A student and friend of mine pointed me in the direction of an interesting article today. The gist of it centered around the “last master” of a traditional Sikh Martial Art called Shastar Vidya. It’s a weapon art, that was all but stamped out by British occupation in the 19th Century. Nidar Singh now seeks students to pass on this dwindling style of weapon play. Sadly, his story is not unique. One of the first things a conquering nation often does is take the weapons away from the natives. We have seen this numerous times throughout history. Rather than focus on this aspect of time I want to examine what arose from the ashes of imperialist oppression.
Probably the most famous of the resurrected arts is Capoeira from Brazil. There the slaves from Africa were banned from fighting. This didn’t stop them from wanting to do so. So they hid their martial prowess by disguising it as a dance. Thus they could keep some of their traditions alive as well as providing their people with method of defending themselves should they need to do so.
A similar story played out in the Philippines with Eskrima and Arnis. Full sized swords were outlawed (at least for the natives) and so sticks and knives were substituted. Still widely practiced, this is a deadly and effective Martial Art mostly famous for the twin sticks commonly used.
Our last stop is Ireland. The British took away their swords so they picked up stick, instead. Walking sticks to be specific. Their Shillelaghs were (and still are) carved from local Blackthorn. Various Irish families took the outlawed sword arts and converted them to a highly effective stick systems. The Doyle family still teaches the “Dance of the Whiskey Stick” to this day.
You see things like this happen everywhere. It happened to the Scots. It happened again to the Zulus. Fighting arts were outlawed and new hidden styles were developed. It’s unfortunate when such a big part of a culture dies, but thankfully it seems that traditions have a way of surviving, even if they are greatly changed.