Saturday, October 29, 2011
The Last Master of a Sikh Martial Art
29 October 2011 Last updated at 19:16 ET
The only living master of a dying martial art
By Stephanie Hegarty BBC World Service
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."
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."
Read the full story HERE.