Thang Ta or the ‘The Art of the Sword and Spear’ is a form of martial art that originated in Manipur. It is part of the great heroic tradition of Manipur. Thang Ta makes use of many weapons like the sword, spear, dagger, etc. Body movements are also crucial in Thang Ta as the body through a lot of conditioning uses physical control to employ soft movements and has to be in perfect coordination with the rhythm of breathing.
Thang Ta finds mention in Manipuri mythology and folklore as well. According to Manipuri legend, all movements of the Manipuris originated from Thang Ta.
Thang-Ta is actually a more common term for HUYEN LALLONG or method of safeguarding. The name Huyen Lallong suggests that this art is not just about the training of fighting skills. It is an elaborate system of physical culture involving breathing methods, meditation, and rituals. Some swords and spear forms used in Thang Ta are entirely for the purpose of rituals. These swords and spears forms are used in rituals that are performed only at special occasions or under special circumstances. For example, a spear form is performed at funerals. Perhaps the most famous form is the ritual spear dance done by King Bhagyachandra (who ruled from 1759-1798). He was in exile due to the Burmese invasion in 1762 when he performed this ritual spear dance on a mountaintop. The Manipuris believe it was this ritual that succeeded in driving the Burmese out of Manipur.
The heart of Thang-Ta is the “sword”. There are a variety of sword drills for learning the basic strokes and stepping patterns of Thang Ta. Many of these drills can be performed with a partner, but others may be practiced solo, at least initially. The Thang-Ta spear forms can be very complicated. Warnings are issued by old teachers to students who can injure their limbs by incorrect stepping. Thang-Ta is almost completely unknown today outside Manipur.
Paona Naol Singh, Ningthoukhongja Poila, Loukrakpam Sana Mityeng were warriors who founded their own distinct style within the art of THANG-TA. Paona was killed fighting against the British and is even today an immortal hero in Manipur.
Thang Ta has a form of unarmed combat as well. It is called SARIT-SARAT. In keeping with tradition, this form of unarmed combat is taught only after competence in weapons is gained. SARIT-SARAT uses footwork and handwork from the weapons forms, and a generous helping of the native wrestling style (MUKNA).
Contemporary theatre practitioners are gaining awareness of its basic energy use and creative exercise of the body’s resources, which aid to enhance the performance energy of the artist. It is at an exploratory stage that this new culture is being re-examined. This form of Manipuri martial art bases its movements on daily postures and positions. These movements are compiled into codes adding to the natural repertoire. Given here are examples of how Manipuri martial art borrows from daily postures and positions
Khurumba (The Bow)
Where the forward/downward flexion of the relaxed spine is used.
Tilting and rotating the pelvic joint in a variety of angles while supporting the upper body in regular curvilinear uses are most common. Also common is the half turn of the chest.
Thong Khong (Bridge Support)
The squat, where the upper extremities are brought closer to the ground by lowering them and the whole body is supported by the two legs in deep bent position. This way there is proximal utilization of the use of the upper extremities at the ground level. Men use three positions of squat in a descending order to enable the firmer hold of the body in pro-gravitational positions.
This is like the daily task of cleaning the floor. The kind of squat used by women when cleaning the floor is with bent knees opened out to facilitate the forward flexion of the torso or spine. The hand uses the washcloth with more space that is made available while mopping the floor. The entire system of body use is rich and varied. The wrists can be effectively used in Khujeng Leibi (Wrist circling) to make the figure of eight..