The world’s largest archipelago stretches like a huge scimitar from Malaysia to New G uinea comprised of more than 13,000 islands and is home to a deadly fighting art known as “Silat”, or “Pentjak Silat.”
In Malaysia, there are approximately 500 styles. In Indonesia there are perhaps 200 styles with many styles preferring not to be recognized by their respective governments. Accordingly, there may be an incalculable number of styles being practiced today. Archaeological evidence reveals that by the sixth century A.D. formalized combative systems were being practiced in the area of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula.
Two kingdoms, the Srivijaya in Sumatra from the 7th to the 14th century and the Majapahit in Java from the 13th to 16th centuries made good use of these fighting skills and were able to extend their rule across much of what is now Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century and controlled the spice trade up until the early 20th century, with brief periods of the English and Portuguese attempting unsuccessfully to gain a lasting foothold in Indonesia. During this period of Dutch rule. “Silat,” or “Pentjak Silat” (as it is known in Indonesia today) was practiced undergound until the country gained its independence in 1949.
With the crisscrossing of wars, trade and immigration of various cultures across this region since the 6th century, the effect on present day Pentjak Silat is evident. These influences can be seen such as Nepalese music, Hindu weapons such as the trisula [forked truncheon], Indian grappling styles, Siamese costumes, Arabian weapons Chinese weapons and fighting methods. Pentjak Silat still plays an important role in the lives of thousands of people across the Malay world with the rural village dwellers practicing and making it part of their daily routines.
The word “Pentjak” means; the body movements used in the training method and the word “Silat” means; the application of those movements or the actual “fight.” Each style of Pentjak Silat has its own formal curriculum, history and traditions, some shrouded in secrecy and some open to the public. “Silat Pulut” is a method that is openly displayed to the public, seen at public ceremonies such as weddings. “Pulut” means glutinous rice, the sticky kind often eaten at Malay parties and wedding receptions. Thus, this “Rice Cake Silat” is characterized by flashy, aesthetically beautiful moves that have very little to do with real self-defense.
Silat Buah is rarely shown in public. Buah means “fruit,” implying that part of Silat which is useful. It is the applications or techniques for self-defense. Many systems inter-relate, function and integrate as a whole. Every move, physical or mental is consistent with a certain belief system and fighting rationale, making it a devastating self-defense system.
There is no overall standard for Pentjak Silat. Each style has its own particular movement patterns, specially designed techniques and tactical rationale. However, although all styles use hand and foot motions, the percentage of use of either one depends on the style and the tactics being used. A quite remarkable tactic is the one used by the Harimau style from Sumatra. In this method, the practitioner’s movement pattern resembles the antics of a tiger (the name of Harimau), with heavy emphasis on staying close to the ground using crouching, lying, sitting and semi-squat positions. The leg strength and flexibility required is impressive and the Harimau stylist can use his hands like extra feet or his feet like extra hands. He can start the fight from the ground position or will invite his opponent into a trap then take him to the ground. Other types of Sumatran Silat are Menangkabau, Podang, Sterlak, Lintau and Kumango. On the other hand, many Javanese styles use a percentage weighting that is more balanced between hand and legwork. Many Javanese styles require the practitioner to move in close against the enemy in an upright position, then use various hand and foot moves to express the techniques. Styles such as Tjimande Serak, Tjikalong and Tjigrik, all demonstrate this fact.
The names of style can be traced to many diverse origins. Styles are named after a geographical area, city or district, after an animal, after a spiritual or combative principle, after a person, or after a physical action. For example, there is a style called “Undukaym Silat” which takes its name after the footwork actions that mimic those of a hen scratching the ground. Seitia Hati meaning “faithful heart” is named to represent a spiritual principle. Mustika Kwitang is named after the Kwitang district in the city of Jakarta. Serak is named after the person who founded the style. Menangkebau Silat is named after an ethnic group, the Menankabau people. Sterlak Silat is name after a quality and means “to attack with strength.” The variety and diverseness of names is not limited to any one style.
Finding good teachers that can pass on the knowledge is not easy. Traditional Pentjak Silat is highly clandestine and secretive. Teachers never compete for students and usually keep to themselves with their small groups. To find a Silat master is usually always by introduction through a family member or friend. The acceptance process is often very selective and the probation period is strict. Each teacher has his own particular criteria he uses to evaluate a prospective student that is often based on the studentís character; specifically his temperament and judgment, his demeanor (his outward behavior, his manner towards others) and his morality and ethics. The student’s willingness to learn is also of great importance because the training will be severe. In many styles, the student, once accepted is required to take an oath to the style.
The probation period serves as a screening time so that the teacher may directly observe the behavior of the student and draw a conclusion of his sincerity. The instruction is almost always one on one, supervised directly by the master, so that the ability and morality of the student can be distinguished clearly. The teacher will reject anyone whose attitude or personality is deemed as unworthy. Discipline is harsh and violations often result in dismissal of the student. Learning the “old way” is not an easy thing to do and consequently the number of people practicing is very small. It is not meant to be open for everyone. Such a relationship and training regime is regarded as sanctified and is taken with the utmost seriousness by all involved. ~ By Cass Magda