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The Only Living Master Of Dying Martial Arts

Scarlet Pimpernel

We seek him here,we sikh
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May 31, 2011
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nidar-singh-nihung.gif

A former factory worker from the British Midlands may be the last living master of the centuries-old Sikh battlefield art of shastar vidya. The father of four is now engaged in a full-time search for a successor.

The basis of shastar vidya, 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 as the young religion came under attack from hostile Muslim and Hindu neighbours, and has been known to a dwindling band since the British forced Sikhs to give up arms in the 19th Century.


Nidar Singh, a 44-year-old former food packer from Wolverhampton, is now thought to be the only remaining master. He has many students, but shastar vidya takes years to learn and a commitment in time and energy that doesn't suit modern lifestyles.


"I've travelled all over India and I have spoken to many elders, this is basically a last-ditch attempt to flush someone out because if I die with it, it is all gone."

Mr Singh is searching India and Pakistan for a young successor
He would be overjoyed to discover an existing master somewhere in India, or to find a talented young student determined to dedicate his life to the art.


Until he was 17 years old, he knew little of his Sikh heritage. His family were not religious - he wore his hair short and dressed like any British teenager. He was a keen wrestler, but knew nothing of martial arts.
He spent his childhood between Punjab and Wolverhampton and it was on one of these trips to see an aunt in India that he met Baba Mohinder Singh, the old man who was to become his master.


Already in his early 80s, Baba Mohinder Singh had abandoned life as a hermit in a final effort to find someone to pass on his knowledge to.
"When he saw my physique he looked at me, even though I was clean-shaven and he asked me: 'Do you want to learn how to fight'," recalls Nidar Singh. "I couldn't say no."


On his first day of training, the frail old man handed him a stick and instructed Mr Singh to hit him. When he tried, the master threw him around like a rag doll.


"He was a frail old man chucking me about and I couldn't touch him," he says. "That definitely impressed me."

Open-minded
Mr Singh spent the next 11 years on his aunt's farm, milking the buffalos in the morning and spending every day training with his master.


In 1995 he returned to Britain to get married and took work packing food in a factory. He began to teach shastar vidya and immersed himself in research on early Sikh military history.


Soon he had enough interest from students to go into teaching full-time.



He now travels around the UK to teach classes and to Canada and Germany where eager students have asked him to share his knowledge.
History of shastar vidya
  • When Sikh leader Guru Arjan Dev was murdered by the Mughal emperor in 1606, his son Guru Hargobind set out to militarise the Sikh people
  • Men were instructed to carry arms - including the kara (iron bracelet) and kirpan (small blade) still worn by orthodox Sikhs today
  • Hair was worn long and wrapped around the head to protect the skull
  • Hargobind also set up schools to train an elite warrior caste called the Akali Nihang, the immortal crocodiles, which developed secret fighting techniques
  • They also adopted a unique belief system with the martial art as a main tenet of their faith

"The people who are here are open-minded," he says. "I have Muslims and Christians here as well as Sikhs."


But even his most advanced pupils have only recently reached the stage where they can fight him with weapons without getting hurt.



Shastar vidya often gets confused with Gatka, a stick-fighting technique that was developed during British occupation of Punjab and was widely practised among Sikh soldiers in the British army.



Though it is a highly skilled art it was developed for exhibition rather than mortal combat. It is much easier to practise in public.


By working to revive a culture and practice that left the mainstream more than 200 years ago, Mr Singh has come up against a lot of resistance from within the Sikh community.



He says he received 84 death threats in his first two years as a teacher, from other Sikh groups who disagree with the ideology of shastar vidya and the beliefs of the small Nihang sect, which he identifies with.


"It is not just martial technique, there is a lot of oral tradition and linguistic skills that has to be there as well," he explains.


Nihangs still maintain some tenets of the Hindu faith, they have three scriptures rather than one and these extra books contain influences from Hinduism.



Many Nihangs also eat meat and drink alcohol which orthodox Sikhs disagree with. Traditionally they also drank bhang, an infusion of cannabis, to get closer to God.
"Sikhism has gone through several stages of evolution," says Christopher Shackle, a former professor of South Asian studies at Soas, University of London. "When the Nihangs were formed at the end of the 17th Century they were a very powerful group but they became rather marginalised."

When the Sikhs established their own kingdom under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he realised he needed a modern army to keep the British out, and he hired ex-Napoleonic officers to train up his soldiers, sidelining the Nihangs. The Nihangs were further isolated when the British Raj defeated the Sikh state in 1849 and forced Sikhs to give up arms.


"The British introduced a shoot-to-kill policy," says weapons collector and historian Davinder Toor, adding that accounts of British army officers show some troops fired on any man with a blue turban and a firearm.


"There is a sense that the Nihang's got left behind by time," says Mr Shackle.


Mr Singh spends a lot of time travelling to India and Pakistan researching the art, searching for descendents of the Akali Nihang and adding to his vast collection of weapons.


So far he has only met four people who could claim to be masters, now all dead. The last of these, Ram Singh, whom he met in 1998, died four years later.


"Nidar Singh is like someone who has walked straight out of the 18th Century," says Parmjit Singh, who has worked on several books on Nihang culture with the master.


"He is like a window into the past."


He is also still hoping to be a door to the future, opening up the path for new practitioners of the art to follow.
 

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Inderjeet Kaur

Writer
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Oct 13, 2011
871
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Seattle, Washington, USA
Re: The Only Living Master

nidar-singh-nihung.gif
Nihangs still maintain some tenets of the Hindu faith, they have three scriptures rather than one and these extra books contain influences from Hinduism.
I am very curious. What are the three scriptures? I assume one is Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji and most likely one is Dasam Granth ji. Is that correct? If so, what is the third?
 

Scarlet Pimpernel

We seek him here,we sikh
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May 31, 2011
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Re: The Only Living Master

I am very curious. What are the three scriptures?
Sorry Sis I can't help on that ,I saw this article by the BBC and Wolverhampton is near where I come from, I thought Spners would like it but I don't know enough of the history,but there is a BBC Radio programme link in Sanatan Sikhism Section called the Last Sikh Warrior.
 
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kds1980

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Apr 4, 2005
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Re: The Only Living Master

Already in his early 80s, Baba Mohinder Singh had abandoned life as a hermit in a final effort to find someone to pass on his knowledge to.
"When he saw my physique he looked at me, even though I was clean-shaven and he asked me: 'Do you want to learn how to fight'," recalls Nidar Singh. "I couldn't say no."



On his first day of training, the frail old man handed him a stick and instructed Mr Singh to hit him. When he tried, the master threw him around like a rag doll.


"He was a frail old man chucking me about and I couldn't touch him," he says. "That definitely impressed me."
lol Sounds like Chinese or hollywood film story
 

Inderjeet Kaur

Writer
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Oct 13, 2011
871
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Seattle, Washington, USA
Re: The Only Living Master

Sarabloh Granth
Thank you. I don't think I have ever heard of it.

And as for your next comment, I agree. I try not to be too cynical, but it does sound like a cinema tale. Whatever. It makes for interesting reading and the gentleman is a master of shastar vidya, so I'm not going to argue with him. I'm certain he could toss me around like rag doll!
 

Kanwaljit.Singh

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Jan 29, 2011
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Re: The Only Living Master

Sounds like Chinese or hollywood film story<!-- google_ad_section_end -->
It could be real :p even if you are trained for years and years under same master, he will hide some tricks of fighting from you. And when you try dominate him in a game, he will show you the stars. The only way around is to start learning new tricks by yourself and beat their game. Most of the trained gatka fighters love to play with their masters only, that is the only game where they learn!
 

Scarlet Pimpernel

We seek him here,we sikh
Writer
SPNer
May 31, 2011
995
1,092
In the Self
It is possible for a grandmaster to defeat a novice,my father used to love wrestling when he was a young man ,he told me he went to a UK wrestling club for the first time and he faced a bald headed teacher , he held my father so well that my Dad even as a very strong young man could not escape.

A Guru/teacher who teaches you the fine arts or martial arts should always be respected, infact in martial arts the first thing a student learns is to respect his teacher.
If you think about it a teacher can only gain a student if he impresses him ,if the student can beat the master at first attempt, then no teacher would gain a student and there would be no need for the word master in the english language.

Having said that though it this article is all about the past,and my dad always says the past is a 'Bounced Cheque'(what he means is you can't do much with it,I like to think of it as a cheque you have cashed and spent).He also says that the future is a 'Cheque to be Banked or a Promise of Payment',and that your present is your 'Cash in the Hand.'
 
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lionprinceuk

(previously Lion_Prince_Jatinder)
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Jun 29, 2004
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west london
Thread has been moved to Sanatan Sikhism
May I ask where it was moved from?

It could be real :p even if you are trained for years and years under same master, he will hide some tricks of fighting from you. And when you try dominate him in a game, he will show you the stars. The only way around is to start learning new tricks by yourself and beat their game. Most of the trained gatka fighters love to play with their masters only, that is the only game where they learn!
hmm in shastar vidiya Niddar Singh is revealing some secrets now because of the face of extinction now for the art. However this revealing of secrets is getting grandmasters of other martial arts interested as they don't normally reveal the secrets either. 0:)
 

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