Huyen langlon exponent holding spear and shield with serpent motif (pakhangba)
|Also known as||Huyen Langlong
|Country of origin||India|
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|Indian martial arts|
Huyen langlon is an Indian martial art from Manipur. In the Meitei language, huyen means war while langlon or langlong can mean net, knowledge or art. Huyen langlon consists of two main components: thang-ta (armed combat) and sarit sarak (unarmed fighting). The primary weapons of huyen langlon are the thang (sword) and ta (spear). The spear can be used in its non-missile form while in close or thrown from afar. Other weapons include the shield and the ax. Unarmed combat incorporates hand strikes, kicks, and grappling (mukna). Because of Manipur's cultural similarity and geographical proximity with Myanmar, huyen langlon is closely related to Burmese bando and banshay.
The thang-ta aspect of huyen langlon can be practiced in three ways: ritual, demonstration, and combat. The first way is related to tantric practices and is entirely ritualistic in nature. The second way consists of a spectacular performance involving sword and spear dances. These routines can be converted into actual fighting practices. The third way is the true combat application.
Thang-ta shares a connection with certain war-dances, often blurring the line between dance and combat forms, such as thangkairol (sword dance) and khosarol (spear dance). Many ritualistic dances in Manipur were traditionally performed by martial artists such as the spear dance for funerals or the sacred thengou dance. The sword movements in dance are meant to either symbolize protection or ward off evil spirits.
All that can be gleaned of huyen langlon's ancient history comes from hymns and legends. Folklore links the creation of huyen langlon and its related dances with the native animist gods. Manipur was a valley protected from neighbouring Hindu, Burmese and Chinese kingdoms by hills. The tribal people of the hills were divided into seven related clans, known as yek, salai, or pana. These were the Moirang, Luwang, Mangang, Khuman, Angom, Khaba-Nganba and Sarang Leishangthem. Before their integration into a single unified Meitei community, these clans each ruled separate principalities over which they fought amongst each other.
The earliest written record of huyen langlon come from the Puya or Puwari, which record the history of the Manipur royalty in archaic Meitei script. The Chainarol-Puya details the ethics of dueling. The fights took place under strict rules of conduct and to violate them was shameful and sinful. When a fighter is challenged, the day for the bout is fixed to allow for time to prepare the weapons. Allowing the opponent the first chance to fire an arrow or hurl a spear was considered particularly courageous. The duel itself was not necessarily to the death and usually ended once first blood has been drawn. However, the victor was expected to behead the loser. Either before the duel or before the beheading, the fighters would share the meals and wine prepared by their wives. If it had been so requested beforehand, the loser's body may be cremated. Heads were taken as trophies, as was custom among the headhunters of northeast India. Taboos existed such as not killing an opponent who runs, begs or cries out of fear, or anyone who pleads for protection.
Until this point, most of the fighters were commoners who also served as warriors. Loiyamba Shinyen (1074-1122 AD) introduced an armed force or lallup, while King Punshiba (1404-1432 AD) created a permanent military department known as Shingchep Meira Haijouroi, paving the way for the conqueror kings of the 15th century. The warrior queen Linthoingambi successfully defeated raiding Tangkhul tribesmen while the king was absent. Her husband Meidingu Ningthou Khomba took advantage of his highly trained warriors and expanded the kingdom's territory. Their son Meidingu Senbi Kiyamba, an expert with the spear, eventually went on to conquer the Shan kingdom of Kyang.
Meidingu Pamheiba (1709-1748 AD) is regarded as one of Manipur's greatest kings. He upgraded the lallup system, making it the duty of every male above 16 to serve the state for 10 in 40 days. Therefore each person served the state some 90 days in a year, with martial arts as part of their training. Thus Manipur had no true standing army and relied on its individual warriors for protection. Pamheiba's development of the military paid off. His warriors fought Tripura and the Burmese kingdom of Awa, expanding Meitei rule as far as Chachar. Conflict with the Burmese continued through the 18th and 19th centuries, culminating in the Chahi-Taret Khuntakpa or Seven Years Devastation. As muskets were not widely available, swords and spears remained the primary weapons of both the Burmese and Meitei armies.
From 1891 to 1947 British colonists prohibited martial arts, the possession of weapons, duels to the death, and other violent customs among India's indigenous populations. The ban was somewhat difficult to enforce due to the region's isolation. The neighouring Naga people in particular have practiced headhunting in living memory. Nevertheless, modernization and adoption of Christianity killed off much of the native culture, particularly after the second World War. The meditative practices of huyen langlon were nearly lost before India achieved independence. Today it is the most popular of Meitei martial arts, practiced by men and women. It is most often seen through demonstrations in cultural programs.
In recent years huyen langlon has been promoted as a sport all over India and as a self-defence tactical subject. Competitions are held yearly at school, district, state and national level. The promotion of huyen langlon as a sport helped in the cause of its promotion and spread from Manipur to the whole of India, particularly Jammu and Kashmir. Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir are the strongest contenders at the national level. In 2009 Gurumayum Gourakishor Sharma, a leading exponent and teacher of huyen langlon, received the high Padma Shri award from the Indian Government for his contributions to the preservation and advancement of the art.
The biggest training school is the Huyen Langlon Thang-Ta Academy which holds demonstrations at cultural shows.
As in all Indian martial arts, training begins with stepping patterns and then basic sword strikes. The main sword stance is the lion posture, in which the body leans forward with one leg stretched back and the other bent forward. The feet are about shoulder-width apart and form a 45 degree angle. This stance emphasises phidup or a coil, enabling a springing action. At higher levels, exponents slice pieces of watermelons on a person's body without causing any injury. This is eventually done blindfolded.
Spear technique is considered more difficult and is taught after the sword. The spear emphasizes phanba, an opening out of the body with two forms: nongphan to simulate the expanse of the sky and leiphal emulating the expanse of the ground. Generally speaking, the spear demands more of the lower body while the sword uses more of the upper body. Bare-handed techniques (sarit sarak or sharit sharak) are only taught when a student has gained competence in armed fighting. The physical side of thang-ta is eventually supplemented with breathing exercises (ningsha kanglon), traditional medicine (layeng kanglon), meditation (hirikonba), and the sacred dances (thengouron).
Sparring matches are conducted in a 30-foot circular arena. There are two methods of sparring: phunaba ama and phunaba anishuba. In phunaba ama, competitors wield a two-foot leather-encased cheibi (cudgel) paired with a leather chungoi (shield) measuring one metre in diameter. One match consists of two three-minute rounds with one minute of rest in between. One central referee, six scorers, one time keeper and either one or two chief judges are assigned for one match. The other form of sparring, phunaba anishuba, is identical with the exception that kicks are allowed and there are no shields. These forms of sparring in which cudgels or cheibi simulate swords are referred to as cheibi gatka.
- Thang Ta - the martial art dance, India-north-east.com
-  Manipur Page
- "Manipur martial art guru gets Padmashri", Assam Tribune, 2009-01-28, retrieved 2009-07-24,
... Gurumayum Gourakishore Sharma, who is well-known for his invaluable contribution in the field of thang-ta, the traditional martial art, has been conferred the prestigious Padmashri award ...
- "Guru G. Gourakishor, the master of Manipuri martial art form", AndhraNews.net, 2009-04-24,
... Guru G. Gourakishor Sharma was recently conferred the coveted Padamshree award for 2008-2009 to honour his lifetime contribution to Manipuri Martial Art, Thang-Ta ...