Self Defense Verses Sport and The Old verses the New
There is a movement today where the various governments in Southeast Asia are trying to organize Pentjak Silat on national and regional levels as a sport; with competitions, tournaments and in the educational system with various standards in order to collectively regulate the great diversity of styles. However, according to the traditionalists, the goal of Pentjak Silat is always self-defense and not physical education or sport.
The development and transition of Silat, an art designed for self-defense to one for sporting and physical education applications is a favorite subject among the old veterans and masters of Silat. Many of these masters refuse to participate in the “modernizing” of their art, preferring to stay to themselves teaching in small groups in the traditional manner.
They feel that if Silat is developed as a sport, its combative vitality and values will be compromised and eventually weaken the effectiveness of it as a fighting art.
This view certainly has merit. With these combative aspects watering away, certain protective techniques deemed vital such as guarding the groin, throat, eyes, and joints are eliminated and considered unnecessary to practice, as the rules of the sport do not permit an attack to those targets.
How you practice is how you will fight. Old style Silat develops reflex habits that allow the practitioner to automatically counterattack to the assailant’s vital areas while remaining keenly aware of his own vulnerability.
In sport Silat, this awareness is lost, resulting on a dangerous dependency of a deficient fighting art no longer designed for real self-defense.
The traditionalists also believe that sport Silat will be influenced by tournament success. Schools will develop and train with the objective of winning these tournaments and a “tournament style” of Silat will result, with special techniques designed only for the objective of winning according to the rules. These new creations have nothing to do with real self-defense.
Sportive combat also presents another problem of values. Traditional Silat is mostly defensive in attitude and physical expression. Rarely will the Silat man attack first. The practitioner prefers to wait for the attack before he moves into action. The values of sport are different because the student is training to attack to score points, so he develops the attitude of attack and not the attitude of counterattack from defensive posturing. Training to be a sportsman, develops sportsman-like thinking such as “fair play,” and the “you can’t win ‘em all” idea of being a “good sport about losing.” A Silat man has everything to lose because his personal safety, maybe even his life are on the line. He cannot be a good loser.
The values of the old fashioned Silat is about protecting your life at all costs, doing whatever is necessary to survive because the only reason you are fighting is to protect your life or the lives of your loved ones. This is why the student is taught to think of his training partner as an “assailant” attempting to take his life. If the student were to think of the assailant as an opponent, then it would negate the meaning of the art, the spirit of combat of actual fighting. In Pentjak Silat training, students are taught to also consider the climate, clothing being worn, time of day and night and the terrain, upon which they are fighting. These all combine to determine the tactics used and the emotional atmosphere of the fight.
The emphasis in physical education and sport on aesthetics and not function is also why in the newer sport versions of Silat, there is an increasing amount of “showmanship” and gymnastics. What looks flashy and pleasing to the eye may or may not have anything to do with combative function. These useless moves added for entertainment value eat away into the fabric of combative Pentjak Silat and begin weakening its structure much like termites over time eating away at the frame of the house. The old folks believe that the practice of traditional Pentjak Silat has all the personal skill and artistry needed without having to weaken it by making it into a sport or an exhibition art.