Keeping Silambam spinning

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On Penang Island, a small group of dedicated Tamils fights the odds to ensure that an ancient martial art stays alive.

Expert hands twirl the rattan stick so fast it draws circles in the air, and you know it’s moving closer to you when you start to hear sounds akin to scissors ripping fabric. You instinctively shield your face when you see the stick swirl up, and then shudder as it ricochets downwards. But you feel no pain; the tip of the stick stops just before it touches your ankle. A cheerful smile kindles Asan (master) Anbananthan’s face, who is on the other end of the stick. “Always remember that surprising the opponent is key,” he says as he pulls away from you.


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