Kalari online: art of compromise

The last weeks brought many changes. Our daily functioning has been turned upside down by the coronavirus epidemic which caused an avalanche of consequences. One of them is that we transferred our trainings to the Internet, like many others did.

Although various classes have been available on the Internet already for a long time, mainly in the form of free tutorials on YouTube or online courses composed of a series of previously recorded films, we treated them with reserve and caution, rather as an interesting fact but not a way of regular practice. As orthodox followers of the living tradition of direct communication and a community of equally direct experience, we found it impossible to carry out kalarippayattu classes online.

What we feared the most:

  • Lack of direct contact with the master.

    Lack of direct contact between the student and the teacher / master. In kalarippayattu, this is a very important aspect of the teaching process, but also of life. The master – the guru – is often a guide not only during a training.

  • Lack of correction.

    Lack of possibility of individual correction. There are various online platforms for conducting online classes: such in which both parties can see and hear each other, as well as one-way broadcasts – only the teacher can be seen and heard. Both technical solutions have their pros and cons, and the choice of platform depends on the individual choice of the teacher, depending on the needs and technical capabilities. In both cases, however, correction is either impossible or very limited. This exposes participants to committing and repeating mistakes, or even injuries. Each participant has a different body, different predispositions and limitations. In group online classes, it is very difficult to take sufficient care of all these aspects.

  • Limited training programme.

    Limited programme of trainings. Exercises, salutation sequences and movement sequences performed individually are just some of the elements of training and learning, preparing for the next, more advanced stages: work with a partner / opponent, empty hand combat and combat with use of weapons. Cutting out certain elements from full training and focusing only on them can dangerously change the meaning of the sense of practice (or result loss of “proper” sense). Kalarippayattu is not an individual form of movement or sport. It’s a martial art and assumes per se contact with another person, makes you sensitive to observing the environment, controlling your energy and channeling it for a specific purpose and direction – in response to what is happening around us. What if there is only a screen around us?

  • Community.

    Alienation – this aspect is related to the previous issue, i.e. the scope of the training programme. Individual kalari training is basically an oxymoron. Of course, in ordinary classes everyone focuses on themselves, trying to correctly perform exercises and forms, but again – this is the stage leading to the next, which is confrontation with a partner. Participants of training create a community of people with similar energy, a similar view of life and the world, who share similar values. Often these people are in contact with each other outside of training, invite each other to their events, meet, help each other and give support. The community centered around a given kalari school is a peculiar, modern form of gurukula – a traditional Indian institution consisting in the fact that students lived at the home of their master and besides that they learned the art from him, they functioned on similar principles as family members. The master felt responsibility for the education of his disciples, and not only for providing them with knowledge or technical skills in a given field. In the case of lonely kalari trainings in one’s own space, this element of the community is lost.

  • Spiritual aspect of practice.

    Loss of spiritual aspect of practice. Traditional practice is accompanied by many rituals related to the religion followed by the master of the given kalari – the building or the place of practice. In Hindu kalari, there are a number of ceremonies held at certain times, including on different occasions, when introducing a novice to the group of students of a given master, when starting training and finishing, etc. Of course, many of these elements can function differently when the training takes place outside the kalari (e.g. in the theatre room), and especially outside of India . The implementation of these elements of practice depends on the master, who in the case of “non-Indian” classes can consciously give up the elements of ceremonial (even if he implements them in full in India), but he himself certifies the spiritual values ​​resulting from the practice of kalari. The point is to remember that physical practice is part of a larger and deeper spiritual practice, and that exercises and sequences are not an aim in themselves. We face challenges on the physical level, as well as on the mental and spiritual levels. Of course, you cannot impose this approach on all participants – for many, training is of sufficient value at the physical level and it is an individual matter of how personally it is important for her / him. But exactly the same can happen in case of offline trainings…

The list of concerns and potential losses could probably be longer. I listed the most important reasons why we could not imagine doing online. So what happened that so quickly – literally from one day to another (Wednesday training in the hall, Thursday online) – we switched to virtual training?

  • Quarantine.

    Worldwide inability to conduct classroom activities and worldwide inability to leave home for an unknown time. When you don’t have what you like, you like what you have. You can suspend classes and wait – but for how long? You can practice other disciplines or arts (already) adapted to home conditions and / or train possibly individual outdoor disciplines – walking, cycling. Or you can focus on those elements of training that you can do yourself at home, knowing that this is just a part of the whole system.

  • Awareness that the training program and the way classes are conducted depends on the leader.
    Teacher’s responsibility.

    The electronic form of trainings does not exclude all the values ​​that can be transferred. Verbal communication, actions taken to keep in touch with the community, taking care of it in various ways: all this becomes more important, and writing this blog is one of such tools. What cannot be conveyed in (all) classes, you can try to describe and at least partially preserve the original nature of the practice.

  • Home conditions.

    The ability to adapt elements of the practice to home conditions. We adapt the exercises to the dimensions of the free space on the floor, we focus on exercises that can be performed individually, which will allow you to develop physical activity and maintain good condition. We often give different versions of exercises so that people of different levels can do them.

  • Possibility of daily practice without commuting to the hall, or even to another country. Among the people who participate in our online trainings are people from the other side of Wrocław, as well as the other side of the world: Australia, the USA and Uruguay are the most extreme examples, but there are also people from many European countries.
  • Community on the other side of the screen.

    The community is alive even online. Many people participate in live classes, greet each other in chat, and comment.

  • Availability of training outside of real time – those who cannot participate in real-time classes, carry out training according to their own capabilities, e.g. because they work or live in a different time zone. Thanks to this, they can exercise regularly.
  • Advantages of home training.

    Training, even short and fragmentary, brings a lot of advantages: strengthens, stretches, stimulates circulation, maintains the body in good physical condition – despite (even more) sitting lifestyle, motivates to move regularly, develops memory, concentration and coordination, releases stress and tension, raises up energy level, adds faith in one’s own abilities, helps in breakong the feeling of loneliness and isolation.

Online training is not a substitute for real classes, but a supplement for them when, for various reasons, there is no other way to practice. As training leaders, teachers or masters, however, we have an influence on how these trainings are carried out and we can try to convey our knowledge and passion in the best possible way. Many of our friends found themselves in the same situation – yoga, capoeira, aikido or kalari teachers. And for all these people, dealing with online reality is something new and difficult, but we all are trying to find a way, and to take care of our students and their entire community the best we can. And thanks to those people who enthusiastically support us and respond to our suggestions, we feel that our movements on one side of the screen are important also to them – on the other side.

If you wish to share your opinion or thoughts on this subject, please feel free to write a comment below.

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The article features photographs taken by Sebastian Góra who visited our Indian seat in Trivandrum during the winter practice in February 2020.