See the ease, self-assurance and power with which PA Angappa weilds his bamboo staff, and it’s hard to believe that he’s as old as he claims he is. Or that the 85-year-old man has been teaching the sport of silambattam for the last 60 years.
But then, Angappa was practically born into the sport, picking it up at the very young age of seven. “My father was also a teacher of silambattam, so he is the one who taught me this sport,” he explains. 90 years ago, his father started the 'Angappa Silambam' sports club in Tiruchengode. When Angappa took over the control of the club, he expanded it further to Coimbatore as well.
Angappa began his career as a teacher when he was 25 years old, when he became a Physical Education teacher at the Tiruchengode Boy’s Senior Secondary School. He went on to teach in the school for 35 years. Today, he trains around 30 students in the two centres he runs in Tiruchengode and Coimbatore.
Beside these, every year, he also conducts two silambattam camps, sponsored by Krishna Sweets. These four-day camps feature about 100 students each, he says.
So passionate is Angappa about spreading knowledge about silambattam, that he has broken gender rules that people in his father’s generation and even in his own, often held sacred. Before 2002, girls were not allowed to learn Silambattam and it was considered a sport only for boys, he says.
“I began doing demonstrations in various places in Tiruchengode and Coimbatore. I used to make boys dress up like girls and demonstrate the sport. I used to keep encouraging people to send their daughters to me for classes,” he says.
The response has grown over the years to such an extent, says Angappa, that the girls outnumber the boys in his classes, and often do better than the latter.
Angappa is all for making the sport compulsory for all youngsters. The current enthusiasm for the sport, he says, has come after silambattam was incorporated into school curricula. “It’s all thanks to the schools. This sport is taught in most of the schools nowadays,” he explains.
It’s no surprise, he says, that the sport is now experiencing something of a renaissance. “Now, more and more people are learning this form of martial art and schools are also encouraging their students to learn it,” he says.
As for why silambattam should be compulsory for all students, Angappa gives his own example. “I have given my whole life to sports. That is why my body is so strong at this age and I do not have any diseases," he asserts.