All Summer Schools of Studio Kalari

summer school studio kalari 2022
Summer School, Struzyny 2022

The summer school is, next to the winter practice in India, our most important training trip of the year (especially during the pandemic that interrupted the annual trips to Kerala). We approach it differently from other, usually shorter workshops, trying to create the best possible conditions for kalari practice, which is the main goal of the school.

In this article, I want to share with you a brief history of our summer schools but also to mention which specific aspects we have kept  until today.


studio kalari workshop grotowski institute
Kalari workshop in summer 2010 at the Studio Na Grobli, Wrocław

We founded Studio Kalari in May 2010 under the auspices of the Grotowski Institute in Wrocław and already the same year we organised two 5-day summer workshops. They were held in Wrocław at one of the Grotowski Institute’s premises, Studio na Grobli. The participants came there only for the classes, which took place in the mornings and afternoons, but they did not live together and actually met only during the trainings. Some of them then came only for one workshop, but some participated in both events. Some of them have practised kalari since then and/or have been in contact with us.

Summer schools in Brzezinka (2011–2018)

Brzezinka kalari workshop grotowski institute
Brzezinka, the forest base of the Grotowski Institute

The following year, 2011, however, we decided to organise the first retreat-like workshop, taking advantage of the fact that the Institute had a forest seat in Brzezinka near Oleśnica. This site, as well as the nearby Ostrowina, hosted, among others, paratheatre activities and the Theatre of Sources project led by Jerzy Grotowski between 1971 and 1981. After some following years of disuse, the building in Brzezinka was renovated and since 2002 various workshops and artistic residencies have been held there.

summer school kalari
Summer School in Brzezinka, 2015

The building houses bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and a large workshop room on the ground floor and a smaller one upstairs. Although it stands close to the road (which can be heard in the distance but not seen), it is practically surrounded by forest. A stream runs right past the house, and a little further on there is a pond, which is more to the taste of anglers, but if you really want, it’s possible to swim there too. Due to the distance from civilisation (the shop is a dozen or so kilometres away, and you have to walk a bit through the woods and fields to reach the nearest neighbours), as well as the poor range and internet (on the phone), the atmosphere in Brzezinka is conducive to focus on speciphic activities held there, but also relaxation, tranquillity, as well as forgetting about everyday world affairs and the surrounding information noise. A few days in such circumstances, together with kalari practice, simple food and a friendly atmosphere, allowed for an energy reset and a strong focus on training. Of course, there were surprises such as mice in the kitchen, clogged toilets and cold water in the showers, but everyone would accept that just as part of the whole adventure.

Kalari and bharatanatyam

summer school of studio kalari
Bharatanatyam presentation by Agnieszka Kapelko and her students, Brzezinka 2012

For our first school in 2011, we invited a bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Agnieszka Kapelko, founder of the Mayura dance group.

The whole day was filled with classes: twice daily kalari and twice dance. Participants could choose to take part in all the classes (almost 8 hours a day in total) or just dance or just martial arts. The school lasted five full days, which proved to be far too little. That’s why the following year we decided to extend the school to full 7 training days with arrival and departure planned on extra days.

Kalari and kuchipudi

summer school of studio kalari
Chitrangee Uppamah in kuchipudi presentation with her students, Brzezinka 2015

We continued this model of school – martial art and dance – until 2018. At the end of each school, on the last evening, the dance group presented the extraordinary results of their intense week-long work. Agnieszka was still teaching in 2012 and 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 we were accompanied by a Mauritian kuchipudi dancer of Indian origin living in Italy, Chitrangee Uppamah.

summer school studio kalari workshops
Jumping practice, Brzezinka 2016

For the participants of the school in 2015 even 7 days were not enough, so in 2016 we were persuaded to extend the school again – this time to 10 days. However, it turned out that we had overdone it and very few people could come for such a long period and in order for the school to take place, we exceptionally agreed to join the workshop after it had started or leave before it had finished. However, it turned out to be quite an uncomfortable experience for everyone.

summer school of studio kalari
Summer School in Brzezinka, 2016

During a workshop, the group works and lives together, a specific atmosphere is created and a learning and integration process takes place according to its own dynamics. The commuting and departure of participants disrupts this rhythm and human constellation. Among other things, we have always been keen to ensure that those who come are fully focused on participating in the school and do not treat it as just one point on their tourist map. However it has happened to us several times since then that the requirement to be present on all days has been insurmountable for some participants-to-be. However, while for shorter events, such as weekend workshops, we do not place as much importance on 100% attendance, the summer school is an exception.

Going back to 2016, we eventually got a group of people willing to attend the kalarippayattu training, but to our great regret Chitra’s arrival and her dance class had to be cancelled.

Kalari and kathakali

studio kalari summer school kathakali workshop
Mario Barzaghi in a kathakali presentation, Brzezinka 2018

As a result of that experience, in 2017 we decided to return to the formula of 7 days of practice + 2 days for getting there and back, which worked best. The guest artist invited to teach during the last two schools held in Brzezinka, in 2017 and 2018, was the Italian director and actor, as well as kathakali dancer, Mario Barzaghi. He was accompanied by Rosalba Genovese and Maria Rita Simone, who together with him form the company Teatro dell’Albero.

summer school studio kalari workshop
Evening fire-show, Brzezinka 2015

As in previous years, dance classes were interspersed with kalarippayattu training. We often spent our evenings by the fire: by bonfires, by the fireplace in the dining room or learning the fire dance, during which, among other things, the two ends of the sticks we had learned to spin during the training sessions were set on fire.

summer school studio kalari workshop
Afternoon chill for participants unless they were mothers ;-), Brzezinka 2014

As Sankar and I were young parents (our children were born in 2009, 2012 and 2014), we were accompanied by a babysitter at the schools for several years, and there were also other young mothers with their children or whole families among the participants. Children and dogs (our own and those of participants) have always been completing the summer school groups.

Summer schools in Strużyny (from 2019 onwards)

As our collaboration with the Grotowski Institute came to an end in 2018, there was a need to find a venue for the next summer school, which was to take place in 2019.

We found support from a friend of mine and president of the Society for Active Culture, Jola Sakowska. We established cooperation with her both in terms of holding regular classes in Wrocław and summer schools, which we started to organise at the Society’s rural base, in Strużyny near Gorzów Wielkopolski. In this way, history has come full circle, as I myself used to come to Strużyny for various art and theatre workshops when I was still a high school student in 2000–2002.

Kalari and nature

summer school struzyny studio kalari
Summer School in Strużyny 2020

Sankar and I decided that during the following summer schools we would focus only on kalarippayattu and not combine this practice with other activities. This gave both participants and teachers time to recuperate and relax, but also to enjoy the beauty of nature, which in a way became a co-creator of the school.

While for all its charm Brzezinka was a house tucked away in a rather dark and damp forest, Strużyny is a place full of light and open space. They have a slightly different character to Brzezinka as apart from ‘our’ house, there are several others here: a seasonal agritourism farm, a seasonal children’s holiday centre, 2 abandoned houses and one farm where Mrs Stenia reigns supreme. There is plenty of free, quiet space, forests and fields nearby, and there are also many very clean lakes within a few kilometres. Here, too, there is a break from the hustle and bustle and concrete, and the many closer and farther corners of the house and surroundings offer opportunities for both spending time in company of other participants, or on your own.

studio kalari summer school
Cooking together, Strużyny 2020

One element of staying at the school is preparing meals together (and cleaning up afterwards), which is an additional, though not the easiest, element to integrate participants. Since we use simple houses with no permanent staff (unlike many yoga retreats or sports camps), we become their hosts and participating guests, so to speak. On the one hand, such a choice makes us feel at ease and non-hotel-like; on the other hand, it comes with a certain responsibility. Usually, however, one part of the group feels like a fish in the water in the kitchen, while the other part, that faces the cooking task with less enthusiasm, follows the new chefs with relief, and thus they complement each other.

Daily schedule

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Morning training, Strużyny 2020

What does our day look like at the summer school? Usually we get up around 7 a.m., have water/tea/coffee, the first training session lasts from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. After that we have breakfast and free time (apart from those with the kitchen duty) until lunch (around 2.30 p.m.). After lunch, free time again, ending with an energetic afternoon snack (tea/coffee and something sweet), followed by the second training session, which lasts about 2-2.5 hours. The class finishes around 8 p.m. Then dinner, chatting, walking, reading and time for bed.

studio kalari summer schol
Afternoon is filled with sequences of movement, Strużyny 2020

It may not seem like much: only four hours of training a day, but kalari training is intense and dynamic, and proper recovery is necessary, as well as nutrition. The level and intensity of the classes is adjusted to the participants: beginners practice at a slower pace, learn new positions and exercises, and are exposed to many new elements of the practice, which uses up a lot of energy on a physical as well as mental level. Advanced practitioners do the same, only faster and more: they refine complex sequences and learn new ones, as well as repeat and learn new empty-hand and weapon combats and levers. In addition, Sankar often weaves mini-lectures on anatomy and physiology into the workouts, referring to the natural systems of Indian medicine: ayurveda and kalari chikitsa.


szkoła letnia studia kalari
Summer School in Strużyny, 2021

Every year, the group of participants in the summer school is a mixture of complete beginners with no experience in kalarippayattu, people practising fairly regularly in Wrocław, as well as people with more or less experience in practice who do not have the opportunity to practise with us regularly and the school is a unique opportunity for them to practice. The make-up of the group is almost always international, and the list of participants starts to fill up even before we officially announce the intake (although of course there is always some rotation on it). This year (2023), participants will come to us from Slovakia, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States and, of course, Poland – we can’t wait to see them and start the school! 


Photos by: Rut Figueras, Irena Lipińska, Magdalena Mądra, Dominik Płatek, Justyna Rodzińska-Nair, Arnau Vidal, Maciej Zakrzewski.

Information and registration to the 13th Summer School in July 2023