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

Gatka (Punjabi: ਗਤਕਾ, Hindi: गतका, gatkā) is the name of an Indian martial art associated with the Sikhs of the Punjab who practice an early variant of the martial art.[1] It is a style of stick-fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate swords.[2] The Punjabi name gatka properly refers to the wooden stick used. The word originates as a diminutive of Sanskrit gada "mace".[3]

It originated in Punjab in the 15th century but much of the Gatka forms practiced today in the west are Europeanised versions of what was the original martial art of Sikhs known as Shastar Vidya. 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.[4]


Singhs at World Gatka Cup

Gatka's theory and techniques were taught by the Sikh gurus. It has been handed down in an unbroken lineage of Ustads (masters), and taught in many akharas (arenas) around the world. Gatka was employed in the Sikh wars and has been thoroughly battle tested. It originates from the need to defend dharam (righteousness), but is also based on the unification of the spirit and body (miri piri). It is, therefore, generally considered to be both a spiritual and physical practise.[5]

After the Anglo-Sikh wars the art was banned by the new British administrators of India in the mid-19th century.[6] 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.[7] 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. The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs of the Government of India has included Gatka, with other three indigenous games namely Kalaripayattu, Thang-Ta and Mallakhamba, as a part of Khelo India Youth Games 2021 to be held in Haryana. This is a national sports event in India.[citation needed]


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. 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.[8]

Influence on Defendu

The Defendu system devised by Captain William E. 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.[9]

See also


  1. ^ یاوری, موسیٰ (26 February 2019). "'گتکا ہماری ثقافت ہے اور ہم نے اسے قائم رکھنا ہے'". BBC News اردو (in Urdu).
  2. ^ Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1969). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International Limited.
  3. ^ Ananda Lal, The Oxford companion to Indian theatre, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 9780195644463, p. 129.
  4. ^ Sikh martial art `Gatka' takes the West by storm. (Press Trust of India). The Hindu
  5. ^ Singh, Pashaura; Louis E. Fenech (March 2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. OUP Oxford. p. 459. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  6. ^ "Ancient but Deadly: 8 Indian Martial Art Forms and Where You Can Learn Them". The Better India. 10 January 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  7. ^ [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.
  8. ^ "Gatka is our culture and we have to maintain it". BBC. 26 February 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  9. ^ O. Janson. Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting knife: The famous fightingknife used by British commandos and SOE during WW2. Gothia Arms Historical Society

External links

  • 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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