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Sikh martial arts showdown attracts thousands to Cloverdale Agriplex

Gatka world championship tournament held July 6-7 on the Fairgrounds
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Competitors battle it out at the second annual Damdama Gatka Championships held at the Cloverdale Agriplex July 6 and 7.

Sikh martial arts were showcased at the Cloverdale Agriplex July 6-7.

More than 120 athletes battled at the second annual Damdama Gatka Championships. The Sikh martial arts competition welcomed athletes from around the world and more than 2,700 spectators over the two-day event.

Event organizers are hoping the internation competition "ignites a spark" of interest in even more people.

“Yesterday, we had a great turnout,” said Vaneet Kaur, communications manager for the Damdama Gatka Championship. “Today we are doing the championships and we’ll crown the winners later today.”

After some preliminary bouts on July 6, the knockout rounds of the tournament progressed through quarters, semis, and then finals on July 7 in four categories: both junior boys and girls (age 15+) and both senior men and women (18+).

GATKA

Gatka is a traditional Sikh combat sport and is thought of as combat education. The sport is old, originating in the late 1400s in Punjab. The martial art form enjoyed a revival in the 1960s and ’70s, with the International Gatka Federation being established in 1982. It has grown considerably in the intervening years.

Closer to home, the Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji Gatka Akhara (SBDSJGA) was established in 2003 in Surrey and has grown significantly over the last two decades. The Damdama Gatka Championships were put on by SBDSJGA.

Gatka fighters battle one-on-one in bouts that have a two-minute, stop-time round.

This Gatka Championships featured fari-soti competition. A fari is a leather shield and a soti is a stick made out of bamboo. Competitors attempt to strike the opponent with the stick and get points for strikes in different areas: above the waist is two points; below the waist is one point; if you hit someone’s back, it’s three points. If the defender blocks the strike, no points are given. When one fighter makes a strike, he must stop and let the other competitor strike. But the interchange back and forth is very quick.

“It’s a game of speed and skill,” said Jasmeet Kaur Multani, an event competitor in the senior women's category. “And you try to throw the other person off.”

Multani has been practising Gatka for just under two years. She competed over the weekend, but got knocked out by a friendly competitor from her own akhara (SBDSJGA).

Multani, a Surrey resident, said she was attracted to the sport for several years but never really took the initiative to start training until she saw it again recently. She witnessed the whole gamut of ages and skill levels performing in Surrey’s Vaisakhi parade a few years ago and she realized that she too could take up the sport.

“It was really inspiring to see that and now to be able to participate in (Gatka),” said Multani.

She only decided to start fighting competitively earlier this year. As such, she only had three months of competition training ahead of the championships. Still, she’s proud of her effort and how she was able to vastly increase her skill level in such a short period.

ELEVATED

This year SBDSJGA upped the production level for their second annual tournament. Kaur noted this year's competitors have loved the setup in the Agriplex and the elevated quality SBDSJGA has brought to the championships.

“Some have been in shock,” explained Kaur. “They’ve been like, ‘Oh my goodness! This is so huge.’ Like the setup here is far different from any competitions you'd see throughout North America. You don’t have the production level that we have.”

Kaur said SBDSJGA is trying to raise the profile of Gatka to attract more people, both competitors and spectators, to the martial art form.

“We want the players to get excited, to take it more seriously and we want them to elevate their own practice of it as well,” noted Kaur. “Everyone is taking the sport more seriously, and we’re hoping this ignites a spark in more players that want to learn the sport.”

She said most competitors travelled from within Canada, with several from the U.S., and a handful from overseas. But she hopes the amount of overseas fighters increases in the coming years. This is only the second annual championship event and it grew significantly from Year 1.

“We’re loving the turnout,” Kaur added. “We're hoping it grows bigger and bigger, that we’ll have more players from more places around the world in the coming years.”

INSPIRATION

Kaur said SBDSJGA was inspired to start the world championships on behalf of the founder of their akhara, or school, Bhai Charanjit Singh.

“He, unfortunately, passed away at a very young age,” said Kaur. “He brought this practice to Surrey and really lit that fire in a lot of the youth.”

She said SBDSJGA is continuing his legacy in trying to grow the sport and celebrate it.

“This is what he wanted to see Gatka become. We just wanted to honour him and his memory and really showcase Gatka and bring his vision to life.”

For more info on SBDSJGA, visit gatka.online.



Malin Jordan

About the Author: Malin Jordan

Malin is the editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.
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