True to my Dog Brother name, Wandering Dog, my martial arts journey has been that of discovering what is amazing about each art and the history that comes with it. One of the aspects of this journey that I most enjoy is the many great teachers I have met along the way, each of them leading me to the next. Most recently, it was Maul Mornie and the SSBD group who recommended I check out Sanatan Shastar Vidiya with Gurudev Nadir Singh.
Based out of the UK, Gurudev Nadir Singh teaches Shastar Vidiya, the traditional Indian battlefield system. In mid-August, he held a 2 day seminar in Toronto, so of course I jumped at the chance to participate. I am grateful, because I now have another teacher to follow and learn from, who I am certain will improve my abilities as a practitioner and a teacher.
When I arrived at seminar, Gurudev was chatting with folks outside and was wearing his blue turban and traditional garb. He noticed me and came to say hello, right away. It was a very comfortable greeting, made warmer by the naming of mutual friends, and the passing forward of salutations. Once I had dropped off my bags and completed the registration and waiver, I made a bee-line over to the table of weapons displayed near the front. Real swords, daggers, sickles and knives, bucklers and shields waited for us there. Kid, meet candy store! Gurudev was there already, inviting us to feel the weight and the handling properties of the swords. I’ve been in the vaults at the ROM, and these weapons are as real as they come. And unlike the weapons at the ROM, we would actually be using these to train with over the course of the next couple days.
Nidar Singh, clearly has a passion for what he does, it is very easy to imagine that he does nothing else. Once he saw that there were already people engaged, he began to teach, long before the designated start time. Perhaps because of my eagerness or perhaps because I made a joke while signing the waiver that if I got cut it would be my own fault, I was asked to participate in the first demo of the day. Following instruction, I parried the first sword thrust only to find that Nidar’s dagger was already behind my defensive lines. We reversed the maneuver, this time with me as the attacker and I again found myself at a disadvantage to that dagger. What made these lessons all the more impactful was the fact that we were working with live blades. The swords and daggers we used were real, they were sharp, and while I can’t say I felt perfectly comfortable, I did immediately recognize the skill involved and felt that I had nothing to fear from this teacher, and a great deal to learn.
The class was then split into a few groups; some working stick and others empty hands. The drilling exemplified concepts, giving us a chance to build a feel for the power generation and movement of the system. It was subtle and often seemed to have little to do with fighting, but as it came together, with a substantial offering of historical context, we started to understand what was being shared with us. The first day, we learned how to cut an angle down to 22.5 degrees, effectively halving standard motions of martial arts as I know them. On the second day, we were introduced to the foot work, in a more extensive form, some 5 or 10 ways to move forward down the 22.5 and the amazing part is that no one hesitated for a moment. For four hours, we looked at those steps, and how the motion was generated, how the power was to be found and how to emulate an ancient dance of warriors.
Gurudev Nidar Singh was a very skilled teacher, directing us to discoveries in efficiency and awareness that were as subtle as they were mind-blowing! He showed us very little of the whole system, yet filled two days with excitement and for myself and my partners, great advancement. Some of the growth was in ability. I am definitely able to do some things that I wasn’t able to before. Other valuable lessons were to be found in the way Nidar was able to bring the history to life while integrating the martial movement. The battlefield context of the lessons and stories made the whole experience feel a bit like time travel. It was as if somehow we had a 14th Century Sikh Warrior, who was kindly training us to take part in the kind of battles that thousands of his brothers would march into, shoulder to shoulder with their peers, while thirty men of the column pressed you forward into the fray. Where your job is to engage the enemy and pass him in a weakened and defenseless state for line behind you to trample and smash. We found ourselves on a battlefield, muddy from the churning pressure of feet and blood, the smells of fear and death and the sounds of clashing metal, elephants, horses and men. These lessons out of history were transporting and delivered by a man with very real martial arts skill. It must have been the case that everyone at the seminar was as engaged with the material as I was, because we trained hard and smiled and shared moments of realization, enlightenment, and camaraderie.
I would conclude to say that in my humble estimation, Gurodev Nidar Singh is a fine man, teacher and leader. I learned many things in a short period of time about teaching, and just living in our modern world. It wasn’t all history and martial arts. Some of it was just the art of being. I miss him today, and look forward to training with him in the future.
When you get the chance to train with Gurodev, take it.