Kalaripayattu or Kalari, the martial art form of Kerala is regarded as the mother of all martial arts and also is the oldest and most scientific in the world. The inherent beauty of this art form lies in the harmonious synergy of art, science and medicine. Kalaripayattu incorporates strikes, kicks, grappling, and weaponary, as well as healing techniques. Malabar is considered to be the home of Kalaripayattu.

Kalari literally means - a parade place for military exercises. It is used to mean both military training center and a place for acquisition of knowledge. 'Kalari' also means an assembly or a business place or a temple where the family deity presides.

The principles of Kalari education stipulate that training in martial art begins with an oil massage of the body, which goes on until the body is agile and supple. The training is mainly divided into four parts consisting of Meithari, Kolthari, Ankathari and Verumkai. Meithari is the beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. The next stage is the introduction to fight with long wooden weapons (Kolthari). The student then proceeds to Ankathari (literally "war training") starting with metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to their lethal nature. Only after achieving mastery with all weapons is the practitioner taught to defend his/her person with bare-handed techniques. These include arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the Pressure Points (Marmam), the vital points of the body. Person who has learnt Marmams can disable or kill their opponents by a mere touch in a Marmam (vulnerable parts of the human body).

'Kalari Marma Chikitsa', a developed system of medicine, practiced in all Kalaris has earned wide popularity and is considered to be a branch of Ayurveda. Kalaripayattu has strongly influenced the evolution of several of Kerala's theatre and dance forms, most prominently Kathakali and Theyyam. Kalari practice gives any dancer, female or male, proper grounding for developing skill and flexibility of the body. One of the peculiarities of the concept of movement in the Kalari system is that it is conceived as a kind of expression of an inner urge or 'bhava'. The term 'Sarirabhava' generally used in Kalari rightly emphasises this point and it has great relevance to Indian concept of acting. The four components of Kalari are angika, aharyya, vachika and satvika; though the practice of 'Sarirabhava' teaches the rudimentary lessons of the combination of angika and satvika.

In former days, for training in Kalaripayattu, the trainees used to wear a particular dress or clothing called the 'Katcha', which is a long strip of cloth. Wearing the Katcha during practice session provides tautness to the hips and the abdomen and enhances the agility of movements and leaps.