Kalaripayyatu is Kerala’s traditional martial art and perhaps the oldest of its kind in the world. Today its influence has gone beyond the sphere of traditional martial art and is considered to be the founding body for many later dance forms like Kolkalli, Parichamuttukali, Mudiyettu, Theyyam and Chavittunatakam.

With a history that goes back to the 12th century, every village then had its kalari or training centre and under the eyes of a disciplined master, boys and girls practised (payattu) to become expert fighters. The major communities that trained in this lethal martial art were the land keepers for the kings; the Nairs, Ezhavas and a few Cattar Brahmins, though Sufi Muslims and Christians also practised this art. They were trained to handle duels to settle legal disputes for the kings.

Training usually is done in a sanctified `kalari’, an earthen floor or a walled pit dug out of the ground covered by a thatched palm-leaf roof. Training begins with a formal ritual of initiation. Students apply sesame oil to their bodies to render the body flexible before they start their exercises. Animal poses, leg exercises, kicks, circling of the body are performed in increasingly complex and gymnastic combinations on the kalari floor, most important being the training in animal poses.

Students are eventually introduced to combat and are taught to weild a variety of weapons; long staff, short stick, curved sticks, dagger, sword and shield, spear, mace and a flexible sword.  Once the mastery of all the levels is complete, each Master is trained to learn physical / massage therapies to treat various injuries such as common bruises, muscular conditions and setting broken bones. These therapies are based on the traditional Ayurveda system of rejuvenation and wellness.