Nidar Singh Nihang, 41, has been teaching ‘Shastar vidya’ in Hounslow, west London, to a growing number of students.
During colonial rule, British rulers banned the form but allowed and encouraged ‘gatka’, a ceremonial and toned-down version of ‘Shastar vidya’ which is widely displayed during Sikh festivals today.
Singh Nihang hopes that he can make ‘Shastar vidya’ as widely practised as the ‘gatka’.
“Most people who practise Indian martial arts nowadays are simply learning the toned down exhibition styles that were allowed by the British,” he told The Independent.
“Unless we start teaching the original fighting styles they will be extinct within 50 years. I want to find two or three sensible, intelligent and tolerant young apprentices who can pass on what I’ve learned to future generations.”
Detailed records of ‘Shastar vidya’ are available from the colonial era in the British Library and V&A Museum here.
One of Singh Nihang’s top students is Iqbal Singh, a 39-year-old businessman from Slough who spent many years looking for a master who might be able to reconnect him with his culture’s fighting past.
“When I was younger I used to head down to the British Library where there are loads of manuscripts and books from the Sikh empire,” he said.
“I kept dreaming about travelling back to the Punjab to find a master and I always imagined he’d be some grizzled old man living in a hut somewhere. Instead, the person who seemed to know the most about these fighting styles was a factory worker from Wolverhampton.”