Seminar on 'The Sikh Art of War' - Shastar Vidiya

A two day seminar is being held at The Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha), ......


NidarSinghNihang (114K)

An opportunity to experience Shastar Vidiya, the ancient Indian Battlefield art mastered by the Sikhs and employed by them to devastating effect against foreign invaders. To revive this ancient martial system and to save it from near extinction, is now being revealed to the world. A two day seminar is being held at The Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha), Queensdale Road, Shepherd's Bush, London W11 4SG on the 13th and 14th October 2012 between 10.00 am to 6.00 pm. It will be a unique opportunity for the novice to the experienced martial artist to train with Nidar Singh Nihang.

The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest organised religion in the world, with around 30 million followers, most of who originated in the Punjab (Land of Five Rivers) region of the Indian sub-continent. It is considerably younger than any other major religion, having started with the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the late 15th century. The Sikh faith has evolved between the 11th. Century and the 15th.Century; it seeks the truth behind all creation and guides its believers on their path of moral, social and spiritual conduct. The belief that God is infinite and all pervading is to live all under His commands. The teachings of the Gurus are all enshrined in the Holy Living Guru: Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

One of Sikh's most famous identity or 5Ks is the kirpan, a curved dagger supposed to be carried (but rarely used) by all proponents of the religion. The importance of this weapon fits the Sikh ideal of the Sant-Sipahi or 'warrior saint'. All Sikh men are given the name Singh, meaning 'lion'. The martial art of Shastar Vidiya started with the dawn of the Sikh Empire in the 17th century, when the new religion was under attack from neighbouring Hindus and Muslims. Sikhs quickly gained a reputation for being crack warriors, particularly the Akali Nihang sect - Nihang, a name now carried by many Sikhs, means 'crocodile'.

When the Sikh Empire was suppressed by the British colonisers after the Anglo-Sikh Wars in the mid-19th century, not only was Shastar Vidiya banned, but the blue turbans which marked out Akali Nihangs was also prohibited.

Nidar Singh Nihang has devoted his life to the mysterious Sikh martial art of Shastar Vidiya.Having learned his skills from an 80-year-old Indian Ustad or mentor, he is now seeking an apprentice to keep the ancient art alive.

But he insists that any budding warrior wanting to follow in his footsteps must travel to his home in Wolverhampton and totally acquire the skills and be able to impart that knowledge to the young budding Sikhs.

The 47-year-old former factory worker is looking for someone to inherit both his unique knowledge and his armoury of amazing weapons. He said: 'Shastar Vidiya is a part of my history and culture and without it we lose our character. It has changed history and produced great warriors - for it to die out now would be a tragedy. 'Throughout the day, no matter what I am doing, Shastar Vidiya is always in my mind. And I would like this to be imbibed in the minds of others to reinforce the value of it in both the Sikh traditions and beliefs.

'I am the last known remaining master - it is my mission in life now to find a successor to carry on this great martial art. If I die with it, it is all gone.'

Nidar conducts a rigorous daily routine, awakening at dawn to recite ancient mantras followed by seven hours of writing and study. After a late siesta listening to classical Indian music, the expert swordsman embarks on six hours of martial yoga and Shastar Vidiya, before mediation and sleep at 2am.

The basis of Shastar Vidiya - the 'science of weapons' - is a five-step movement: advance on the opponent, hit his flank, deflect incoming blows, take a commanding position and strike. It was developed by Sikhs in the 17th century when their fledgling religion was coming under attack, but it was forced underground when the British banned Sikhs from using arms after the first Anglo-Sikh War.

In 1984, Nidar met Mohinder Singh, the last remaining master of Shastar Vidiya, while working on his aunt's farm in the remote village of Shadipur, Panjab.

He said: 'The master was from the next village - he saw my physique and asked me if I wanted to learn Shastar Vidiya. 'He got me to attack him with a stick, but before I knew it I was on the floor. I thought it might be a fluke, but I did it over and over again and each time he threw me around like a rag doll. I was awestruck because I was 17 and he was in his 80s.I stayed for 11 years, milking the buffalos in the morning and spending the remainder of the day training with my master and learning the philosophy. I then returned to Wolverhampton in 1995 to marry my wife Satinderjat.When my master Mohinder died later that year, I became the last Sikh warrior - now I am looking for someone to succeed me. I will teach them here in my home in the Midlands so they will have to travel here.'Nidar gave up his day-job in a food factory in 2002 to become a full-time writer and teacher of Shastar Vidiya.

He is now the Ninth Gurdev (teacher) of a school established in 1661, called the 'Baba Darbara Singh Shastar Vidiya Akhara'.

He lectures worldwide and teaches his pupils how to use swords, daggers and spears, most of which were used in historical battles. Nidar said: 'Ninety-five per cent of our weapons are antiques, from as far back as the 16th century - they've all been passed down through various families. The fighting is geared towards a lethal outcome, but it takes many years of training before students are allowed to handle a blade.'

Students of the martial art achieve 'master' status, which can take decades, when they are deemed ready by living masters. He said: 'The current group of people who practice the martial art have all been taught by me - without my teaching, they would not know it and Shastar Vidiya would be on the brink of extinction. Although learning can last a lifetime, and more, I have become a master after fully committing myself to the martial art - at least 70 hours of training a week for almost 30 years. My students show promise but are only at the first rung of the ladder. After all, they haven't been training for more than seven or eight years maximum - and that's only for 10 to 15 hours a week. To become a master of Shastar Vidiya takes decades of dedication, often as the sole student of one master.' Gatka owes its early development to the Shaster Vidiya, literally meaning knowledge of the arms. This was a warrior curriculum used by the Sikhs for military training.

A fascinating article in a UK newspaper highlights the return of Shaster Vidiya - the "world's original martial art" which was banned by the Raj after the final defeat of the Sikh empire in the mid-19th century. Considered a forgotten art form, Shastar Vidiya was practiced in North India before the emergence of Sikhism. However, it was the Sikhs who were known to have fully mastered this particular fighting style.

Now, it seems, young British Sikhs are attempting to revive this lost art form. Their teacher, Nidar Singh Nihang, has been studying the art of Shastar Vidiya for the past 20 years in hopes of passing it onto the younger generation. Students begin learning how to fight with simple wooden sticks. However, those who show a particular skill and dedication are allowed to practice with the kind of swords that once made the Sikh armies so powerful. The article points out the irony of a British Sikh trying to resurrect shastar vidiya given the history, the Sikhs quickly turned themselves into an efficient and fearsome warrior race. The most formidable group among them were the Akali Nihangs, a blue-turbaned sect of fighters who became the crack troops and cultural guardians of the Sikh faith. As Britain's modernised colonial armies expanded across the Indian subcontinent, some of the stiffest opposition they faced came from the Sikhs who fought two bloody but ultimately disastrous wars in the 1840s that led to the fall of the Sikh empire and allowed Britain to expand its Indian territories as far as the Khyber Pass. Astonished by the ferocity and bravery of the Akali Nihangs, the Panjab's new colonial administrators swiftly banned the group and forbade Sikhs from wearing the blue turbans that defined the Akalis.

Through twenty-five years of intense study and demanding physical training, Nidar Singh has managed to preserve this closely guarded art that has teetered on the brink of extinction for the last 150 years. He is the sole-surviving master and ninth teacher (Ustad or mentor) of a classical school of learning established in 1661, called the Baba Darbara Singh Shastar Vidya Akhara, which is the last remnant of this ancient tradition.

Born and brought up in the UK, Nidar Singh was a teenager who knew virtually nothing about the religion he was born into when, in 1984, left his home in the back streets of Wolverhampton to live with relatives in a sleepy Punjabi village. It was there that his mundane life was changed forever following a chance meeting with an enigmatic septuagenarian Akali-Nihang warrior.

"I was fascinated by the old man's claim that he was the last in a lineage of Sikh warriors who had secretly guarded the Guru's art of war. I was immediately drawn on a journey of discovery into a world that has now all but vanished."

Nidar Singh lives and breathes the technical aspects of the physical art, but reflecting the Indian tradition of all-encompassing learning, he is constantly striving to discover more of the art's history, traditions, and martial philosophy, as passed on by a lineage of masters stretching back to the dawn of Indian civilisation. Nidar Singh's journey to reconnect people with their martial traditions continues and he has dedicated his life to preserving and sharing this precious heritage for the benefit of current and future generations.

A poem by Maninder Singh gives the importance of the sword or Kirpan.:

My sword is my companion my warrior and friend,
Not to be offensive but sworn to defend,
The infusion of steel runs through my veins,
Making me immune from sorrow and pain,
My sword is the protector of the needy and poor,
When oppression becomes a disease my sword is the cure,
My sword sings the song of selfless love,
It lives in harmony with law from above,
The flash of my Guru's sword awakens the sleeping soul,
Without the sword I can never be whole,
The sword of the Guru is the giver of life,
Before the soul was barren now it is ripe,
I am the saint and the soldier that walks in peace,
I am the humble dust of your feet,
But don't think my spirituality makes me weak,
The heavens will roar if my sword were to speak,
Death is my bride, fear is my friend,
My Guru's path is the map heaven sent,
To follow the path, surrender your whole,
The power of the Guru's sword will give light to your soul.

View Shastar Vidya as shown on Discovery Channel


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