Shastar Vidya is an ancient form of martial arts developed by the Sikh – and it is dying. The last master of this art form is 44-year old former factory worker Nidar Singh from Wolverhampton. To save this knowledge he is now on a full-time search for a worthy successor.
Shastar Vidya, the “science of weapons” consists of five steps of movement: Advancing on the opponent, hitting his flank, deflecting incoming blows, taking a commanding position and striking. It was developed in the 17th century, when the Muslim and Hindu neighbours attacked followers of Sikhism.
Nidar Singh has been teaching Shastar Vidya for many years, but to become a master it takes years to learn and a great commitment in time and energy that none of his students could bring up yet. In his search he has even travelled all over India and, to search for someone willing and able to be trained as a new master.
Sing himself lived like any British teenager until he was 17 and on one of his holidays to Punjab met Baba Mohinder Singh, who was to become his master. He knew nothing about martial arts or his Sikh heritage before meeting the old man, who was in his early 80s then and – just like he himself now – looking for someone to pass his knowledge on to.
When offered to learn how to fight Nidar Singh couldn’t refuse. In his first training lesson, the old man asked Nidar to hit him with a stick. Upon his attempt he showed him there was nothing frail about him, as his appearance would have suggested, and threw him around like a doll, with no chance for Nidar to hit back.
The next 11 years Nidar Singh spent in India, milking his aunt’s buffalos and training with his master. When his training was completed, he returned to Britain and took on a job in a factory, teaching Shastar Vidya in his spare time and researching on Sikh military history. The number of his keen students grew, and soon he could afford to teach full-time, travelling the UK, Canada and Germany for his classes.
Shastar Vidya is often confused with Gatka, which is a stick-fighting art developed during the British occupation of Punjab. Shastar Vidya has disappeared more and more in the last 200 years, and today many Sikh disagree with its ideology, that maintains some influences from Hinduism.
Nidar Singh as the last living master of Shastar Vidya is a window to the past and hoping for the chance to pass on his knowledge to the future.