At first glance, Meenakshi Raghavan might be mistaken for a soft-spoken grandmother.
That is, until she picks up a sword.
The 73-year-old Raghavan is considered one of India’s best practitioners of kalaripayattu, a martial art also known as kalari that focuses on using weapons like swords, shields and sticks.
The “sword-fighting granny,” as she is called, has been practicing kalari for 66 years. She regularly beats male competitors half her age, according to Barcroft TV.
“I was never the angry or aggressive kind, but I used to dance. On seeing me dance, the teacher said, ‘Teach her kalari also,’” Raghavan told Barcroft. “Around 10-12 years of age, I left dancing and only did kalaripayattu. I liked kalari more, so I continued doing it.”
It wasn’t easy, though. Raghavan says girls were often restricted from participating in sports involving swords.
“Doing what is good for you is often a challenging task for women. But, since kalari here was a family thing, I had full support from my family and the people in the locality to practice more,” she told YourStory.com. “Luckily, today, there isn’t any discrimination to that extent.”
Raghavan now teaches 150 students, some as young as 5. She makes a special point to talk to her female students.
“I say a single thing to every girl: Learn kalari. I’m self sufficient, I don’t need any security. I go out at night all by myself. With kalari, I don’t need security,” she told Barcroft TV.
And she is proud to see her classes give her young pupils confidence.
“After playing with me, they all say, ‘Because we came to kalari, we feel brave,’” Raghavan said. “’We have confidence to walk on our own, and mentally, we feel powerful.’”