Great article on a website called News Minute about a woman named Meenakshi Gurrukkal, who lives in the Kerala, an Indian state at the southern tip of the subcontinent. This 74-year-old woman is a martial artist, a practitioner of the art called Kalaripayattu–“the school of the battlefield”.
I love information-rich interviews like this one, because they are such lush sources for fiction ideas, particularly for characters and plots.
“Oral folklore in north Kerala, known as Vadakkan Pattu or Northern Ballads, is rich with tales of Kalaripayattu champions. Among them are the Thiyya/Ezhava warriors of Puthooram tharavad in North Malabar- heroes and heroines such as Aromal Chekavar, an expert in ‘ankam’ (duelling) and Unniarcha, a woman skilled in ‘urumi’ combat who single-handedly took on vagabonds to ensure safe passage for women in that area. Ironically, Raghavan Master, from the same Thiyya/Ezhava community, had to fight discrimination in the late 1940s and set up a separate kalari to train and teach.”
I think these articles also shed light, although somewhat obliquely, on the way that conquest can lead to erasure of women from the martial history of the planet. When colonial rulers seize a territory, they tend to discourage any martial traditions of the conquered people, especially if those traditions tend to run counter to their own beliefs and prejudices about male and female bodies and personalities.
“Later, colonial rulers were quick to ensure that locals did not pose a threat to them, and strongly discouraged Kalaripayattu. Their prudish sensibilities also prevented women from learning such skills. Prof Menon noted that after the 17 th century, interest in Kalaripayattu declined.
Restrictions on carrying arms ensured that most Kalaripayattu weapons were kept in cold storage.
Kalaripayattu was revived in the 1920s, but practitioners had to ask authorities for special licences to use weapons…”