12 Sept 2004, USA, California - September 2004 was the inaugural date of the first seminars of EastWestStudios system of Pencak Silat in the USA. At the joint invitation of Guru Dan Inosanto and Guru Cliff Stewart, Guru Steven Benitez took his team out to formally introduce Traditional Pencak Silat to the martial arts capital of America. Guru Dan Inosanto is the legendary Torch-bearer of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do system and Guru Cliff Stewart is a legend in the world of personal protection and martial science. These two men have nearly a century of martial arts experience behind them so one can understand what an honour it was for Guru Steven to be invited to share his teachings with them.
On Thursday September 16th 2004 Steven Benitez along with his Chief Assistant Alvin Guinanao & apprentice instructors Mark Wilenkin and Tony Felix arrived in the usual warm southern Californian heat looking forward to an interesting week ahead. On the agenda was a combination of private classes and seminars for both groups.
Steven had previously met Guru Dan when they were co-instructors at a seminar for the UK’s Martial Arts Illustrated magazine. Guru Dan had since gone on to say that Steven Benitez is probably one of the best Silat Teachers in the world and that he is ‘The man to learn Silat from’. Tony Felix had already been a guest instructor at Cliff Stewart’s Lost Art Silat Masters Camp earlier in the year-Tony had assisted Cliff when he was Wesley Snipes’ bodyguard-and the introductory workshop Tony conducted on traditional Silat had led to great curiosity about the Silat practiced at EWS. Steven was then contacted by Cliff and he had already maintained contact with Guru Dan. So it was great to see these two icons cooperating and jointly hosting the EWS seminar team.
The teachings began with private group classes for Cliff Stewart’s LA Pencak Silat group. Guru Cliff Stewart has been studying martial arts for 47 years and studying Silat for nearly 20 years but was looking to further his studies in the more traditional aspects of the art. It is so refreshing that such a well respected and highly regarded teacher-of-teachers was willing to look further into the art that he loves. His previous teachers had not really emphasized the traditional aspects of Silat so he was happy for the opportunity to continue his evolution in a more complete manner. He had been impressed with the rounded approach to Silat at EWS. He noted the syllabus contained the traditional footwork-langkah, handwork-jurus, training methods and usage of weapons. He particularly smiled when he found out EWS had their yoga and conditioning.
Cliff Stewart’s Lost Art Silat group were aware of the ground-fighting aspects of the Art-traditionally Silat players may spend up to 2 years ‘on the ground’ building the foundation. In fact they had been feverishly preparing for Guru Steven’s visit, not wanting to seem out of sorts with the ground systems. The system the group previously trained in did not contain the Silat ground-fighting systems.
Guru Inosanto requested 2 private classes for his personal small group and 2 larger open seminars at his Inosanto Academy at Marina Del Rey. The small group were his long term instructors and more experienced training partners. The open seminar attendees were a broad mixture of students from the various classes held at the Academy. A large number of these were Grapplers generously urged by Guru Dan to attend the seminars.
Guru Steven believes in not deviating from the traditional methods taught to him by Guru Ma Prem so as always all the sessions began with the traditional conditioning. Many people see the positions of Pencak Silat and laugh - that is until they try the postures and feel the strength they build. The conditioning of Silat is unique in the fact that the warm up postures are the self-same postures used for the application but done much slower. Guru Ma teaches that all Silat is ‘One’ and you begin to understand this concept after going through the traditional conditioning. Many people there including grapplers and some yoga practitioners commented on the connectivity of these postures-through the warming up and later on during the application phases.
Let’s say they were pleasantly surprised at the non-sports approach to fighting on that ground that Silat has. It was interesting for them to not be able to ‘rest’ in the guard position and not be looking for ‘pin’ and ‘control’ positions. A few of them kept asking about various scenarios for ground fighting. They also welcomed the concept of multiple-opponent awareness by training in groups of three.
The Academy was treated to another traditional aspect of Silat when Alvin & Tony Felix did a knife-fight within the circle of people training. The catch was that they were only allowed to stay on the ground and not come to their feet. Then later Alvin was told to remain on the floor unarmed while Tony was allowed to get to his feet and continue ‘trying’ to attack him with the knife. Alvin’s performance during this exercise is a testament to how well he studied and been trained by Steven. The gathered southern Californians were suitably impressed. The ending of all the classes held were met by generous applause and warm congratulations for Guru Steven and his team.
A lot of praises are often spoken about Guru Dan Inosanto and you may wonder at how accurate the statements are. But when you meet him, see him train and talk to him you understand why. To spend time with him is truly humbling. He is in his late 60’s and trained along with his students in the open seminars. In fact when the EWS team left he returned to the mats to practice the postures. His knowledge, enthusiasm and love of martial arts is truly something to behold.
Being Hollywood there was naturally some star presence at both sets of seminars. With famed fight choreographer and stuntman Jeff Imada at the Inosanto academy and with Cliff taking the group to meet Judge Joe Brown at the taping of his top-rated TV show. In fact the Judge came to visit the EWS team at Cliff’s house and stayed chatting until the early hours. He is now keenly practicing the ground aspects of EWS Silat.
So the trip ended memorably with smiles all around and with both groups setting up dates for EWS Silat seminars next year. Since the return there have already been congratulatory e-mails for the team. There are now smiles on both sides of the Atlantic and the path has been made for the spread of the little seen traditional Pencak Silat.
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