistic aspect) etc}, or for just comparing martial skills/techniques.

{we have already read the duel competition between the great Paona & a foreign martial artist during the latter reign of Meitingu Chandrakirti (1834-1844, 1850-1886). Also the practice using Cheibi was common during the reign of Meitingu Churachand (1891-1941). Hence, the sport aspect of Thang Ta, in the form of competitions etc, using ‘Cheibi’, was already there since very ancient times, & as an integral component of the curriculum of traditional teaching & practice of Thang Ta.

Only what was needed, was to standardize, systematize & popularize it, thereby presenting, as per the need of the present society, to international sport arena, & hence ultimately up to the level of Olympic status. His association is constantly working with this very goal.}.

Also many others associations/institutions have been working in this field (sport aspect of Thang Ta) since very early times. But he was the one who brought this (sport aspect of Thang Ta) to such a level, very popular, well systematized & scientifically sound, in accordance with the need & demand of the time; recognized & approved by the concerned authorities; well appreciated, & hence  most wide spread both nationally & internationally. (Hence, regarded as Grandmaster, in the world of sport Thang Ta today)

Ojha Premkumar belongs to a family with martial arts in the blood {specially in Mukna, indigenous Meetei Grappling & wrestling style; besides all his brothers, relatives & students are very much active in this field – younger brother, shri H. Dinachandra is the present (year 2010) secretary of TTFI (Thang Ta Federation of India), after shri Th. Priyokumar (the founding Secretary); shri Ibomcha (his beloved student, the present,2010, Secretary of the Academy), shri H.Kiran Kumar, the youngest brother, & many  others – working very hard, understanding the taste of the younger generations & much focused to the Olympic goal, that only a few places are left in the country (increasingly also beyond) where they have not given demonstrations & trainings, immensely popularizing the sport}.

He was just in class two when he saw Thang Ta moves for the first time, in a local drama (or ‘Sumang Leela’- in those days, it was common for such dramas to be based on topics related with Meetei Kings & Kingdom- with many Thang Ta moves- swords fight etc, with ‘original’ weapons) in one of his neighbors; the scattering sparks coming from the clashing of swords & spears ignited the passion of Thang Ta in his heart for eternity.

He used to watch very carefully & tried to imitate what the local drama artists did as they practised in their drama rehearsals (as taught by invited Thang Ta teachers from Imphal etc- such as Ojha Ningthem etc). Deeply influenced, he started, with few of his friends, a youth drama (Leela) party, under his uncle, a drama enthusiast. But, with the tempest & his curiosity in Thang Ta growing much stronger inside him, he started searching for a  right master, & finally ,in  the year 1976, under the great Ojha Rajkumar Sanahal, he started serious & formal training of the ancient Meetei art. He gave various demonstrations, displaying his skills of the art, in many functions & festivals.

Even up to now, no one has forgotten (the sound of the sword clashing, the applauding claps still lingers afresh in the ears) the amazing & breath-taking demonstration (Thang-Ta Chainaba: sword vs spear fight) given by him& his group in the ‘Indian Martial art Seminar’ organized by the (late) Karate Sensai Moses Thilak, at Chennai, in the year 1980, in front of many Gurus of different Indian Martial arts.

{Late Dai Sensei soshihan Dr.Moses Muthiah Thilagan (born in Nagercoil,Tamil Nadu) was not only one of the pioneers of karate in India (8th dan in Shito Ryu style, co-founder of All India Karate-Do Federation,1976 with Late Renshi R.V.T. Mani; founder of All India Shito-Ryu Karate-Do Federation , & Alan Thilak Karate School etc), but also highly trained in Indian martial arts (Kalaripayattu, Silambam, Adi Murai/advanced art of Marma-Adi, Kuttu Varisai) & other also (Yang style Tai Chi Chuan etc). A doctorate holder in Acupuncture, he intended & tried to preserve various systems of Indian martial arts by documenting them. Unfortunately, he passed away due to a sudden stroke while conducting a national championship in Coimbatore in Jan.2004}

So deeply impressed by his mastery of the art, was one of the Kalaripayattu guru, Shri Balan Gurukkal {from Mepiel? Village, Calicut; ‘Gurukkal’ (Guru, Sanskrit word,+kal, which is used in Malayalam to indicate a plural, & also to indicate politeness & respect), refers to Kalaripayattu master (northern & central styles; like the word Asan in southern style)} that he requested the Ojha to teach basics of Thang Ta to his son, Sunil. In 1985, overcoming the distance & language barrier, Sunil came (he stayed for nearly one month) to Manipur, & was taught the basics, after getting the permission from Ojha Sanahal.

[Kalaripayattu {kalari (~gymnasium/school/temple of learning), Malayalam, from? Sanskrit khaloorika, with similar meaning (a military training ground/place where martial training is imparted); payattu, Malayalam ~ fight/exercise in arms/practice or ‘to put hard work into’}is an ancient

{the oldest text referring to this art/northern style is considered to be the Dhanurveda, part of the Agni Purana, one of the sacred texts of Hindu (the references of the term marman of marma ati/southern Kalaripayattu style ,vedic Sanskrit,~mortal spot,vulnerable point,any exposed/weak/sensitive part of the body are found in Rigveda- the oldest of all the Vedas, when the god Indra hits Vritra in a marman with his vajra; in Atharva veda etc). However, some date its development to 11th century, when warfare was common between the Cheras (3rd century BC?-3rd century AD?, 9th century?-12th century?) & the Cholas (2nd century BC?-2nd century AD?, 9th century?-13th century?)}

South Indian (mostly in Kerala, surrounding parts of Tamil Nadu & Karnataka, even the northeastern Sri Lankan & among the Malayalese of Malaysia) martial art. It has three major styles – Northern, Central & Southern. Northern style {founder is considered to be the 6th Avatar of lord Vishnu, lord Parashurama, the first warrior saint (a Brahmakshatriya, as born to a brahmin father Jamadagni & a kshatriya mother Renuka) who was taught  martial arts & other skills by the Lord Shiva himself}gives more emphasis on weapons training, with forms, most of which are more detailed, long & elaborate (with more straight line footwork; the medical system practised is based on Ayurveda; practised in pit-kalari with the used of high ritualistic components).

The central style is considered to be an derivative of the northern style (by some, a composite of northern & southern styles with many of its own techniques), with multitude of footwork patterns (& hence considered by some, ideal for evasion of a multiple opponents attack) with a tendency to mysticism {most masters are Mappila Muslims (Muslims of Kerala) who followed the mystic Sufism, unlike the northern & southern masters (traditionally, mostly warrior Hindu castes ; northern- Nayar, Ezhava ‘Aryans’, Nambudiri Brahmins; southern- Nadar/Nayar of Tamil Nadu, Sambavar)}.

The southern style {worshiped the vedic sage Agastya (the greatest of the seven vedic sages or saptarshis, who was not only a martial artist, but also a great scientist, & a famous medical practitioner – considered as the first & foremost siddha, who was taught by the lord Murugan, the son of lord Shiva, passing the ultimate knowledge from the Lord Shiva himself) as the founder; & closely related/associated with Tamil martial arts (Kalaripayattu is considered to be a Keralan martial art) like silambam, ati tata (hit & defend),varma ati/marma ati(hitting vital sports),cheena ati(Chinese hitting) etc. After the formation of Kerala Kalarippayat Association in 1958, for organizational reasons, varma ati came to be known as the southern style of kalaripayattu (however some consider the techniques involved in both the arts to be distinct from one another)}emphasis on empty-hand techniques, use of wooden weapons, use of knives (generally not much iron weapons other than knife are trained in) etc, designed to be simple, straight forward, accurate, effective, suitable for mass combat

(forms are generally short, practical & effective with cross/square footwork patterns, suitable for battlefield with multiple opponents. Instead of pit-kalari, it is practised in an enclosed area, generally of palm leaves, with relatively simple rituals. The medical system involved is based on Siddha medical system or Siddha Vaidyam which is also attributed to sage Agastya).

With the English controlling most of Kerala at the end of 18th century, the art suffered great damage until the revival began slowly at the start of 20th century, when a major movement in the defense of Keralan culture came into existence. The art is presented as a part of cultural activity both in national & international stages, much like the performing art component of Thang Ta attracting many national & international martial artists (with advancement of the time, the initiation of sports movement in the art is being under consideration).

{Many scholars consider that Kalaripayattu (along with yoga) was the martial art taken by the South Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma to China (& some other southeast Asian countries}& laid the foundation of the famous Shaolin kungfu (even Chinese martial arts as a whole, & other Asian martial arts like karate etc).

However, some consider the martial art involved as a form of Vajramusthi (Sanskrit,~ thunder fist/diamond fist,  another ancient Indian martial art, identified with a knuckleduster-like weapon of the same name. Simhananda Vajramushti/Lions roar variant of vajramushti is considered by some to be the martial art of the historical Buddha’s blood line) or some other ancient Indian martial art forms (besides historical evidence, the prestige of being the founding martial art of the famous Shaolin kungfu is also another driving factor behind such claims).

Bodhidharma (440?-535?-?/-528?), born (in Kanchipuram, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu) as Bodhitara (the name Bodhidharma was given by his master Prajnatara, the headmaster of the Sarvastivada? sect of Buddhism & the 27th Buddhist patriarch right from the 1st patriarch Mahaksyapa, the direct disciple of Shakyamuni, 624?/563?-544?/483?, to whom he passed on special transmission/wisdom outside the scriptures, & not founded upon words & letters – who, before his death in 457?, instructed Bodhitara to travel to China & spread the dharma), the 3rd son of a great king (king sugandha?/Hsiang Chih? belonging to the family Sha-li-ti?/Sardilli?) of the Pallava dynasty (4th? century-9th? century, Brahmin by birth, Kshatriya by profession) of ancient south India.

He is the 28th Buddhist patriarch, & the first Ch’an/Zen (from Sanskrit word Dhyana~meditation) Buddhist patriarch in China.

He arrived in China around 520?/527? by sea route (took~3years, land route was blocked by white Huns, a mongoloid central Asiatic tribe .White Huns invaded northern India first  around 455/before 460-61?,& by 500?,set up a kingdom with capital at Sakal/Sialkot,Punjab. They were defeated ultimately by a coalition of  Indian princes – Skandagupta,455-456 to 467-468/455-467?, & Narasimhagupta Baladitya ,II 485-530?, of Gupta empire, 320-550/647?; & king Yashodharman,490?/530-550?/540, of Mandasor, of western Malwa Aulikara dynasty,350-550? – Hun king Mihiragula,502-10?/515 to 530-35?/540? a tyrant, was defeated by Narasimhagupta Baladitya in 520?,& finally by Yashodharman around 532-33/528?), & went to Shaolin Temple at Songshan, in Henan province (‘Shao’- from the Mt.Shaoshi along whose foot the temple was built, one of the two mountains-other one Mt.Taishi- of Mt.Song + ‘lin’~ forest in Mandarin Chinese).

He came to Shaolin after crossing the Yangtze river (by floating on a single hollow reed/walking across the river, after being dissatisfied with Emperor Wu Ti,r.502-549,of Southern Liang Dynasty,502-557,who had invited him to his court at his capital Jiankang/modern Nanjing, for an interview, but remained unenlightened- some even said that because of the straight forward & undiplomatic nature of Bodhidharma, who rejected the king’s understanding of Buddhism directly, some believe the king even sent his troops to kill him after he left his court. But ultimately after knowing the truth & greatness of Bodhidharma, realizing his fault, he invited him again, but the latter declined to come).

After initial rejection to entry in the Shaolin temple (by then abbot Fang Chang- he then confined himself in a cave about a mile from the temple & meditated facing a wall- or a form of meditation referred to as wall gazing/wall like gazing- for nine years. His shadow is said to have carved out the rock on which it was falling, leaving a permanent imprint. He even cut off his eyelids to stay awake while meditating, & when the lids fell on the ground, tea bushes grew up, hence tea is an important part of Zen meditation, making the monks awake & alert), finally he was invited in the Temple (?due to his ability to use mind to mind transmission, which he developed during the mediation- he is believed to have taught using no language, but this special method of mind transmission), & he became the abbot finally introducing his Zen teaching & Zen meditation/Zazen (the main previous philosophy is believed to be that of Xiao Xing/Lesser vehicle/Small Buddhism?).

The monks were not accustomed to such rigorous & prolonged meditation (already physically weak due to their negligence of physical exercise & primary involvement only in reading & memorizing scriptures) hence, were missing all the benefits from his teaching. Then he taught them a series of movements & breathing exercises based on Yoga to increase circulation of internal energy, strengthen & loosen tendons, & tone the muscles, called the 18 postures of Sho Pan Lo Han/18 postures of Lohan/18 Buddha hand exercises (some believe 18 Arhat form was developed by warrior monk Jue Yuan with the help of/after studying martial arts- in addition to his- under Bai Yufeng & Li Sao in Shaolin Temple), listed later in the book, Yin Jin Jing.

(Two books have been attributed to Bodhidharma- Yin Jin Jing/ the muscle tendon change classic & Xi Sui Jing/marrow washing classic. The later dealing with methods for cultivating Buddhist spirit? or related with internal system was taken by his disciple Huike ,487?-593, & lost.

However, the first published book regarding this exercise is credited to a Taoist priest Zi Ning of Mt.Tiantai, in the early 1600’s/1624? during the Ming dynasty,1368-1644. Nevertheless, the 18 Buddha hands was increased to 128? Buddha Hands by Pai Yu-feng/ Bak Yuk Fung?/Bai Yufeng from Shansi province, along with Chueh Yuan/ Gok Yuen?/Jue Yuan & Li Ch’eng/ Li Sao? of Lan’chou/ Lan Jao? near Nanking, after he joined the Shaolin Temple in 1224?, – it was the Shaolin martial monk Jue Yuan who found the other two martial artists while he was out of temple in search of great masters of martial arts. They then returned to the temple & taught the monks. The movements were then divided  into five fist systems/ ng ying kuen – Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Leopard, Crane. Bai Yufeng  is believed to have written the ‘Essence of the five Boxing Arts’.

Likewise, many additions & improvements were done until finally the famous Shaolin Kungfu – traditionally>72 arts of Shaolin- as we know today came into being).

Zen meditation became way of life, essential part of everyday life. Some monks started to move while meditating, & few began performing dramatic movements & postures, which ultimately laid the foundation of  the Shaolin Kungfu (reinforced with the Buddhist belief to save all innocents from death & suffering; protecting the trinity of Buddha/teacher, Dharma/teaching & Sangha/community from bandits/invaders etc- which definitely necessitated the use of martial force in self defense).

Martial arts & Buddhism were combined together & synthesized for the first time here (some believe that various Martial arts were combined & systematized at the Shaolin temple- the monks travelled far & wide, incorporating, absorbing & combining the martial arts forms/knowledge from all over China into the Shaolin system; many great martial arts masters were invited/came to the temple & share their knowledge/skills with the monks- e.g., the invitation of 18? martial arts masters belonging to 18? different styles by supreme monk/abbot Fu Ju? to Shaolin? to absorb their best knowledge into the Shaolin’s during the later Sung dynasty,907-1279).

But one should know that Chinese martial arts per-date the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery by several hundred years. (built in 495? by Emperor Xiao Wen,r.471-99?, of the Northern Wei Dynasty,386-534?, for the Indian Buddhist monk Buddhabhadra,359-429?,originally a Hinayanist from ancient Northern India- Kapilavastu, a descendant of Shakyamuni’s paternal uncle, Amritodana.)

There are also some evidences that Chinese monks practiced martial arts even before the construction of Shaolin temple (records of discovery of arms in the monasteries of Chang’an in 446 AD during the govt.raids).

The very first two shaolin monks, Sengchou (480?-560?) & (his disciple?) Guangtong/ Huiguang (468?-537?), were involved in martial arts years before the arrival of Bodhidharma.

(both were the disciples of Buddhabhadra, the first abbot of the Shaolin Temple who appreciated martial skill very much, & used to recruit individuals with it,  into the temple. Some believed he was a master of martial arts himself- so the practice of Martial arts & hence starting the foundation of Shaolin kung-fu began with him & his martially skilled disciples.

Sengchou was a rival? of Budhidharma, so skilled was he in martial artist that he is said to have once separated two fierce fighting tigers with a powerful blow from his metal staff. Many believe he was the first warrior Shaolin monk.

Guangtong/ Huiguang was the founder of Dilum school of Buddhism/one patriarch of the Vinaya School. According to some legend, he & Bodhiruci – I,d.527?/535? – both the translators & scholastics of the epistemological tradition/Yogacara-  tried to poison Bodhidharma several times~6 times, due to their jealousy of his fame, & ultimately succeeded- when Bodhidharma himself decided the time was right for him to leave, allowing the poison to kill him. However, after 3years of his death, Sung Yun, Northern Wei envoy- who was sent to India to gather Buddhist sutras- met Bodhidharma in Pamirs? mountains/mountains of Turkestan- on the road to Zhongnan mountain in Congling range- on the way back to China- Bodhidharma was on his way to India carrying a single sandal in his hand.

Later on when his tomb–  in Shon Er Shan or Xiong’er mountain to the west of Luoyang in Honan–  was dug out, the coffin was empty except for a single grass/straw sandal. It was preserved as a sacred relic in Shaolin temple till 727AD, when it was stolen & lost.)

Some scholars doubt if Bodhidharma actually knew any martial art at all, & even in his existence, as a historical person, considering him a mere legend – may be the term Bodhidharma itself refers to a series of masters who contributed to the development & spread of Zen Buddhism. While the Shaolin monks traditionally credit their kungfu to an ancient South Indian Buddhist master, there is also an interesting claim by some south Indian martial artists of possible Chinese influence in their art- the credit the origin of Cheena ati, a set of techniques taught in few southern Kalaripayattu schools, to some ancient Chinese sailors.}]

Having influenced by this incident, & with the goal to popularize Thang Ta worldwide, Ojha Premkumar decided to open various institutes & teach the basics of Thang Ta outside Manipur. This was one of the earliest major attempt & daring step by a Thang Ta practitioner, especially as Thang Ta was considered a secret & exclusive art of Meetei, & outsiders were not generally given access to it.

Finally in the year 1986, with the permission & blessing of his master, he started teaching & spreading the art in different parts of India, starting first with Assam (Lakhipur), & other northeast states (now in almost all Indian States). Soon he realized, if Thang Ta has to reach far & wide, the sport aspect must be well developed also. The trick used by almost all oriental countries for their martial arts must be used. Besides, sport aspect (amateur), is much easier to teach, less time consuming, & readily acceptable & spreadable; also with it, the culture, language, history & pride of Manipur can still be promoted (the legends & greatness of our fore-fathers & ancestors can be told to every corner of the world).

With this great aim & goal in his mind, The parent academy was re-registered with the original name (Meetei Huyen Langlon Thang Ta Academy) in 1987; & with it, as the apex body, the wave of the movement was propagated in all direction. For the first time, an application was written to Sport Department, govt. of Manipur, for permitting a state level Thang Ta Competition in the year 1987. Much amazed by the proposal, an enquiry asking how ‘Thang Ta’ could be played as sport (the popular performing aspect of Thang Ta comes under the Art & Culture department) was sent back from the department.

Finally, having satisfied with the arguments & justifications given, for the first time in the history of Manipur, the first State Level sport Thang Ta competition (although many such competitions had been held before by many associations, including his; but were not in recognition by the sport department, Govt. of Manipur.) was organized at Yumnam Huidrom in the year 1988, under the banner of the Academy & the sport department, govt. of Manipur (for which a grant of Rs 3000/- was given by the govt.).

Since then many state levels have been organized successfully (21 up to 2010). With increasing popularity of Thang Ta sport nationally, Thang Ta Federation of India (TTFI) was established as a national apex body in 1993; under which banner, the first National Thang Ta Championship was organized in Manipur in the same year (at Yumnam Huidrom; from 21st to 25th Nov.1993- in which 12 States participated. Since then, up to 2010, 17 National Championships have been organized; with 27 State associations participating in the last one, & one National Federation Cup for  National Team selection at Delhi 7-9 Jan. 2011).

Due to the persistence hard work & dedication of the Academy & National body, Thang Ta sport was introduced for the first time, as demonstration game in the 5th National Games, held at Imphal, Manipur on 20th feb.1999 (in which, 10 State Associations participated).

The latest scientific views; the emphasis on safety aspect, & the high efficiency as a martial art (including self defense, & health promotion), coupled with the hard work of the National Federation & Academy, make Thang Ta a very popular sport; such was the popularity that Indian Olympic Association in its Annual General Body Meeting held on 20th Dec. 2006, gave recognition to the Thang Ta Federation of India.

This was  really a historic moment, a first step towards the realization of the ultimate goal of international Olympic (inclusion of Thang Ta sport as one of the official medal games in the International Olympic); a day, each & every Manipuri should feel proud of;  an emotional moment too for Ojha Premkumar (& his group)-  because of whom, this was possible (this success was a tribute for his master, who had left this world for the heavenly abode in the year 1988, before witnessing the dream coming true of 1st State Sport Thang-Ta Championship, as recognized by the Govt. of Manipur.)- who in spite of all the adversities & obstacles (financially- sometimes the situation was so bad, he was even forced to mortgage his only piece of land; socially- sharp criticism from traditionalists; health & family issues etc), continued to fight & stand without retreat selflessly, for the future of the art & us, so that one day, with raised heads & much proudly we can tell the world, Thang Ta sport is a gift of our ancestors.

Catalyzed by this event, every effort for the development & process of popularization was doubled.

Many state governments (Sport & Youth welfare departments) began granting recognition (& hence all those benefits- financially & others- like admission to various Govt. courses/job etc under sport category/quota, in J&K etc) to Thang Ta sport (1st-Manipur govt.; 2nd- Jammu & Kashmir govt.; 3rd – Chhattisgarh govt. & so on). With increasing valuation of the sport Thang Ta medals & certificates, no wonder, Thang Ta sport becomes one of good & much sought after career option, in the world of martial arts, which was unknown few decades ago. There has also started initiation regarding the introduction of NIS level Coaching programmes, & research courses at Universities in Thang Ta martial art & sport.

The fame of Thang Ta sport (like a burning ember piercing the dark covering of even thick cloths) also started spreading outside India. [Already many foreign countries have seen the amazing performances given by many performing artists of Thang Ta in various cultural functions etc. Even some of them have also tasted few preliminary lessons by some of traditional practitioners living outside India etc. This has helped much in the spread of Sport Thang Ta as well].

Starting with Bangladesh (in 2003), the sport Thang Ta movement has already spread to many countries – Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, Bhutan, Sri-Lanka, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, China, Canada, Japan, USA etc, the number increasing day by day. The World Thang Ta Council (WTTC)/World Thang Ta Federation (WTTF) was established under the Chairmanship of Ojha Premkumar, as an international apex body, with Meetei Huyen Langlon Thang Ta Academy being the international Headquarter.

As its first maiden step, much work & preparation are being done for the 1st ever International (~world) Thang Ta Championship to be held at Khuman Lampak Indoor Stadium in Imphal, Manipur, from 11 to 14 March 2011, in which about 15 countries – Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan & amongst others – are expected to send participants, a first of its kind in the history of Thang Ta & Kangleipak.

With such a fast pace of development of Thang Ta, its immediate acceptability & immense popularity both at home & internationally, if sufficient support from the government (Thang Ta should be declared the national/state sport, & accordingly financial & other needs should be provided sufficiently-for better promotion, preservation & popularization of Thang Ta) is there, it is safe to predict that the day will soon come when the Thang Ta is included as one of the official medal games at International Olympic.

As, in case of any new major initiative in the history of mankind [the great scientist Galileo was put behind bars because of his theory of the earth revolving around the Sun!],& as with many martial arts, the initial phase of Sport Thang Ta movement didn’t go smoothly & wasn’t welcomed by all. Most traditionalists felt the sacred ancient art form being threatened; the purity might get diluted by this new sport aspect.

The traditional way (as in ancient times) is the learning & teaching the art as a way of life, also as a means of self-defense & survival (protecting one’s life at all cost & to incapacitate opponents as quickly as possible in battlefields), with emphasis on the expressive (demonstrative) component as well. However, emphasis on competitive sparring began gradually decreasing (specially after series of famed stage shows- people loving them-earning living out of them easily, naturally neglecting the sparing component – & unlike in ancient times, there was no danger/threat of going to battles or life depended upon the skill of  Thang Ta), & if there, mostly choreographed/pre-planned, as a part of performance.

{Also, one can argue, if a technique is designed to be lethal, how it can be practised as such on (a) partner(s), in absence of much reliable protective measures those days/in a controlled way – even, inspite of which, injury can’t be ruled out, & the output of taking such risk is less than that of expressive component (people always love to see death defying demonstrations + there was no formalized/govt. recognized competitions & the benefits associated, as to other recognized martial sports)

So, to develop martial skills (fighting), limited methods (in absence of free sparring practice) remain (besides, what learnt in the actual battle, if survived) – through practice of forms/patterns (pre-planned martial movements), cooperative/controlled sparring training with (a) partner(s), & practice on non-human things – breaking/cutting practice, special training devices, (on animals, in ancient times, even on prisoners of war, as by some martial races of the word) etc.}

On the other hand, the sportive training of martial arts mostly concentrates on non-cooperative/free-sparring practice. The main aim is to win the match any how (& hence, more focusing on the scoring techniques, even if non realistic/non-effective in real life situation: as an example, one can see modern WTF Taekwondoins using 90% foot techniques which is more scoring, neglecting the upper limb techniques).Also, there are so many restrictions or rules (for safety purpose), & other measures {mats, gloves, chest guards, padding etc – many lethal & dangerous or useless (as per scoring is concerned in competitions) techniques are forbidden, & hence neglected}.

Many new innovations or modifications are added subsequently with time, so as to suit the players & officials etc. This fact is the greatest worry for the traditionalists who feel, the very originality of the art might thus one day be even lost.

However, as for sportive training, it greatly improves {may be even better than those- not all- traditionalists ( with restricted training, only towards expressive component) who generally have little experience against non-cooperative opponents; & hence often unfamiliar with the feel of being stuck/taken down suddenly/unexpectedly} a fighter’s abilities (even if against a single opponent mostly), by approximating a real fight situation (although in a restricted format), allowing the fighter to test the skills without the fear of getting hurt mortally. For this a sport person, the free sparring becomes an experimenting laboratory for applying the learnt techniques, & discovering, through trial & error, which suit best, according to oneself or the situation, & how to execute them.

For most weapon (also unarmed) martial arts, the modern sport forms are like an evolution for surviving the transition into modern times {as these traditional weapons no longer occupy the same place which they used to be, in modern warfare in the view of advanced weapons + for civilian, lots of laws are there concerning them– open handling may lend someone in jail or so, the practitioner may be seen with suspicion/as trouble maker & a potential threat in the eyes of law, specially in the present society with terrorism everywhere. So, the art can be practiced (being a respectable & law abiding citizen) as a part of cultural activity (in the same way as with other arts like traditional dance forms etc), remembering, preserving & enriching the way of our forefathers, or as a more popular in the form of a recognized sport}

So, a combined approach should better be done regarding the training of the martial arts. In sport form, in addition to the sparring competitions (including the unarmed part: Sharit-Sharak, with elements of Mukna), much more emphasis should also be given to the competitions of forms/patterns {including the performing components whose demonstrations, our traditionalists have been giving since olden days}; & on a common (unified), sound & systematic grading system as well as a training curriculum (respecting all the styles of Thang Ta; which not only will produce skilled martial artists & players, but also inculcate in them – our rich tradition, our culture, our history, our origin, the sacrifices made by our ancestors, & their greatness- as a potent bonding & unification factor-we as a one, for our motherland).

[the forms competition should include: fixed forms -single/dual/group-with/without weapon(s) (as decided by appointed & approved technical committees, taking into consideration all the major styles/forms of Thang Ta); & free/individualized forms {including various choreographed fights etc: created by the player(s) with the help of teachers/coaches etc}-single/dual/group-with/without weapon(s)].

With so many different systems of practice & teaching of Thang Ta, there arises a need (one of the most important thing) for standardization (especially for forms/patterns, teaching curriculum & grading system etc) & unification. There were some initiations in the past, but proved not so successful.

Regarding this, we may learn many things from China – after creation (post 1949?) of standardized modern Wushu (from many parent traditional Chinese martial arts), the government is trying everything for its promotion & popularization, & hence for inclusion in the international Olympic.

[As we all know, China has a long tradition of martial arts, with many hundreds of different styles. However, traditional martial arts suffered a lot also in the long history of China. The Qing dynasty/Manchu dynasty (1644-1912?), (the last great dynasty of China – the rulers belong to Manchu ethnic group, originally Tungusic speaking people from Manchuria, northeastern China) banned martial art (& hence the revolutionary movements) among the majority Han Chinese (the word meaning ~Milky way in ancient Chinese, is from Han Dynasty,206BC-220AD, the golden age in the Chinese history) so as to prevent them from rebelling.

{However, the dynasty was put to an end {when the young emperor, Hsuan T’ung (1906-67, r.1908-12) resigned on 12 Feb.1912?} by the revolution of 1911-1912 (Xinhai/ Hsinhai revolution, due to the ideology & as influenced by Sun Yat-sen,1866-1925 –father of Chinese republican revolution– although his earlier uprisings failed due to lack of masses support), which established the Repulic of China, but unfortunately failed & the instability of the society was evident- literally thrown into chaos, until the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1st Oct.1949 by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976, took control of it in 1935)}.

The turmoil of Japanese invasion- Taiwan & surrounding Islands were occupied in 1894, Manchuria in 1931, & in 1937 they took control of the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing starting a full scale invasion of China. Only in 1945, the Japanese surrendered (after the twin atomic assaults by USA) & were driven out of China.

The pre & post 1949 hardship – Civil war (1927-37,41-45/46,46-50-91-?) between Kuomintang of China/Nationalist party (founded in 1912,by Sun Yat-sen,1887-1975,& Song Jiaoren,1882-1913; by 1928, led by Chiang-Kai-shek,1887-1975, much part of China was under it till the retreat to Taiwan in 1949) & Chinese Communist Party/Zhongguo Gongchangdang (founded in 1921 by Chen Duxiu,1879-1942,& Li Dazhao,1888-1927), the military campaigns for eradication of Nationalists & loyal to them (with ban on traditional martial art practised by them).

The great leap famine can’t be missed out here, which was one of the most sever famines in human history, killing ~20-40 millions {1958?-1962?, mainly due to the result of disastrous socio-economic policies of the great leap forward (1958-1960), aggravated by unfavorable weather/natural disaster + loss of Soviet aid. In 1958, the great leap forward was initiated by Mao to collectivize agriculture & bring about a socialist economic system. As a result, the ample supply of inexpensive labor (farmers) was mobilized to produce steel (mostly neglecting agricultural practice in the fast growing society), which is the most closely associated commodity with industrialization- however the steels so produced (by mostly illiterate, ill trained cheap labor) were  inefficient, & mostly were not usable}.

Besides, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution of China (1969-1976-78?) to purge capitalist thought & advanced socialism, often with violence – lots of people were persecuted {reports were there of extreme brutalism also in the form of even cannibalization of so called ‘enemies of the people’ (southern province of Guangxi)}. Traditional arts/activities/ideas including martial arts were criticized, considering a  remnant of feudal culture, unscientific & a hindrance to personal development- hence, were subjected to a radical transformation aligned to Maoist revolutionary doctrine; religions were opposed, much economic activity was halted, so as the education system, historical sites/artifacts/archives etc suffered devastating damage.

However, the revival of traditional Chinese martial arts began gradually & their increasing access to general public. Martial art was increasingly felt as a means to promote national pride, & for building a strong nation. Chinese National Amateur Athletic Federation (non-govt.) was set up in 1924 in Nanjing to unify China’s sports competitions. For the first time under the Chinese govt. (Nationalist, Education Ministry), a national Physical Education & Sports Committee was set up in 1927 to supervise exercise throughout the country.

The Central Guoshu Academy (the term ‘Kuoshu/Guoshu’, meaning ‘the art of the nation/national technique’ was encouraged to be used by the Republic of China, rather than the term ‘Kungfu/Gongfu’) was established in 1928 {earlier name, Martial Arts Research Institute, one of founder fathers, former warlord Zhang Zhijiang (or Paul,1882-1966) became the director. But due to lack of funding, it was closed in 1948} by Nationalist govt. in Nanjing{worked in the same line as later with Chin Woo Athletic Association, co-founded in 1910? (Shanghai) by Huo Yanjia (1868-1910?),the famous Chinese martial artist –a master of Mizongyi martial art- in the modern history, on whose life, 2006 movie Fearless- starring Jet Li, directed by Ronny Yu- was centered on} to preserve & promote a systematic approach for training in Chinese martial arts. For the 1st time, practitioners of all the different styles sat down, & shared knowledge together.

To promote exercise (& physical activity in which scientific sports method were applied), even a law of sports for citizens was issued on 16th April 1929 by the govt.(Nationalist). This concept of modernization & scientific methods application + increasing dominance of mainstream physical culture of China by western sports in 1920’s/1930’s, troubled traditional Martial arts practice much. Debate for & against it (traditional martial arts vs modern sports – which one suited China most) continued for a long time (~5years till 1937?). National Conference of Physical Education & Sports (opened in Nanjing) concluded that traditional Martial arts should be reformed by modern science.

In 1933, National Martial Arts Physical Culture School was established so as to include Martial arts in the physical education curriculum of public schools. Guoshu was included in the official competition at the 6th National Games (Shanghai, 1935). A group of Chinese martial artists demonstrated their art (martial arts demonstrations, also of jianzi & feicha) for the first time at the 11th Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, in the year 1936 (opened by Adolf Hitler,1889-1945,then Chancellor,1933-1945,of Germany).

After 2nd world war (~1937/39?-1945), martial art training was established at the National Athletics .In 1953, an All China Traditional Sports Festival was held in Tianjin so as to review the traditional sports of both Han & various minorities Chinese. The govt. soon adopted standardized, common, demonstration oriented approach to Martial arts (disassociated from self-defense aspects/combat training & application, & family lineages of traditional martial arts –  also to discourage possible unification of martial artists against itself).{earlier, Nationalists unsuccessful tried to test many martial art styles under standardized rule but at the same time maintaining their individual characteristics}

In 1957,after a 3years of re-organizing popular martial arts, a new style of martial arts competition, with scoring point on set-performance, was installed as the official format, called competition wushu, so as to nationalize the practice of traditional martial arts. In 1958, the govt. established the All-China Wushu Association, as an apex body to regulate martial arts training. Common standardized forms (including common teaching curriculum, & grading system) were created for most of the major traditional arts by the Chinese state commission for physical culture & sports (for example, a combined, standardized form for Tai chi chuan was created as a result of a conference by the National Athletic Committee of China in late 1950’s in which masters of all the systems of Tai chi chuan were brought together to discuss the uniqueness & similarities of the various styles)

Wushu was introduced to both at school & university level. A ‘Martial arts investigation team’ was organized by the govt. to search for surviving old traditional masters (many of whom were either killed or had fled during the Chinese cultural revolution; & the remaining were reluctant in sharing heir treasure of martial arts knowledge), & recorded their knowledge for preservation.

However, facing much criticism (equating with martial dance or Chinese style gymnastics; till 1979,Martial arts were only allowed for performance purposes – similar to opera/propaganda team performances), & proving unsatisfactory specially after 1979 when the world outside started mingling, the govt. included a self defense, free fighting component – Sanshou(~free hand)/Sanda(~free fighting).

{It was based on traditional Martial arts tournaments on Lei Tai / raised fighting platform without railing – appeared first in the Song dynasty,960-1279,with its ancient variation traceable to Qin dynasty,221-206BC? – also a style name Xiang Bo, similar to Sanda, is considered to have been practiced from 600sBC. In 1928, Central Guoshu Institute held lei tai tournaments, however  the oct. tournament was halted due to serious injuries to many (two master were killed) & possibility of lot more masters getting killed/their precious knowledge might get lost. In Jan.1982, first official Sanshou rules were drafted, & in Nov., the first Sanshou competition was organized (The Koumuntang originally used it at the first modern military academy in Whamppoa in 1920’s).}

The State Commission for Physical Culture & Sports created a special task force to reevaluate the teaching & practice of wushu in 1979. The Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was established in 1986 for the research & administration of wushu activities. With an attempt to partial de-politicize organized sports (the closing of state sports commission or the central sports authority, in 1998), the govt. moved the sport policies towards a more market-driven approach, promoting both the traditional style & modern wushu.

The establishment of the International Wushu Federation in 1990, was an important landmark; which holds the world wushu championships (since 1991, the first one, in Beijing, China). Their seriousness for the Olympic dream is obvious, IOC (International Olympic Committee) even allowed them for ‘2008 Beijing Olympic Games Wushu Tournament’ during the 2008 Olympic at Beijing (although wushu was neither one of the 28 official Olympic medal games, nor was a demonstration game, but very soon it may be).]

Thang Ta has tremendous potentials as a sport, & if we only concentrate on stage shows, then one day even if we want, we might not get even a place to stand in the sport arena, because of many cheap duplicates & imitations of Thang Ta- with so many name & fame seeking opportunists all around us- just because of our negligence (already there exists one such cheap copy, claiming to be an indigenous martial art/sport, even with national & many state associations- a serious threat & a single major hindrance in the realization of our dream).

Just look around, many traditional Indian martial arts (whose working area was once mostly limited to few demonstrations in festivals or religious activities) have already started entering the world of sports (many are also enjoying as popular sport games), leaving the confinement of the four walls of their traditional ‘Akharas’.

The nation has just seen the rise of Bodo martial art, & its grand introduction in the international combat (martial) sport community- how serious are the Bodo people, especially the govt., & leaders for popularizing their art- it feels much pain & discontent looking back to our own situation- our govt. & leaders should learn from them.

The Sikhs have already taken a step ahead. The international Gatka Federation (IGF) was established in 1982, & formalized in the year 1987 (based in Berlin). Another apex international body, the International Gatka Organization (IGO) has been working constantly in this field since the early 1990’s, & on 18th March 2006, a Gatka tournament was held in Oldbury (at Gurudwara Amrit Parchar Dharmik Diwan), England. National (Gatka Federation of India, GFI) & many state gatka associations (like Punjab Gatka Association, PGA) are trying hard for the game to be recognized by IOA & by Sports Ministry (also for inclusion in the sports calendars of Association of Indian Universities, AIU & School Games Federation of India, SGFI)

[Punjab Olympic Association has given recognization to PGA, & the game has also been incorporated into schools & universities sports calendars of the state by its Education Department]

The memory of the first Asian Silambam Championship is still afresh in the minds of all Indian martial artists, which was held successfully at Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, recently (03-06 Dec.2009), with 9 participating countries.

[Silambam (much like the southern style of Kalaripayattu of Kerala) is an ancient martial art style originated in the southern part of Indian peninsula (the state of Tamil Nadu). Although a complete martial art {weapon art (staff; knife- kathi; swords- vaal; even deer horn- maduru etc), unarmed art (kuttu varisai- footworks: kaaladi; locks & counter locks: pottu thirappu etc; striking & blocking: kolluvuthal etc), including the pressure/ vital point art- varma kalai, & meditation etc (thapa)},when one refers to sport Silambam, a scene of stick/ staff  fighting / fencing come in front of our eyes (as the main weapon used in the art is the staff; the very word ‘Silambam’ refers to the bamboo/ wooden staff used)- a very popular & govt. recognized sport in Malaysia today- thanks to the Tamil immigrants there, who have set an example for all of us.

It has a long history, & as per a legend, its genesis is credited (however, some relate the art to the lord Muruga himself) to the great sage, Agastya (he is also considered the first practitioner of southern style Kalarippayattu by many living gurus of the art. He composed the famous, ‘Agasthyar Kampu Soothram’, the ancient text – describing various aspects of the art).

The efficacy of the art was well known & used by the famous kings of south India- the Chola (2nd century BC?-2nd century AD?, 9th century?-13th century?), the Chera (3rd century BC?-3rd century AD?, 9th century?-12th century?), the Pandya (?-550/5thcenturyBC?-?-6th century?-14th century?)  etc, & by the king Veerapandiya Kattabomman & his soldiers (1760-1790-1799) against the British (he opposed the taxation right of the company & revolted against the British~6decades before 1857 first Indian war of Independence, but was caught & hanged in 1799). The staff fencing game of the art can be traced as early as 1st -2nd century A.D.?(there are references of the sale of Silambam staff, among various other weapons, to foreign traders in the ancient Tamil literature, Silappadikkaram, 2nd ?century A.D)

Today Silambam sport is becoming very popular as a result of many associations – national (All India Silambam Federation) & International – working persistently for the popularization of the art]

Thang Ta has been cradle of our race, the very reason for our existence today. We are very fortunate that our ancestors have given such a priceless gift to us, & it is the duty of all of us to preserve & promote it; & through it, let each & every corner of the world, know the greatness & legends of them, who had protected our motherland, & us using the Thang Ta. Now the time has come for us to repay them & our motherland, even if a little bit, using the same thing- the Thang Ta.

Instead of negatively criticizing & fighting among us, lets unite as one, as sons of the Lord Sannamahi & Ipu Athoupa Pakhangpa , for the common goal, the major battle ahead- the Olympic dream; giving equal emphasis to the sport aspect as well, like the performing art component, as both being opposite sides of the same coin, the two climbing steps towards success – essential & inevitable for the overall progress & development of not only Thang Ta & our culture, but also our motherland, & we, the undivided race, as a one.

The day will soon come when our youths will earn name & fame, in international & Olympic arena, not only for themselves, but more importantly, for the motherland, as

The day will soon come when our youths will earn name & fame, in international & Olympic arena, not only for themselves, but more importantly, for the motherland, as players of Thang Ta, the very tradition of our great forefathers.

Dr.HanjabamCha BarunMBBS,DSM(sports medicine) std.,NS NIS,Patiala,Punjab,India,Martial artist & Thang Ta practitioner.Chief Instructor & founder,C.G.Thang Ta Association,Raipur,C.G.,
Article Source