15 June 2007

Mystical Rituals & The Melayu Exclusiveness of Silat

Galohajang, a regular blogvisitor and SMC forumer posted a very interesting question recently on the forum.

He said, "To me, elements of mysticism that surrounds silat eg. stories of invinciblity, the claim of dim-mak@death touch like strike, the Saint-like feats of the founders have created/will only create illusions to the present students and public alike".


"...some Silat system still restrict non-Muslims by imposing the 'must-be-Muslims' or right to the 'must be Malays' conditions."

He asked two questions related to the above, "perhaps Silat would be better off without it?" and "Is it possible to promote Silat devoid of these rituals and conditions?"

The first question was answered adequately by the other forum members, but the second question can be answered with both a 'yes' and a 'no' provided certain conditions are met. My answer for the second question sought to clarify the issue rather than give a close ended answer.

The Mystical Rituals
Taekwondo has been lauded as the most successfull international martial art because of its seemingly non-partisan, non-religious, non-ritual outlook in teaching. It is no longer a Korean art. It has gained immeasurable popularity and there are millions of people studying it.

However, the new millenium has seen the West lose its scientific mind, bit by bit, as world events no longer make sense from a logical point of view. The West has become more spiritual and anything 'New Age' is now popular. Yoga, meditation, Hinduism, Budhhism, magic, etc tries to fill in the spiritual gaps.

Thus mystical rituals (meaning rituals of which you don't endevaour to understand the meaning of, but just want to feel) become the flavour of the month. Believe it or not, the Seni Gayong hot oil bath videos make a very big impression on Westerners as they search for something exclusive to learn.

Malaysians, on the other hand, generally shun away from such mysticism because of two things. Non-Melayu view them as Islamic religious rituals that will eventually convert them to Islam. Melayu view them as unIslamic rituals which do not contribute to martial prowess. Isn't that funny?

Malaysia is catching the last wave of the 'power without God' idea that martial artists in the West have held on to since Bruce Lee came onto the scene and said that there's nothing mystical about Kung Fu. It's all science.

The opposite is happening in the West. Some Western martial artists are now purposefully seeking these mystical experiences because they perceive that arts stripped of their cultural background and rituals are inferior.

So my point is, this being Malaysia's 50th year in Independence, maybe it would be better if we promote all of our mystical rituals as tourist attractions! (Since promoting Mat Rempit to tourists was such a 'good' idea, I don't see any problems with my suggestion).

As our politicians are fond of saying, this is a sensitive subject. There are two reasons I think exist for excluding non-Muslims or non-Melayu from silat.

Reason 1:
The first being that not many people around the world understand how closely the Melayu relate themselves to Islam, or how inseparable the Islam is from the Melayu. For many people, religion and race are two different things. This is not as simple for us. Separating Islam from Melayu will give no meaning to being Melayu.

Thus, when someone wants to embrace and master a particular aspect of Melayu culture, we deem it insulting that that someone will not convert to Islam (just being blatantly honest) because in our view, that's what shaped a large part of our culture, including Silat.

Reason 2:
The second reason directly relates to Silat. Melayu are generally well-meaning people and should be very giving, based on a definition that we often hear. We can share our language, our baju Melayu, even our Ketupat. But when it comes to our skills, we are often shadowed by our real and imagined histories of loss of power and influence.

We hear of Greek medicine being developed to a higher science by our Muslim doctors, of Muslim scientists making great strides in progress when the rest of Europe were living in filth, of Melaka, the world greatest port of call, of the Melayu's incomparable sailing prowess, and more, and more...

The Renaissance and Christian Reformation changed all that. Europe became a scientific and industrial hotbed while the Muslims degressed. We heard of our sciences being 'stolen' and Islamic history being 'erased'. That's when the golden age of Islam became our dark age of fear and insecurity.

With the advent of Portuguese, Dutch, British, American, Spanish and Japanese influence and occupation, the Melayu have become a distrusting, introverted race. (Am I apologising for us? Maybe. But can you really blame us?)

Now that Malaysia has a mix of races and racial politics scare us into thinking that the Chinese will overrun us at any moment, the Melayu hang on to anything and everything they can keep, just to ensure that they don't lose whatever power or influence they still have left.

Thus, if you're not Melayu, or not Muslim, we find it very hard to believe that you won't run off with our Silat and claim it for your own self.Until this opinion can be changed, we are going to find it very difficult for masters to open up to teach non-Melayu or non-Muslims. We need to create an environment of safety and surety for them. There are already efforts by the government and some local silat federations to do this.

But until then, silat in Malaysia is still going to be a closed issue for many.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

14 June 2007

Silat Cekak and Silat Kuntau Tekpi: A Comparative Look

Silat Cekak (as founded by Ustaz Hanafi) and Silat Kuntau Tekpi are related in many ways, the least of which is their Kedah connection.

First off, both arts claim lineage to the palace arts of Kedah, and cite certain General-governors, or Panglima as their ancestors. Silat Cekak claims Panglima Ismail as the earliest of their lineage while in Silat Kuntau Tekpi, that honour is given to Panglima Taib. It is unknown what their status are in the official Kedah records.

Panglima Ismail was said to have served beginning 1804 and passed down the art to Panglima Tok Rashid. Panglima Taib served up to 1879 and passed down his art to his daughter, Aminah. Thus, it is possible that both Panglima Ismail and Panglima Taib met as elder and junior warriors or not at all.

Further down the line, the lineage holder of Silat Cekak beginning 1920, Yahya Said (studied from Panglima Tok Rashid) and the lineage holder of Silat Kuntau Tekpi, Zainal Abidin Endut (grandson of Panglima Taib) were both related by family and often met, although it is unknown if they ever studied from each other.

Silat Cekak and Silat Kuntau Tekpi share similar philosophies, parrying idioms and methods of striking and locking. Both await attacks in a high stance, both subscribe to close body parrying and locking.

Both arts are loosely based on the idiom of Salat, the Muslim prayer form. In Cekak, there are four basic parrying methods:
Kaedah A, based on Du'a (supplication)
Kaedah B from Qiam (standing with arms folded)
Kaedah C from Ruku' (bowing with hands on knees), and
Kaedah D from Takbir (hands in surrender position).

Tekpi on the other hand has six basic parries:
Takbir Luar
Takbir Dalam
Cengkam Harimau, and

They even share many buah, similar in look and form. For example Ali Patah Atas (Cekak) and Kembang Layar (Tekpi), Kuntau Kanan Gantung (Cekak) and Ubah Haluan (Tekpi), Kilas Belakang (Cekak) and Kilas Maut (Tekpi) and in fact, even share one buah name - Pasung Kemanga, which in reality are mirror versions of each other: One locks the left arm while the other locks the right arm. The exact same buah, but reversed.

Other than this, Cekak and Tekpi differ quite a bit. Cekak has no bunga component and subscribes to modern warm-up and stretching methods, while Tekpi still has its Pelebat, an undulating dance form that serves as a traditional exercise.

The Cekak syllabus is broken down into four phases: Basics, Takedowns, Recounters and Graduation. In the first four phases there 21 buah are gradually built upon.

The Tekpi syllabus is broken down into four belts: White, Yellow, Red, Brown and Black. White and Yellow belts each have 21 different buah (which makes 42), in Red are the 5 Pukulan buah and the Tekpi exercises and usage of Tekpi in the previous 42 buah, while the Brown and Black belts are considered advanced levels for senior instructors.

Cekak has the Lading as its official weapon while Tekpi has its namesake as its normalised weapon.This sort of comparison would make a very interesting thesis or research paper, especially if we include the other claimed descendants of Silat Kedah such as Silat Kalimah, Silat Palintau, Silat Gelombang Acheh, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, undertaking such a project would take years and needs to cut across national, political and emotional boundaries. I would be open to anyone who would like to share their resources to pilot such a project.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

13 June 2007

How Much Is Silat Worth?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend once who said that the biggest difference between traditional silat and modern silat is that traditional silat doesn't ask you to pay anything to study it, but modern silat does.

He says that this corrupts the authenticity, the keaslian of silat. However, he concedes that the guru also needs his livelihood and should take a token, but not too much. Problem is, how much is too much?

I know Silat Serimau Hitam in Perak charges RM0.50 a month, Silat Kuntau Tekpi in certain areas charges RM4.00 a month and Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9 charges RM50 a month.
Is there anything wrong with making a living out of silat? Meaning, actually getting good income from teaching. There are many karate and taekwondo masters who have become quite rich just by establishing schools all over the place.

In Malaysia, because the late Datuk Meor started the trend of teaching silat through an organisation, everyone else followed suit. However, in the West, most martial arts styles are taught as part of a private business entity.We've started doing something similar, but I wonder, how many people will actually allow that this will tarnish the authenticity of silat?

Financial Contradiction?

University students gripe over RM10.00 a month for 16 hours of quality training but have no qualms spending RM100 on smokes or phone bills.

It seems as if the accessibility of silat is making them take the arts for granted. "Bila dah jadi kacang putih, mana-mana pun boleh jumpa". Spending RM10 a day is no longer a problem, in fact RM50 a day, on practically nothing.Strangely, there are traditional arts out there who maintain their authenticity, but have started charging an arm and a leg. The effect? More and more students flock to their door, not minding how much they have to pay. Three examples: gurus Jak Othman, Azlan Ghanie and Dahlan Karim.

Guru Jak started the seminar routine on a large scale in Malaysia, mostly because this is how the Westerners prefer to do it, since they have to travel long distances and sacrifice time to learn. The result? They often go home satisfied and they practise what they learnt well, because they had sacrificed so much for it.

Guru Azlan originally gave away his knowledge for free (and in fact, for people who show real enthusiasm, he still does this) but people just came and left almost immediately. Since his time as a publisher and researcher was being taken up by these sporadic training freebies, his income started to suffer, and then he decided to do it more professionally and actually charged more than what a normal Taekwondo class would charge. The result? He has a strong following among many martial artists who have no qualms about paying to know what he knows. (Of course, having his own martial arts magazine helps, too)

Guru Dahlan too originally charged a small sum, but eventually saw the logic of holding out. Now, Setiabakti has become a well known style (thanks in part to his consistent articles in a local magazine) and students from all over Malaysia come for his classes and seminars.Happily, these masters have comparatively less financial stress than many of the other silat masters I've met, who have taken quite readily to joining multi-level marketing schemes, dubious investment 'opportunities' and commission-taking to keep their heads above water.

Ikhlas vs Money
If 'sincerity' (ajar biar ikhlas) is an issue with this, then I personally believe, it's difficult to be sincere in teaching silat when your wife and children are suffering from hunger.

The reality is, the Melayu society is one of contradictions. On the one hand, they will pay through the nose for state of the art medical procedures for their ailments, but won't pay 'traditional' masters their due.

This attitude is based on the Melayu's so-called understanding of 'sincerity' in Islam. They think that by not paying a master for his services, or only a small fee, they are helping him to be 'ikhlas'. The fault, in my opinion, belongs to both master and student/ customer.

There are masters who have attained perfection in their Ikhlas and will accept gifts, money and others for their services, but will not ask for them. These people are no longer attached to the world, receive sustenance by other means and suffer no worry whatsoever.

There are masters who are still trying to perfect their Ikhlas, and most all will say this, even if they're already in the first category. They will never accept payment or money, or sometimes only accept gifts for their family, etc. But most find it either offensive or embarrassing that you even offered it to them.

And then, there are those who pretend to attain Ikhlas (or really believe that they are trying) but the evil in their souls keep jumping out whenever someone gives them less than they expect. "Wah, so little, ah...?" their hearts cry.

Because Melayu culture has long been entwined with Islam, the general concensus is that since Islam is sacred, Melayu culture too is sacred and cannot be bartered with money. This stems from the idea that money and wealth is evil. (That's a whole discussion on its own). The second player in this scenario is the student/ customer of such masters. Since the Melayu have encountered all three types of masters above, they naturally want to 'help'. So, you hear things like "He doesn't like to receive a lot of money" and end up giving the old man a couple of ringgit and a packet of biscuits for his time and effort.

My solution, for students/ customers: Ikhlas is a matter between the master and Allah. Leave out of it. Pay the man what he is worth.And for the masters: If you want to be appreciated for your effort, then tell your students/ customers how much you expect to be compensated for the time they are taking away from your family, whom you are supporting. Time that could be better spent looking for ways to keep them in rice and clothes.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab