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Thang-Ta is the term used to represent all of the Manipuri martial arts. Thang-Ta literally means "sword and spear" because these are the mains weapons used, however, other weapons are used as well, including shields, daggers, sticks, and axes.

The Manipuri people have a long history of combat. Their methods involved specific elements of etiquette. For example, if an unarmed man was challenged to do battle, he was given time to obtain his weapon(s) before engaging in a fight.

Another example involved combatants who used spears to do battle. These warriors would agree on a set distance between them. When this distance was reached, the two rivals would begin to throw spears at each other. Receiving even a small scratch was enough for a participant to lose this dual and the defeated man would bravely accept death as his fate. Many times before he would die, he would share a meal with the victor. By allowing himself to be executed, the vanquished warrior was actually following what he believed to be God's laws, the violation of which would be viciously avenged.

The arts of Thang-Ta are serious forms of self-defense, even aggression, now choreographed into well-performed movements on stages. All performances of Thang-Ta often differ greatly from one another, yet they are executed with the utmost skill and precision. Anything less would result in the injury, or even death of one, or both of the participants.

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It is believed that Kalaripayattu had its foundation in the time of Parasurama, the Brahmin warrior, also one of the ten avatars (incarnations) of the Hindu God, Vishnu. He developed 108 Kalaris or methods of training the body for battle. The word Kalari literally means, "system of training". Very few of the original writings describing this training method still exist, yet those that are available are in use today.

Many claim that Kalaripayattu is in reality the most ancient beginnings of the Japanese martial art of "Karate", as well as the Chinese martial art of "Kung Fu". This art form was introduced eastward from India to China and thence into Japan by Bodhidharma. Since this form actually means, "open or empty hand" it is possible that it was later used by Buddhist monks, specifically the Shaolin priests in China, as an exercise program which involved physical techniques that were efficient, strengthened the body, and eventually, could be used practically in self-defense when necessary without the use of weapons which is evident in those forms of Kalaripayattu that are performed without weapons. As is the case with other martial arts, the ultimate purpose of Kalaripayattu is not to train for combat, but instead, to change the body into a proper place for a powerful mind.

Many weapons are used in certain forms of Kalaripayattu consisting of daggers, spears and swords. The use of these weapons was, and is reserved for those few students in whom the guru has the most trust. These users become experts in the usage of these weapons as well as in the complete control of their body movements. These movements have lead, in modern times to the development of other physical accomplishments in the performing arts.

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