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As a young girl, Meenakshi Raghavan stood out in a cool, if not controversial, way: She could keep up with the boys.

Her father noticed she was gifted in the art of kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art that originated in southern India. It was frowned upon for a girl to be involved in such an activity in mid-20th century India, Raghavan understood, but she also didn't want to be left out.

"Doing what is good for you is often a challenging task for women," she told YourStory correspondent Binjal Shah last year. Fortunately, her father was supportive of going against the gender-norms grain at the time, too, and Raghavan was able to continue practicing.


Now in her 70s, Raghavan is still going strong perfecting the art form, and she's empowered countless young women to do the same.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Raghavan's devotion to the art form may not be quite as controversial as it was when she was a little girl. But it's still a rarity.

Since 2009, Raghavan has taught kalaripayattu classes to those interested in learning the practice, which focuses on self-defense. Many of them are girls.

More than six decades after the grandma first started honing her craft, she's teaching about 150 students in classes three times a day throughout the summer and early fall. About one-third of her students are girls and women, ages 6 to 26, according to The News Minute.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

She expects the same from both her male and female students.

"Gender and community are totally irrelevant," said Raghavan, who is possibly the oldest female kalaripayattu practitioner in India.

"What matters is age. The earlier you start, the more proficient you are."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Kalaripayattu martial arts — an increasingly popular activity — has deep roots in Indian culture and is viewed as far more than a fighting technique.

First, students learn the ins and outs of mey payattu, or unarmed combat, which reflects kalaripayattu's emphasis on self-defense. But combat techniques using sticks, daggers, and swords are also infused into training, as well as extra attention to reparative physical healing — the consequences of battle.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

For many of Raghavan's female students, kalaripayattu is far more than a culturally significant activity.

Physical and sexual assault and rape remain at crisis levels in India. 41% of women experience violence or harassment by the age of 19, new research by Action Aid found. Just as troubling, nearly three-fourths of women surveyed in the report say they were harassed or violated within the past month alone.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

The skills that Raghavan's students learn may one day save their lives.

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

Raghavan is committed to empowering as many women as she can for as long as she can.

"Sword Granny," as Raghavan has lovingly been nicknamed, is as expert as they come. Yet her journey of discovery is far from complete.

I have been through all these levels," she said of her kalaripayattu training. "But I still consider myself a student in the process of learning. There is no ending in the process of learning kalari."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

With her community and family behind her, Raghavan promises to take as many children as possible under her wing for as long as she can.

Her work is too important not to.

"I consider myself a strong woman and will move forward, facing whatever challenge comes my way," she said. "My children are all very supportive, and that’s my confidence. Health-wise, by God’s grace, I am good, and praying to God to keep me healthier so that I can train more students."

Photo by Jimmy George/Barcroft Images.

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Upon first glance, one might think that Jillian Lynch wore a traditional (read: expensive) dress to her wedding. After all, it did look glamorous on her. But this 32-year-old bride has a secret superpower: thrifting.

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1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

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The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.