By Harkirat Singh
Gatka, is an ancient martial art used by the Gurus to help defend the religious beliefs of Sikhi and also those of other religions.
The Gurus spent their lives preaching about God and the importance of the harmony between man on earth. Some religions believe in non-violence to the extent that they would not even defend their beliefs by fighting back, but would rather just ignore the enemy and be killed instantly. However, it was proved by the Gurus that to preserve harmony on earth a source of defense was/is needed. It is a common view that Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji (6th Guru) and Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji (10th Guru) were not the only Gurus to defend the endangered religions of their time. In fact Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji (2nd Guru) was a very keen wrestler who encouraged people to keep fit all his life.
Baba Buddha Ji, who was alive from Guru Nanak Dev Ji's (1st Guru) time, was Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji's (5th Guru) fencing master and from this the knowledge of Gatka was passed onto the sixth Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, who lived military life.
Sri Guru Hargobind Ji, also encouraged and taught his followers, of which a majority joined his army to keep fit and practice Gatka, along with their NITNEM (prayers).
In one of the Sakhis (religious stories), it states that when Guru Arjan Dev Ji was captured, he sent a Hukam (command) to Sri Guru Hargobind Ji who had not yet become the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, to gather an army of Gursikhs to defend against the attacks carried out by the Moguls on Harmandir Sahib Ji (Golden Temple) in Amritsar.
It is said that an army of seven hundred Sikhs successfully defended the Harmandir Sahib Ji for twenty-four hours, from the countless attacks made by the Mogul Empire.
Guru Hargobind Ji fought 5-6 major battles in his time. Together with his spiritual guidance and with the aid of Gatka defended all the God loving souls (Bhagats) from all religions, to uphold the name of God.
There is no real evidence that Sri Guru Hari Rai Ji (7th Guru) practiced Gatka, but being the successor of an expert martial artist and a great militant leader he must have initially learnt such an art. Although in his time and in his successors time (Sri Guru Hari Krishan Ji), the art of Gatka was practiced by a few people.
The ninth Guru, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji was supposedly seen practicing Gatka alone by the Mogul army, his speed and accuracy was both an alarming and surprising experience for them. However the real lift of Gatka began in his son's time Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji who is and was described as the most perfect person on earth, as he was very intelligent and could speak and write a number of different languages with equal comfort. He was spiritually blessed by his father and had great athletic abilities. He was known as the greatest master of weaponry of his time and it is assured that he was taught Gatka by his father and his followers from a very young age. His ability was much admired by his army of followers and to this day the fact that he and his army fought and won so many battles against countless numbers of Mogul soldiers with a very limited amount of men and weapons, to this day leaves historians all over the world surprised.
As far as the Sikhs can recall Gatka goes back to about 1200 years, but some say it goes back a lot further. In the past few centuries, Gatka has mainly been practiced in India by the Nahang Singhs, who are Sikhs who believe in the importance of preserving the type of dress (Bana) and weaponry as was worn by the Gurus. Their history is not very well known and their leader/Sant is Baba Nahal Singh Ji who is very well respected around the world. At Baba Jis Gurdwara in India, Gatka is taught to the public in small numbers. Sant Nahal Singh Ji has made frequent visits to England.
In the last 2-3 years Sikh Nahang, Bhai Nanak Dev Singh, an American who converted to Sikhi by the influence of Bhai Harbajan Singh Ji -"yogi", has helped to spread Gatka around the world, especially around America and Europe. He has helped to write and publish a book in English called Gatka which teaches the basic's of this art. It is the first ever book about Gatka to be published anywhere in the world.
Gatka itself is a very basic and practical art. It is all based upon a single movement called the "Panthra". The Panthra is practiced initially for hours (using no weapons) to help develop the accuracy of footwork needed to keep the body in balance when using weaponry. It can be practiced in all different ways, i.e. circular motions, simple forward and backward motions and also more complex motions such as star shapes using a range of 18 different weapons.
Today Gatka is becoming more and more common around the world. In Britain alone their are major clubs, in places such as Southall, Birmingham, Dudley, Nottingham, Walsall and Manchester. Altogether there are around 200(+) dedicated Gatka students up and down the country.
Publicity about Gatka is also progressing very well, since a number of demonstrations take place in Universities and Gurudwaras. An introduction of Gatka, on Sky television (Sky Sports) has also been shown in September of a demonstration which took place earlier this year in Paris. The organizers also hope to develop a team of Gatka students to fight one another in tournaments in the future.
Well people may still question the effectiveness of Gatka in the streets. During our research we learned that in 1984 when the Golden Temple was attacked by the Indian Army, it is said that four Singhs stood at each of the doors of the temple, swinging their Shasters (full length swords) in a basic movement from the Gatka and nobody could come within a ten-metre range of them.
Another incident in India, after the prime ministers' death, an eighty year old man was attacked whilst riding his scooter in Delhi by a mass of 3000 people. He was forced to defend himself and so took out his Kirpan (sword) and using his knowledge of Gatka, seriously injured and killed many of his attackers. When the police arrived at the scene the attackers fled, one of the officers present at the attack reported "all I could see was an old man standing sword in hand and numerous dead body's lying around him."
Even here in Britain, around the same period angry individuals in their hundreds rioted outside a Gurudwara in Dudley, and two Nahang Singhs successfully defended the Gurudwara, and reports have it that not one attacker was able to set foot in the Temple.
So clearly the effectiveness of Gatka has been proved for centuries, not just by the Sikhs but also the earlier practitioners of this art. However it is taught by the masters of this art that, Gatka, either when fighting in a battle or in simple self-defense is absolutely useless without `Gurbani'. As a higher level of spiritual consciousness is needed rather than just sheer knowledge.