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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Test Cutting with the Chakram – Sikh throwing disk

Test Cutting with the Chakram – Sikh throwing disk

photo by Pure Calamity

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In Northern India there is a traditional armed martial art known as Shastar Vidiyā or Gatka (Knowledge of the Sword), one of a group of Indian martial arts.  In common English use, these names most often refer to the Punjab-Sikh schools of fighting.   Like many martial arts, Shastar Vidyā is undergoing a resurgence, with classes in Gatka being made available around the world.

The weapon skills this art teaches are quite extensive.  They include:

  • Talwar: curved one-sided sword, measuring about 3 feet long
  • Tegha: longsword, similar in appearance to the talwar but measuring ten hands long
  • Khanda: straight double-edge sword
  • Dhala: circular water buffalo-hide shield, 9 inches in diameter. It is paired with any one-handed weapon, but the shield itself can also be used offensively
  • Chakram: circular edged weapon that can be thrown or used in-close
  • Katara: push-dagger with a H-shaped handle
  • Bagh nakh: “tiger claw”, a spiked weapon worn on the hand
  • Kirpan: dagger worn by baptised Sikhs at all times
  • Flexible weapons, such as whips, chains, and flails.
  • Lathi: stick of bamboo measuring one to three meters in length
  • Bow and arrow, either traditional steel recurve bows or true composite bows made of wood, horn and sinew. Fletched reed arrows with tanged steel points are typically used.
  • Barcha: spear
  • Nagni barcha: javelin
  • Bothati: training lance used from horseback
  • Gurj: a flanged or spiked mace made out of steel. The head may also be connected to a chain
  • Khukuri: bent sword which broadens towards the point
  • Maru: a stabbing weapon inspired by deer horns

 

ChakramOur focus is on the chakram (sometimes known as the chakar).  These are wide, flattened hoops of metal (brass or steel), often slightly indented for better aerodynamics.  The outer rim of the weapon is sharpened to a fine edge.

 

Found in a variety of sizes, from just a few inches/cm across (chakram of this size were often  worn like a bracelet, and could be used like brass knuckles if not sharpened), to 15 inches / 38cm across or more.

Vertical throwWhen a warrior was in single combat, medium-sized chakram could be held and thrown much as the modern “frizbee” or Japanese shuriken are.  Historic tradition says that when used in mass battle, they were held and thrown vertically, with an overhand motion, so as to avoid hitting one’s own troops.

Larger chakram are reported to have an effective throwing range of up 40 – 60 metres, with a maximum range of approximately 100 metres.  The classic method of throwing large chakram is called tajani. In this method, the ring is twirled on the index finger over the warrior’s head, and released with a flick of the wrist.

Historical records and legends say large chakram were capable of cutting off limbs and even heads.  This was put to the test in an episode History Channel’s program Ancient Discoveries: Twisted Weapons of the East.

The following clip from that program vividly demonstrates the chakram’s cutting ability, where it is tested against a traditional Gatka chakram target, staves of sugar cane.

 

 

Another interesting program on the chakram is the Discovery Channel’s Weapon Masters: The Chakram.

In this episode, host Mike Loades travels to the Punjab to meet Nidar Singh Nihang, a master swordsman who has spent more than 20 years researching the history, philosophy, and unique warrior traditions of the Akali-Nihang Sikhs.  Master Nihang gives a very effective demonstration of how the chakram would be used in battle.  Of course, as with all episodes of Weapon Masters, while Loades conducts the academic and historic view of a weapon, a crew of weapon smiths and makers attempt to create a modern version of weapon, which makes up a large portion of the program.

 

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