Thang-Ta or huyen lallong is a weapon-based Indian martial art created by the Meitei of Manipur. In the Manipuri language, thang means sword and ta means spear. As its name implies, the sword and spear are the primary weapons in thang-ta. The spear can be used in its non-missile form while in close or thrown from afar. Other weapons used include the shield and axe.
Because of Manipur's cultural similarity, geographic proximity and ethnic ties with Myanmar, thang-ta is closely related to banshay. Both can be practiced in three different ways: ritual, demonstration and combat. The first way is related to the tantric practices and is entirely ritualistic in nature. The second way consists of a spectacular performance involving sword and spear dances. These dances can be converted into actual fighting practices. The third way is the true combat application.
The earliest record of thang-ta and its sibling Sarit Sarak dates back from the early 1600s. Warriors would arrange to fight one-on-one as a way of settling feuds or disputes. The day before a duel, fighters might eat dinner together. While thang-ta involves using weapons against one or more opponents, Sarit Sarak is the art of fighting empty-handed against armed or unarmed opponents, but on many occasions there is a combined approach to the training of these two systems. They were used with great success by the Manipuri kings to fight against the European colonists. Martial arts were banned during the British occupation of the region, but the 1950s saw a resurgence of the traditional fighting forms. Today thang-ta is the most popular of Meetei martial arts, practiced by both men and women. It is most often seen through demonstrations in cultural programs.
Physical Characteristics in Customary Usage and Ritual Practice
1.Khurumba (the bow) - where the forward/downward flexion of the relaxed spine is used.
2.Tha Leiba -Rotation and tilts of the pelvic joint in different angles while supporting the torso in regular curvilinear uses are most common. The half turn of the chest are also common.
3. Thong khong (bridge support) - The squat is also a familiar use of the lowering of the upper extremities nearer to the ground, where the two legs in deep bent position support the whole body, thereby proximally utilizing 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.
4. Wai teiba - a daily ritual of cleaning the floor by women. Women use a different flexible squat system with the bent knees opened out to enable the forward flexion of the torso or spine. The hand uses the washcloth with more space at her command while rubbing the floor. The entire system of body use are rich and varied, and the wrists could be most appropriately exploited in Khujeng Leibi (Wrist circling) to emulate the figure of eight.
Thang(Art of the sword) emphasizes Phidup (coil), lowering of one’s body near to the ground to enable a spring action for expansion and attack.
TA(Spear) emphasizes PHANBA, an opening out of the body with two forms, NONGPHAN to stimulate the expanse of the sky, and the LEIPHAL emulating the expanse of the earth at the ground level in order to reach out to all directions of space. The spear uses about 75% of the lower extremities in motion, while the wielding of the sword normally takes 75% exercise of the upper extremities.
The martial system is a much more vigorous use of the body in order to reach out to the space of the opponent, and the two arts are derived from the physiographic and cultural environment of the Manipur plains and the hills. The Meitei in the plains, the pre-dominant ethnic group are capable of using both sword and spear in its weapon system. The sword is most favourably used in protecting the body from attack from all sides, whereby the figure of eight is extensively used to cover the all vulnerable parts of the body. The Meitei often use more movement than stillness while preparing to fight the opponent, and the self as target is dynamic, moving and shifting position often. There is also the use of stillness while awaiting the attacking move of the opponent, depending on the nature of the enemy.