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Sikh martial arts competition brings youth, community together

Youth in Winnipeg’s Sikh community are competing in a Gatka tournament this weekend, teaching participants the importance of self-discipline and staying rooted in their culture, an organizer says.

“The biggest thing with Gatka is being able to build that discipline and ensure that they understand what hard work prospers to,” said Rajbir Singh from Misl Winnipeg, who helped organize the Saturday event at Maples Community Centre in Winnipeg.

Misl Winnipeg started in 2019 with the goal of engaging Sikh youth in the community, teaching them about their culture’s history, and making sure the next generation can carry knowledge from the Sikh religion, Singh said.

Saturday’s event aimed to do that by holding a Gatka tournament – an ancient martial art form with a focus on self-defense performed by Sikhs since the 17th century. This is the organization’s first time hosting the tournament.

“It is very much a show of strength,” Singh said, adding that “we also want to show the younger generations that you can easily engage in and gain something from this religion.”

Youth ages five to 18 participated in a turban tying competition, a Gurmukhi, which is a script used by Sikhs for writing Punjabi, spelling competition and a Sikh painting competition.

Those older than 18 could compete in the Gatka tournament, with the winner receiving a ceremonial sword, called a kirpan.

Participants compete in one-no-one combat with a stick and a leather shield. The goal is to strike the opponent to gain points and progress to the next round.

A man wearing a turban stands in a field holding a sword.
Rajbir Singh, organizer of Saturday’s tournament, said Gatka is a great way to engage Sikh youth in their culture. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Jagdeep Singh, a student at the University of Winnipeg, started taking part in Gatka when he came back to Canada after a trip back home to India. He had initially moved to Canada in 2006.

He said he was excited to take part on Saturday since he’s been practicing for so long.

“The game helps me become more confident in life,” Singh said. “It keeps us close to our religion,” he added.

Participant Devkarn Singh, a University of Manitoba student, came to Canada with his family in 2017. He said Gatka is a fundamental part of the Sikh religion.

“Gatka is really needed to be a Sikh,” he said.

About 50 to 60 people attended Saturday’s event. Rajbir Singh said it was a way for people to build a sense of community.

For others watching the competition, it shows them that it’s something they could try too.

“When they see this, they kind of get an inkling that, you know, ‘We could do this too. We could learn,'” Singh said.

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