Angampora

Angampora

Angampora is the native martial art of Sri Lanka that exhibits smooth, flowing but deceptive movements. Its techniques include basic grappling and submission maneuvers; however, one notable feature of this art is its fast footwork and flowing jumps that are likened to a butterfly. A beginner is first taught basic warm-up exercises. Later, a student is taught more specialized exercises which are connected to the art. Once a student is found competent in performing these specialized exercises he or she progresses to the actual art of combat. Weapon exercises are also included in their training curriculum.

“Ange” means “body”, “pora” signifies “combat”. The art was practiced in fighting displays both with and without weapons: “Angan saramba” or haramba were the various branches of the fighting sciences taught at the centres for military training of the Maravalliya” or Maruve, and Sedaliye clans.

Each centre was divided into the “Saramba or Haramba Salava” dealing with “Aangan haramba” and the Ilangan Maduva” or” Ilangama” for training the musicians and dancers who accompanied each clan in procession or in war. There were also the Vasala saramba salava” and “Ilangam Maduva” reserved for princes.

Sri Lanka, a country with a rich history that goes back for over 5000 years tells us of great Martial Art that were enjoyed by the kings who ruled this wonderful land. In the past ages, where the law of “survival of the fittest” prevailed, this tiny nation had to hold its own, mostly against the mighty India (South India”Chola Kingdom). The kings of India many a time thought to have this “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” to decorate their crowns and invaded the island. But invariably, each time, they were driven back. Such was the invincible might of the fighting techniques practiced by the people of Sri Lanka and they called it the ANGAM  SATAN KALAWA (fighting art named ANGAM).

A student of the ancient Sri Lankan martial art form 'Angampora' trains the art of wielding a weapon with thin strips of metal fixed to a wooden handle, at Korathota near Athugiriya, a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, 10 February 2009. This training is carried out mostly in places surrounded by thick foliage, the trick being the visibility of damage to the plants or trees which is sure to reflect the space the trainee has used. This is said to be a dangerous weapon to both enemy and user, as its improper handling can easily injure or decapitate the user as well. While the metal was said to be chosen after careful testing, the wood for the weapons and stave to be obtained after careful consideration to their species. The branches or trees were cut at auspicious times according to astrological calculations. Then the blessings of deities were invoked prior to drying in the shade and being turned into the necessary weapons. This they believed gave additional strength and an aura of mysticism to the weapons. Recorded history of the island nation mentions 32 weapons that have been used by the warriors of the king. Of these the sword, bow and arrow, the dagger, spear and the stick were the main five weapons. But the weapons were not the main component of combat. 'Anga' in the local Sinhalese means 'part' and 'angam' means the parts of the human body. Thus, the human body served as the main weapon and the other weapons were additional appendages.

“Anga” in the native tongue ( Singhala is the native language of the Sinhalese who are the majority in the country ) meant parts. Unarmed combat, was called Angam as only the human body parts were used to fight. Where various types of weapons are used, such combat techniques were called “ILLANGAM”. A people with a rich culture which had various types of dancing for which a variety of drums were used, they made such music too a part of their traditional martial arts.

Origin: The Mahavamsa shows that up to the 6th or 7th centuries, Sinhala heroes and warriors were termed “Yodhya”, a corruption of the Indian term “Yadhajiva”.

Towards the end of the 16th century it had become restricted in usage to mythical giants and was replaced by the title “Panik Rala”.

In Malabar this is derived from Pani=work and the masters of martial and gymnastic schools were termed “Panikkers”. Considerable interchange of teachers in fencing occurred between Ceylon and Malabar. In Ceylon these sciences are now extinct, with ancient records pertaining to them being restricted to a feq painted cloth, frescoes, sculpture and folk songs.

In Ceylon the term “Panik Rala” was originally conferred upon members of these martial schools who had distinguished themselves in the gladiatorial arena, but later the title became applicable to anyone of outstanding courage and prowess in any form of physical activity. Usage examples in this sense included the noosing of elephants, and the gathering of rock bee honey.

Angampora is the native martial art of Sri Lanka that exhibits smooth, flowing but deceptive movements. Its techniques include basic garappling and submission maneuvers; however, one notable feature of this art is its fast footwork and flowing jumps that are likened to a butterfly.

A beginner is first taught basic warm-up exercises. Later, a student is taught more specialized exercises which are connected to the art. Once a student is found competent in performing these specialized exercises he or she progresses to the actual art of combat. Weapon exercises are also included in their training curriculum.

The exact date of the origin of Angampora is not known. What is known however is that it dates back to the Anuradhapura era to the times of the ancient Sinhala kingdoms. In those days it was the fighting technique of the noblemen. Legend has it that the army that came under the command of Sapumal Kumaraya comprised fighters skilled in this martial art. Angampora continued with the Sinhala kings with the transition of the kingdoms towards the southwest of the country. However, with each new king emerged new gurus and as a result the pedigree of the gurus of Angampora got diluted.

The last of the Angampora gurus existed during the Kandyan kingdom. The sport, that had withstood the test of time, faced its biggest challenge during this era. The British, two years after capturing Kandy and gaining control over the entire island, passed a law to ban Angampora in 1817.

The penalty for anyone found practising the art was harsh. Those who breached this law were shot below the knee. Many gurus and students gave up the art in fear of punishment. The high status the sport had earned was lost and it was looked upon as the game of criminals and vagabonds. However, a few continued to practise this traditional art in secretive places. It’s from the remnants of this art that guru Karunapala passes onto his stu­dents today. After several years of infor­mal training and practice guru Karunapala and Wickramasinghe, with the motive of further developing the sport, established the Jathika Hela Angam Shilpa Kala Sangamaya in 2001, the gov­erning body for Angampora. That same year they applied for registration with the Sports Ministry. The Jathika Hela Angam Shilpa Kala Sangamaya has waited three years for a response from the Sports Ministry.

The Process: Every practice session begins with a session of meditation and an offering of pin (merit) to their guru. When a student first enters the class he or she has to light three lamps and make a pledge. “I can judge whether a student is mentally fit to learn the art by the manner in which the student makes the pledge. If I sense doubt or scepticism in the mind of the student and feel he or she cannot cope with the discipline I don’t take them into the class”, says Karunapala who adds that many fail this initial test. Students also have to produce a police report or Grama Sevaka report before gaining entrance to the school. All this is done to ensure that only people with a stable mind and good conduct can follow the training schedule of the art.

The weapons: A variety of weapons are used in Angampora. One of the most lethal weapons is the ‘Velayudaya’, a whip like apparatus made of four double-edged flexible strips of metal. A practitioner uses a pair of this apparatus to obtain maximum effect. However, only the most experienced fighters use these weapons, as there is a risk of cutting oneself badly while lashing out at an adversary.

Then there is the combat sword. This thick instrument is custom made for the fighter. The length of the sword is similar to the distance between the fighter’s fingertips and his under arm. A smaller variety of sword, known as the ‘Keti Kaduwa’, is also used. This is used together with a small shield or ‘Paliya’, which is about the size of a standard wall clock.

The technique: A beginner is first taught basic warm up exercises. Later a student is taught more specialized exercises which are connected to the art. Once a student is found competent in performing these specialized exercises he or she progresses to the actual art of combat.

The first skill a student learns is the `Mulla Panina’ exercise or basic foot movement. This is done to the rhythm of the geta bera drums, a movement that takes the form of a dance. The basic principle behind Mulla Panina is to learn to use one’s feet. This will help a practitioner of Angampora to sidestep an attacker and keep one’s balance at all times.

Once this basic foot movement is mastered a student learns a more advanced foot movement known as ‘Gaman Thalawa’. Gaman Thalawa is structured around the movements of big cats. This feline like movement makes the fighter move in a rhythmic semicircular pattern, similar to the moving pattern of an angry tiger in a cage.

This foot movement coupled with Ath Haramba or hand movement results in what is known as Amaraya. Amaraya is the use of Gaman Thalawa in a sparring contest against an opponent. The contest between two as mentioned at the beginning of this article was an Amaraya. Here the two opponents move around sizing each other up in rhythmic feline like movements.

Then there are the three main hand movements or Harambas. I already mentioned the Ath Haramba, which is the use of one’s bare hands in combat. In Ath Haramba the student is taught to take on the attacks of adversaries from four directions. An integral part of this is the knowledge of targeting sensitive points in the body when striking an opponent.

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