History of Indian clubs swinging

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

There is prehistoric evidence of the use of clubs as weapons from as early as 10,000 years ago in Nataruk in Turkana, Kenya. In modern popular culture, the most simple weapon of a wooden club is often associated with the primitive caveman. A simple fallen branch or a long bone of primate could easily be fashioned into a club, that would be able to create massive blunt force trauma with relative ease. It is therefore easy to see why many cultures and civilisations across the globe adopted such a basic tool and have their own versions of a club as a weapon.

In historic times, the use of clubs as weapons in India was written about extensively in the epic Sanskrit poems, the Ramayana, which is reported to be written in 5th century BCE, and the Mahabharata, written slightly later between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE. The use of the mace (Gada) in Hindu iconography, arose from its martial applications in battle. There are references to the mace being used to train the opposing cousins of the two warring families who are at the centre of the Mahabharata: the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Balram, a master of arms whose weapons were a plough and a mace, taught both the mighty Bhima and his enemy cousin Duryodhana, the art of the mace. This ultimately led to the death of Duryodhana, who was killed by the hands of Bhima who landed a massive mace blow to the thigh of his cousin during combat.

The weapon was so named after the mighty Gada, an Asura (a member of a divine class), who, although was much feared, was also well known for his charitable acts. Vishnu (one of the three main deities of Hinduism) disguised himself as a Brahmin (the most respected of the four social classes) and approached Gada. He requested Gada to lend his own bones to him to make a weapon. Gada, being benevolant, readily, agreed and Vishnu made a mace weapon from his bones. Having created such a weapon from the bones of Gada, the word gada was henceforth used to describe the mace in Sanskrit.

Another notable user of the Gada is Lord Hanuman. Hanumans Gada is a symbol of self-sovereignty, the authority of governance and the power to rule. Hanuman’s gada is said to have saved Surath, the king of Kashi, from the arrows of Rama.

With its roots deeply ingrained in the Sanskrit epics, club swinging became part of Indian and Hindu culture, with wooden training tools such as the Mugdar and Jori, being used to condition wrestlers and warriors in the centuries that followed.

By the early 17th century, East India Company, had established trading connections on the Indian sub continent, and it was at this time that English men were first exposed to the impressive physical prowess of of the Indian men they encountered. Over the following two centuries, as the East India Company project expanded, the apparent benefits of club swinging were further recognised, and in the 19th century, were adopted for use within the British military.

According the C R Treat, in his article published 1869, one British soldier is believed to have remarked.

"The wonderful club exercise is one of the most effectual kinds of athletic training known anywhere in common use throughout India. The clubs are of wood, varying in weight, according to the strength of the person using them, and in length about two feet and a half, and some six or seven inches in diameter at the base, which is level, so as to admit of their standing firmly when placed on the ground. The exercise is in great repute among the native soldiery, police, and others, whose caste renders them liable to emergencies where great strength of muscle is desirable.”

Hindu clubs swingers would typically swing heavy clubs, some weighing in excess of 70lb/30kg. However, the British army didn’t adopt the heavy style of club swinging, as they erroneously believed it would make their soldiers slow and cumbersome, and therefore adopted much lighter clubs, typically weighing as little as 4lb/2.8kg .

Indian men swinging heavy clubs, notice the thick arms, legs, chest and shoulders.

By 1825, Captain P H Clias who was superintendent of the royal military school at sandhurst in England, made reference to the Indian club as training tool in the 4th edition of his publication, An