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Gatka demonstration in Bedford, England (2007)
Country of originPunjab region in India and Pakistan
Olympic sportNo

Gatka (Gurmukhi: ਗੱਤਕਾ; Shahmukhi: گَتّکا; Hindi: गतका; Urdu: گَتکا) is a form of martial art associated primarily with the Sikhs of the Punjab and other related ethnic groups, such as Hindkowans.[1][2] It is a style of stick-fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate swords.[3] The Punjabi name, gatka, refers to the wooden stick used and this term might have originated as a diminutive of a Sanskrit word, gada, meaning "mace".[4]

The stick used in Gatka is made of wood and is usually 3–3.5 feet (91–107 cm) long, with a thickness of around 12 inch (13 mm). It comes with a fitted leather hilt, 6–7 inches (15–18 cm) and is often decorated with Punjabi-style multi-coloured threads.[2]

The other weapon used in the sport is a shield, natively known as phari. It is round in shape, measuring 9 by 9 inches (23 cm × 23 cm), and is made of dry leather. It is filled with either cotton or dry grass to protect the hand of player in case of full contact hit by an opponent.[2]

Gatka originated in the Punjab in the 15th century. 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.[5]


World Gatka Cup
Two Sikh men dueling with wooden swords. 19th century watercolour by an Indian artist.

Gatka's theory and techniques were taught by the Sikh gurus. It has been handed down in an unbroken lineage of ustāds (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 practice.[6]

After the Second Anglo-Sikh War the art was banned by the new British administrators of India in the mid-19th century.[7][better source needed] 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.[8] 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 three other indigenous games, namely Kalaripayattu, Thang-Ta and Mallakhamba, as part of the planned Khelo India Youth Games 2021, expected to be held in Haryana.[9] This is a national sports event in India.[10]

The Martial Art is planned by the IOA to be played in the 37th National Games of India in 2023 held in Goa.


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 Gujjar communities.[11][2]

Influence on Defendu[edit]

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 at Achnacarry in Scotland.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ یاوری, موسیٰ (26 February 2019). "'گتکا ہماری ثقافت ہے اور ہم نے اسے قائم رکھنا ہے'". BBC News اردو (in Urdu).
  2. ^ a b c d Sadaqat, Muhammad (17 March 2019). "Gatka a centuries old art of self-defence". DAWN. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  3. ^ Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1969). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International Limited.
  4. ^ Ananda Lal, The Oxford companion to Indian theatre, Oxford University Press (2004), ISBN 9780195644463, p. 129.
  5. ^ Sikh martial art `Gatka' takes the West by storm. (Press Trust of India). The Hindu
  6. ^ Singh, Pashaura; Louis E. Fenech (March 2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. OUP Oxford. p. 459. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  7. ^ "Ancient but Deadly: 8 Indian Martial Art Forms and Where You Can Learn Them". The Better India. 10 January 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  8. ^ [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.
  9. ^ "Sports Ministry approves inclusion of four indigenous games in Khelo India Youth Games". The Hindu. PTI. 20 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ Hussain, Sabi (13 September 2018). "Khelo India: Khelo India to become Khelo India Youth Games with IOA on board". The Times of India.
  11. ^ "Gatka is our culture and we have to maintain it". BBC. 26 February 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  12. ^ Peter-Michel, Wolfgang (2011). The Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife: Collecting Britain's most iconic dagger. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military History. ISBN 978-0764337635.

External links[edit]