Is the military stance with Indian clubs useful for HEMA practitioners?

Training with Indian clubs has a long history in the middle and far East. By contrast, in the West, Indian clubs are roughly 200 years old, when the Brits adopted the practice and brought it back to Europe. They changed a lot of things about Indian clubs, from the shape and weight, to patterns and exercises, to the way to stand with the clubs.

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In this post, we’re going to look at why the British focused on the military stance, and if it makes sense for you to use it or not, especially if you train for HEMA or any type of sword fighting. To help you decide, we’re also going to look at locomotion and the role of the core.

The military stance

Indian clubs for ladiesLook at the old books on Indian clubs from the 19th century and you will most likely notice the models standing with heels together and feet 45 degrees out. This is called the military stance, the agreed convention of the Victorian age.  
When swinging this way, the whole body must remain squared up, not allowing any rotation at the head, shoulders or hips.
It looks fantastic when doing a choreographed routine with several people swinging clubs at the same time.
But the military stance also decreases the base of support, therefore decreasing stability and the amount of weight one can swing.

The native club swingers of Persia and India stood (and still do) in a wider stance to maintain stability, and transfer power from the ground up. There is no way you can swing heavy clubs with your feet together. The only time you’d want to narrow your base of support is if swinging by the side of the body or figure 8s, but does it make sense to have the heels touching? That’s up to you.

Rotating the hips and shoulders as the club drops behind the back assists the swing and brings the club to the end of its full arc.

If you lift weights, you know there is a difference in how much weight you can lift above your head depending on your stance (narrow or wide) and the degree of leg involvement (strict or push press). The same goes for club swinging.

Sure, you might not be interested in swinging heavy clubs, but the concept of full body integration applies to all sports. I must also say that I spend most of my day to day training time swinging clubs under 3kg. I also swing clubs from 4-8kg a few times a week, and heavy clubs once or twice a week.

How does the military stance affect body involvement?

When swinging Indian clubs in the military stance, the whole body is squared up, and the clubs move around the body. To compensate this fact, the core must work against the natural body rotation that happens when swinging clubs.
Remember that the British style of club swinging is done with light clubs.

In contrast, the Persians and Hindus swing heavy clubs using their full body with every move. Their body weight shifts from leg to leg as their hips rotates naturally along with each swing. In a 4 count Meel swing for example, the feet and hips move in sync with the swing, creating a pelvic rhythm.

When swinging this way, the clubs have the right of way, and the body moves around the clubs.

The reasons behind the military stance

As always, we have to look at context why the Brits decided on a more rigid approach to club swinging.

There are 2 reasons we can speculate upon.

The British military forces used Indian clubs as a way to train the troops, not just for health reasons, but also for discipline and  combat, when fighting on horseback with cavalry saber was still actual.

While swinging Indian clubs by itself won’t make you better at sword fighting, there is some transfer to it. This is why many HEMA practitioners are recently taking interest in Indian clubs.

In the saddle, the legs’ main purpose (while far from static) is to help the rider stay on horseback, not to assist the power of the saber cuts. So it might make sense to train in a rigid way, and develop strong arms, shoulders and grip.

If you train HEMA, you need to be able to move and use your whole body as one unit!
What looks great at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has to be remembered for what it is: an artistic display of club swinging.

The second factor is that during the Victorian and Edwardian era, it was simply rude to shake and swivel your hips in public. Since Indian clubs were taught in large groups in institutions, swung for public demonstrations, and also taught to upper class clientele, you just had to tone it down back in those days. After all, if you were British, you were expected to behave in a certain way…

How does this relate to locomotion and movement?

A braced core (think anti flexion, anti extention, anti rotation exercises) is useful while lifting heavy things to protect your back. Athletic power and locomotion is something different.

Think of punching, kicking and throwing. Your trunk generates power through rotation and side bending to turn movements into a true full body exercise. 

Many people are under the impression that the legs are the main player in locomotion and human gait, while the trunk is passive. In this theory, the legs are supposed to rotate the pelvis for motion to occur. This has been proved as wrong, as the legs cannot do such a thing.
The current theory is called the spinal engine, where the trunk is actually the driver of movement. Side bending produces torque which rotates the hips and allows the  legs to move.

This is of course a simplification, we encourage you to read more about it in this article: LINKING THE SPINAL ENGINE.

When you realize this fact, you’ll understand why the natural stance makes more sense.
And why figure 8 moves are so important to include in your training regardless of your sport! You can’t do this properly in a rigid stance. Your knees will not be happy either… Drop the military stance, allow body rotation and weight shift, swing and move like a cat.

So when should you use the military stance?

We can think of 2 instances when you should swing Indian clubs in this way:

  • you want to specifically work on core anti rotation exercises
  • you need to focus on increasing the range of motion around the shoulder joint, in the case of rehab (after talking to your doctor)
  • you need variety

Remember to use light clubs, and use this in therapeutic doses!

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Sam Kehoe “Indian club exercises”
Wills’s cigarettes Indian clubs exercises


60% of office workers complain of neck and shoulder pain… A short movement break is what the doctor should order!

One of the reasons for these complaints is that we sit in the same position for hours on end, and neglect to move our body into positions out of the ordinary. 

But I go to the gym…

It doesn’t help to go to the gym after work either, most often you end up reinforcing your bad postural habits by targeting the mirror muscles! The same culprits involved in poor posture, and nagging pains.
And would wants to sit on a machine in a crowded place with neon lights and playing bad music anyways?

What you need to do is to straighten up, and move your joints in full range of motion, and though different planes of motion.

Better well being in 2 simple moves

We have 2 short videos of very simple Indian clubs exercises you can do right now!

The figure 8 helps loosen up the spine from the hips to the neck, and the large circles also take the shoulders into their full range of motion.

Another complaint from office people is wrist and elbow pain. The root cause is the same. Too little and too restricted movement!

Body and Mind

Another benefit of using Indian clubs at work, is the mental boost that comes from doing cross crawl patterns. This works just as well as a cup of coffee, hence our short Coffee Breaks videos!

We all benefit from complex movements and repetitive patterns.
The repetitive motions activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which turns off the “fight or flight” response. Club swinging is soothing for the brain, as it helps decrease stress levels while increasing mental clarity and facilitating learning in general. We call it often meditation in motion or tai chi with weights.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go home feeling energetic and limber rather than tight and drained?

Indian clubs at the workplace

The people at VODA energy know this and took steps to ensure the well being of their employees, by placing Pahlavandle™ around their office!

With our video downloads, you can learn the basics relatively fast! Or we can come to your workplace. Contact us here!

Questions about Indian clubs or this article?

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In this post about Indian clubs, we are going to cover a bit of history, and touch on swinging styles and club design.
The term Indian clubs is actually a misnomer. Brits were stationed in India during the days of the East India company (1600-1874). During that time, they observed the locals swing wooden clubs as a form of exercise, and referred to those clubs as “Indian clubs”. Had they been stationed somewhere else, the clubs would be called something else!

Indian clubs design around the world

In India, depending on what region you are located, clubs have their own names and shapes, from Gada, Mugdal, Jori, Karelakattai etc…
In Iran, the typically conical shaped clubs are called Meel.  In Japan, the Chi Ishi is  used to strengthen forearms and striking power for Martial arts. Native American Indian  have war clubs, and so do most islander nations. In the West of course, the mace was used through history to smash through heavy armors. As you can guess, designs of these clubs vary greatly.
The origin of club swinging as strength training is heavily contested. The official story is that the clubs crossed over from Persia into India. Read our short history of clubs here.

The club as a symbol of power

Most Hindu deities, like Hanuman the god of strength, are depicted with a Gada in paintings and temple carvings. The Gada goes 4000 years back, but to our Western knowledge, no written documentation about training with clubs goes so far back.
In the west, scepters and the Polish bulavas were also used by authority figures.

The club as a training form

The traditional indigenous clubs were built to develop full body strength, and the ability to use strength in a multiple planes of motion, along with awareness, agility, coordination and mindfulness. Stuff that was useful to warriors.
The Brits mostly became interested in club swinging as a way of maintaining good health, and destroying Indian culture heritage in typical colonial fashion (Reference: Conor Heffernan). They wanted to implemented club swinging on a truly large scale, and this is where the design had to change. T keep things simple, in the West we ended up with 2 main designs: tear drop clubs and bottle shaped clubs.

The original fitness centers

In the Zurkaneh (Persian “House of Strength”) and the Akhara (Hindu wrestling gymnasium), a whole collection of clubs is at the disposition of the members, much like the dumbbell racks of a commercial fitness center today. Limited equipment works fine in that sort of set up.

The British influence

To be able to train large numbers of people at the same time, the Brits changed the Indian clubs design to the smaller version we know today, the British style Indian club.
For reference, in the 1850’s, the military issued
“regulation clubs” weighed 2kg a piece. The Indian club was now easy to mass produce, cheap, highly transportable and every person in a group of 100 or more people, could have his own set. In effect, the Brits appropriated the Indian clubs as their own.

New possibilities

This light Indian clubs design allowed the practitioner to do figures and patterns that were simply impossible to perform with the traditional and heavier clubs. Most of the heavy club swinging is often times very limited in exercise choice. Design plays a large role into what you can or cannot do with the club.
The only time one can talk of wrong design is if the weight distribution is off, resulting in a poor swing, or maybe if the knob is too bulky, getting in the way of the wrist for the type of swing your are doing.

Is there a correct style of club swinging?

Which brings us to the difference in club swinging styles that are commonly seen today, and the arguing that often ensues between traditionalists and adopters of modern techniques.

It’s all about context!

There is no real right or wrong way to swing Indian clubs. There is not a single right way to stand, there is not a single right way to hold the club, there is not a single proper name for each exercise.

The truth is, if you understand the key concepts of Indian clubs, you can freestyle much from there.
Traditions have rigid ideas about how to swing Indian clubs, from technique to stance to which exercise to perform and so on. British style club swinging in the military stance is a perfect example. The reason behind the military stance are societal and related to fighting on horseback. Maybe we’ll cover that in a future article.
Remember that somewhere along history, someone is bound to have made a mistake or two transmitting information to the next generation. 
That is why you should use your common sense, intuition, awareness and creativity, instead of blindly following a text book.

Indian clubs is an art, not a science  

Even science updates its former beliefs and discoveries over time.
We can learn from the context of traditional club swinging, yet it does not mean we have to follow it 100%.
For example, in the Zurkaneh, the athletes swing meel in a confined environment, and to a highly regulated schedule. If you check out videos, most often you will see back circles as the movement most usually trained.
The Indian wrestlers swing joris, which are very long clubs, and can mostly be swung behind the back.


In contrast, the Tamil version of club swinging, Karla Kattai, seems to have a more flexible approach. They swing with 1 club, sometimes with both hand on the club, sometimes single handed, and of course they swing with 2 clubs as well. Our Pahlavandle™ XL is designed after one of the clubs they use in that system.
Not only that, but the variety of the swings is broader than other heavy club swinging, swinging in different planes of motion, and including quite a bit of footwork and combinations.
This is pretty much what we love doing at Heroic Sport and you will find in our tutorials!
So get inspired by other schools, get swinging, it’s all good!

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Image source: International Karlakattai Sports Federation


Heavy Indian clubs have been used to build the powerful physiques of Kushti wrestlers. Until now, buying truly heavy Indian clubs has been a bit of a logistics challenge…

Wooden and metal clubs above 10kg are a problem to ship due to size and weight restrictions. Not only that, but the buyer ends up paying a large shipping bill, or the manufacturer restricts shipping only to the country of manufacture.

Adjustable heavy Indian club

This is where our Pahlavandle™ XL is the answer to many of those problems. We love thinking outside the box. Back in early 2018 I shared thoughts with Ron about a heavy club. Ron then thought of solutions for a while until he came up with a prototype. After that, it’s about testing and improving the designs until we are satisfied. That’s the beauty of Heroic Sport, we have the skills in the house! 

The construction

The XL consists of 2 wooden parts (the handle and end cap) and a tube. Empty, it weighs 2kg.
The whole thing is held in place with a threaded rod. Not only can you adjust the weight with different fillers up to 20kg, you can also customize the length by cutting the tube shorter or buying a longer one at your local hardware shop!

The best thing about the XL is the slender body and the feel of wood. Steel is practical, but the cold touch and weight distribution is not something we are fan of. Wood feels nicer, but a wooden club of 20kg is quite bulky. The Pahlavandle™ falls in between.

Still bigger and heavier…

And if this is still too light for you, we have made a couple of prototypes of an XXL model. After a bit of time, reworking the design of the shoulder and handle, we hit something we are truly happy about!

What kind of club is that Pahlavandle™XL anyway?

The design of the handle and shape of the club comes from the Tamil tradition of club swinging, Karlakattai.
The fact that you can swing the Pahlavandle™XL single handed or with both hands makes it very versatile, and opens up more movements that a traditional Persian meel. 

The handle has a reverse taper, and no end knob. This engages the grip like no other club on the market. If you’re worrying about the club flying out of your grip, no need. This would be more likely to happen with a very light club spinning fast, or if the handle was slippery. After all most traditional gadas, do not have an end knob. The knob is more relevant to British style clubs, rhythmic gymnastics and visual performances with light clubs, where the knob is essential to some of the figures. Apart from battlefield weapons, we are yet to find a hammer or other tools with a pommel as a way to provide better grip.

We do not use epoxy or any glossy finish on our wooden clubs, but a special type of wax and oils that provides good, non slippery and natural feel.

Do you want one?

Free shipping to your door, check it out in our shop!

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