Pictures by Reza Akram, Written by Yasas Ratnayake
The Ūra Linda, or Boar’s Pit, is a fearsome place. A deep hole dug in the earth, the Ūra Linda is the place where 2 fighters fought to the death in the olden days where Angampora was widespread throughout Sri Lanka. It was a place where unarmed combat was exhibited in all its ferocity, and only the survivor would emerge from the pit to tell the tale.
Hand-to-hand combat is a necessary aspect of any martial art. Just as the civilizations of China and Japan evolved their own style of unarmed combat, Sri Lanka too evolved its own traditional style of unarmed fighting over centuries. Hand to hand combat is known as Angam in the art of Angampora (as opposed to Ilangam, or weapon combat). Combat is executed in a variety of techniques that involve punches, kicks, jabs, grapples, throws, and deadly pressure point attacks.
Angam hand-to-hand combat happens in two primary ways:
1. Striking Maneuvers (Guti Haramba)
2. Grappling Maneuvers (Pora Haramba)
Striking maneuvers include various punches and kicks. Flips, jumps, and somersaults are also essential aspects of Angam fighting and require nimbleness, agility, and flexibility to execute. There are also many techniques that allow fighters to block and evade dangerous strikes and maneuvers.
Grapples are an essential part of Angampora. Fighters train in grappling maneuvers not simply for the need for combat, but also to exercise the body to develop strength, dexterity, the ability to tolerate pain, and to condition the body for long term physical fitness. Some Angam masters in Sri Lanka are in their advanced years, but are still adept at executing grappling maneuvers. We met a 104 year old Angam master whose vision and hearing senses were heavily deteriorated, but still could use a grapple to severely hurt an opponent.
In Angam, fighters execute striking and grappling attacks in different styles. Similarly to Kung Fu’s use of animal influenced combat styles, Angampora’s fighting styles simulate the movements and postures of different animals found in Sri Lanka, the lion, and a mythical bird called the gurula. There are 7 different fighting styles that are utilized in Angam combat. Fighters switch styles according to the need in a particular fight.
- Leopard Style (Koti Haramba)
- Tusker Style (Áth Adi)
- Bear Style (Valas Adi)
- Cobra Style (Nai Adi)
- Eagle Style (Ukus Adi)
- Lion Style (Sinha Adi)
- Gurula Style (Gurula Adi)
A fight in the Boar’s Pit could last for hours. As tradition dictated, only the most proficient fighters were allowed to challenge another fighter for a duel in the Boar’s Pit. Once the necessary customs prior to the fight were observed, the fighters would fight to the death. Peers, pupils, and people in the area would watch the battle with expectation and fear. One fighter will die in the pit.
The combatants would swivel and observe their opponent and attempt to identify the opponent’s combat style before attacking. A duel could end in a second, so it is important that the fighter know what the other could do. But nothing can be certain in an Angam fight. The other fighter may seem overweight and slow, but could be a master of pressure point attacks. A small fighter may seem particularly easy to defeat, but could be adept at executing fast and deadly airborne strikes.
Thus, when a duel begins, the onlookers would not know what to expect. What they do know is that a deadly fight is about to take place. Fighters would use piercing finger strikes, attempting to hit one or several of the 108 pressure points known to Angampora practitioners. One would evade using a backflip and the other would follow in the Eagle Style, pursuing the opponent with a flying kick. But this would be averted with a quick feint and one fighter would grapple the other into a body lock in the Tusker Style. It’s tense inside the Boar’s Pit. How, or where would this fight end?
To be continued next week….