Gatka is a style of stick fighting between two or more practitioners, with wooden sticks (called Soti) intended to simulate swords. It was one of basic technique of self-defence for Sikh warriors during the martial period of great Sikh Gurus.
It is primarily used as self-defence and practiced by the Gatkabaaz before opting for usage of sword/kirpan. In Gatka game, the ‘Stick’ and ‘Farri’ are used to substitute the sword and shield respectively for practice and safety purposes. When one exponent attacks, the opponent blocks it and then counter-attacks the player. It entails a sequence of maneuvers involving pattern of footwork coupled with offensive and defensive skills.
The present form further perfected into a sport in the later 19th century which is performed and played in two sub-styles called Virasat (traditional) and Khed (sport) respectively since 1920.
Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, a well-known historian, had described Gatka in his encyclopaedia called ‘Mahan Kosh’ as an art being fought as self-defence with two sticks between two Gatkebaaz. He describes, ‘Gatka – a three-hand span stick, used to teach the first part of club fighting. It has a leather covering. In the right hand holding a Gatka and in left hand a ‘Fari’, two men play with each other. Persian – Khutka. Thus, Bhai Nabha believes that the words ‘Khutka’ and ‘Gatka’ are used for same meaning.
‘Urdu-Punjabi-Hindi Kosh’ published by the Language Department, Punjab illustrates the word ‘Khutka’ as ‘Kutka’, ‘Mota Danda’ (cudgel), etc. Therefore, according to this ‘Urdu-Punjabi-Hindi Kosh’, the word ‘Khutka’ is synonymous with ‘Kutka’. The word ‘Kutka’ has been translated into ‘short cudgel’ by ‘Punjabi English Dictionary’ Published by Singh Brothers, Amritsar. According to ‘Mahan Kosh’, ‘Kutka’ is short thick stick (Chhota Ate Mota Sota).
The ‘Punjabi English Dictionary’ describes that word ‘Gatka’ stands for ‘a leather covered club used in fencing’. According to ‘Standard Illustrated Dictionary of The Hindi Language’ compiled and edited by Prof. R. C. Pathak, the word ‘Gatka’ means ‘a leather-covered club used in fencing, a truncheon, a mace, a club.’ This ‘Standard Illustrated Dictionary’ illustrates the word ‘Gadaa’ as ‘a club, an Indian club, a mace’.
Thus, comparatively the terms ‘Khutka’, ‘Kutka’, ‘Gatka’, ‘Gadka’, and ‘Gadaa’ are close to one another, if not completely the same. These words are translated into, ‘Chhota ate Mota Sota/Danda’, cudgel, truncheon and club.
This can be compared to ‘Kirpan’ and ‘Talvaar’. Both words have been used for sword. At the same time, the word ‘Khanda’ is used for a particular kind of double-edged sword also. In the same way, ‘Saif’ is a sword, but of a different kind. Well, after this discussion given above, we reach conclusion that the word ‘Gatka’ stands for cudgel, club or short thick stick.
The word ‘Gatka’ is of Indian origin. The martial art, in which Gatka is used as a weapon for self-defence, is called Gatkabaazi or Gatkebaazi. Because the main equipment (weapon) used in this martial art is Gatka (Soti), so people often call this martial art Gatka itself, instead of Gatkabaazi or Gatkebaazi. Now, it is very common to use word Gatka for all sports and traditional martial arts.
Gatka was generally at public display during religious processions but The National Gatka Association of India (NGAI) and Gatka Association Punjab, under the aegis of World Gatka Federation (WGF), Asian Gatka Federation (AGF) and International Sikh Martial Art Academy (ISMAA), have taken major initiatives for its revival and promotion by putting this rare martial art into practice as a sport in India and worldwide.