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This is about the revival of the style associated with Sikhs in particular. For the general meaning of the term, see Indian martial arts.

Gatka (Punjabi: ਗਤਕਾ Urdu: گٹکا gatkā) is the name of an Indian martial art associated with the Sikhs of the Punjab region, and with the Tanoli(Pathan Tribe) and Gujjar communities residing in mountainous regions of northern Pakistan who practice an early variant of the martial art. It is a style of stick fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate swords.[1] The Punjabi name gatka properly refers to the wooden stick used. The word originates as a diminutive of Sanskrit gada "mace".[2]

Gatka demonstration in Bedford, England (2007)
Country of originIndian subcontinent
Olympic sportNo

The style originated in later 19th century, out of sword practice in the British Indian Army, divided in two sub-style, called rasmi (ritualistic) and khel (sport) from the 1880s. There has been a revival during the later 20th century, with an International Gatka Federation was founded in 1982 and formalized in 1987, and gatka is now popular as a sport or sword dance performance art and is often shown during Sikh festivals.[3]

Gatka can be practiced either as a sport (khel) or ritual (rasmi). The sport form is played by two opponents wielding wooden staves called gatka. These sticks may be paired with a shield. Points are scored for making contact with the stick. The other weapons are not used for full-contact sparring, but their techniques are taught through forms training.[3] The ritual form is purely for demonstration and is performed to music during occasions such as weddings, or as part of a theatrical performance like the chhau dance. A practitioner of gatka is called a gatkabaj.



Singhs at World Gatka Cup

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Sikhs assisted the British in crushing the mutiny. As a consequence of this assistance, restrictions on fighting practices were relaxed, but the Punjabi martial arts which re-emerged after 1857 had changed significantly.[4] The new style applied the sword-fighting techniques to the wooden training-stick. It was referred to as gatka, after its primary weapon. Gatka was used mainly by the British Indian Army in the 1860s as practice for hand-to-hand combat. As Sikh colleges opened during the 1880s, European rules of fencing were applied to create what is now called khel or sport gatka.

The Defendu system devised by Captain William Ewart Fairbairn and Captain Eric Anthony Sykes borrowed methodologies from gatka, jujutsu, Chinese martial arts and "gutter fighting". This method was used to train soldiers in close-combat techniques at the Commando Basic Training Centre in Achnacarry, Scotland.[5]

Since India's independence from colonial rule, gatka has been managed and promoted in India by the Panjab Gatka Association and the Gatka Federation of India.[citation needed] The latter organization formulated and standardized rules and regulations for gatka as a sport, and providing free training through seminars, workshops and camps under the new rules. The Panjab & Chandigarh Education Departments have introduced gatka into the school sports calendars in the state, while the School Games Federation Of India also incorporated gatka into the 56th national school games calendar 2011–2012.[citation needed] Gatka is still practiced by communities in the Tanawal region of Pakistan but is increasingly uncommon and does not get much support from the government.To promote and popularize the art outside India, the Asian Gatka Federation, Commonwealth Gatka Federation and World Gatka Federation have also been constituted. From 2011, the Panjabi University Patiala have started to host All India inter-varsity gatka championships annually.[citation needed]

Today gatka is most often showcased during the martial festival of Hola Mohalla, as well as Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations in the Panjab. Gatka is one of the competitions held during an annual sporting event in the rural Indian city of Kila Raipur, and the Sikh community of Malaysia often holds gatka demonstrations during Vaisakhi or the Sikh new year.[citation needed] Once considered a diminishing art by UNESCO and SAARC,[citation needed][year needed] the intense and concerted efforts of these gatka federations has popularized it amongst the students in north India.


The traditional training hall for gatka is the akhara.[6] Sikhs may train in a religious or semi-religious situation, such as in a gurdwara (Sikh temple).

The Gujjar tribe and pathan tribe (Tanoli) residing in mountainous regions of northern Pakistan practice an old variant of Gatka on plain terrain.

Tanoli tribesmen practicing the Gatka sport in northern Pakistan.


Khel (meaning sport or game) is the modern competitive aspect of gatka, originally used as a method of sword-training (fari-gatka) or stick-fighting (lathi khela) in medieval times. Competitors spar using sticks called gatka, from which the sport derives its name. The gatka are about three handspans long, made from light wood or bamboo and covered in leather. It may be used on its own or paired with another stick but for official matches, the gatka is paired with a leather shield called a pari. The fixed distance of sparring was introduced from British fencing during the colonial era. Points are scored for hitting or touching (shu) the opponent with the stick, but hits to vital points are forbidden. Victory by touch is known as shubaji.

While khel gatka is today most commonly associated with Sikhs, it has always been used in the martial arts of other ethno-cultural groups. It is still practiced in India and Pakistan by the Tanoli and Gurjara communities. In Manipur, thang-ta practitioners refer to their own sword-practice as cheibi gatka, wherein the players spar with a two-foot leather-encased cudgel which may be paired with a leather shield measuring one metre in diameter. In some arts today, the sword-fighting is more akin to a dance than a form of combat. For example, the daal fari khadga of Andhra Pradesh is usually choreographed, but is performed with real swords and shields rather than wooden ones.


The performance aspect of gatka is known as rasmi meaning "ritual" or "official". During weddings and other festivals, the men perform repetitive swinging and twirling movements with one or two swords. The first part of the chhau dance is known as pari-khanda or fori-khanda and is performed with a sword and shield. Traditionally such sword-dances were typically performed by martial artists but today they are generally taught as separate disciplines altogether.



The sword may be paired with another sword, or a shield.

Aara demonstration at Sirhind
  • Talwar / Prak: curved one-sided sword, measuring about 3 feet long
  • Aara : flexible sword.


A shield always accompanied a sword as part of the swordsman's equipment.


Gatka typically uses a bamboo staff, which may be steel-tipped and encased in leather. This type of dang is held with both hands on one end and used for swinging techniques. The light weight of the bamboo allows for great speed and a variety of twirling maneuvres. This style of fighting was often used by peasants and commoners for whom the staff was a domestic tool and a convenient implement oself-defense.

  • Dang/ Lathi: staff of wood or bamboo measuring one to three meters in length.


Stick-fighting or employs either the single or double stick. The stick or danda is generally the length of three handspans.

Sticks and club-type weapons include the following.

  • Danda: short stick, sometimes with a steel tip.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1969). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International Limited.
  2. ^ Ananda Lal, The Oxford companion to Indian theatre, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 9780195644463, p. 129.
  3. ^ a b Sikh martial art `Gatka' takes the West by storm. (Press Trust of India). The Hindu
  4. ^ [v MILITARY SIKHS: The Education of a Sikh Warrior. Victoria and Albert Museum.] 'An introduction to Shastar Vidiya - the education of a Sikh warrior' was a lecture by Nidar Singh, given as part of the Sikh Arts and Heritage Lecture Series at the V&A, 10 October 2001.
  5. ^ O. Janson. Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting knife: The famous fightingknife used by British commandos and SOE during WW2. Gothia Arms Historical Society
  6. ^ Singh, Arjun (2006). Gatka. Atlanta Martial Arts Directory.
  • Nanak Dev Singh Khalsa & Sat Katar Kaur Ocasio-Khalsa (1991) Gatka as taught by Nanak Dev Singh, Book One - Dance of the Sword (2nd Edition). GT International, Phoenix, Arizona. ISBN 0-89509-087-2

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