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The Art of Pahelwani

The art of Pahelwani is comprised of stance (‘paintra’), and moves and countermoves (‘daw-pech’).

Paintra is the art of standing in the akhara. It is the point of entry into the act of wrestling and the prelude to every competitive wrestling bout (‘dangal’). It is the fixing of the feet on the ground after having made a move or having countered an attack. A pahelwan’s stance puts him in a position to attack or retreat.

Although stance is of pre-eminent importance, the art of Pahelwani also entails the careful execution of the hundreds of moves and countermoves called daw-pech, a litany of feints and parries.

A skilled pahelwan’s objective is to achieve an economy of effective motion. From his perspective, every single move, glance, shift of weight and moment of motionlessness ought to be classifiable into some aspect of a paintra or daw-pech. He must also be able to read ahead and anticipate his opponent’s moves by examining the geometry of his stance. Because every move can be answered with a whole range of countermoves, no two bouts are ever the same. No move is predictable or established as inevitable given the configuration of previous moves; structured improvisation is the key.

Pahelwans are taught moves and how to put moves together in chains of motion, but it is only through practice that the most expert learn the art of improvisation. An accomplished pahelwan is capable of reading the pure grammar of movement most clearly, and is able to take advantage of his opponent’s misreading or his carelessness. He can interrupt a movement to his advantage and translate it into something for which it was not intended.

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