If you're a student of Silat Cekak Malaysia or Silat Cekak Hanafi, you would probably have been fed the party line, that only these two styles lay claim to the name. In fact, the name Cekak dates back through different lineages, one in Kedah, another in Pahang and yet another in Berunai.
To my knowledge, there are five distinct Cekak styles running around Nusantara (maybe hundreds more). The first one is the famous Silat Cekak Pahang which is derived from the teachings of Pendekar Ahmad. As I understand it, the 'cekak' in this silat is a reference to its movements and not so much as an appelation, which came later.
Cekak or Bercekak, means to fight in a close-quarter pukulan fight, culminating in locks. Some Cekak (Pahang) teachers don't agree with this, instead preferring to use the term 'lintar' or 'spado' to describe the locking after the initial 'cekak'. This particular style is said to come from Sumatera since that's where Pendekar Ahmad hailed from.
Cekak Panglima Ismail
The second is of course what is represented by Silat Cekak Malaysia and Silat Cekak Hanafi today, the art that was taught by the late Ustaz Hanafi. The late Ustaz studied this art from the late Mahaguru Yahya Said, who later founded Silat Kalimah. Although there are several points of contention, both of their students agree that the lineage passed through a common ancestor, Panglima Ismail.
Ustaz Hanafi's students maintain that the name Cekak was originally revealed by Mahaguru Yahya Said, but the latter's students (especially guru Eusoff Ali [Pak Jauhari] who specifically questioned Mahaguru Yahya on this) claim that he only suggested the use based on an ancient style in Kedah which went by the same name, Cekak.
This (these?) is a very close-quarter pukulan and locking style and comes closer than any other martial art on earth (I base this on guro Omar Hakim's observation). However, the pukulan aspect is not as apparent as in Silat Cekak Pahang even though cikgu Baharin Ibrahim (former national silat olahraga coach) mentions that much of the locks in both arts are highly similar.
This 'ancient style' is interesting since no one seems to know about it. The only clue we have is that several Kedah-born or Kedah-hailed masters claim to have inherited it. One is guru Osman Nok, currently of PESAKA Pahang, who heads his own Silat Cekak Harimau style. He claims it is a blending of his family's Kedah Cekak style and the Harimau he studied later.
Other than this, almost all other kampung Cekak styles are referenced as Cekak Minang to indicate their origin. Strange thing is, I have yet to find someone who can enlighten me on what Cekak Minang looks like. Add that to the Cekak Bengkulu style that appeared once in PENDEKAR magazine almost two decades ago, and you have a curious mystery on your hands.
On one of my trips to Singapura, I was pleasantly surprised to find a style called Silat Cekak Singapura. Sadly this style, in its previous form, is no longer taught openly. The master who founded it is guru Allahyarham Budin Seon from Melaka. He migrated to the Lion City in the 1950s and started teaching his own blend of Cekak, Harimau and Sendeng, calling it only Cekak.
Because the Singapura government instituted the MACU (Martial Arts Control Unit), which made background checks into all masters obligatory, many students and masters faded away, including those from Cekak. Guru Budin left behind several black belt level students, but he himself returned to Melaka, where he restarted the style. It still exists today as Silat Cekak Bertam Ulu under guru Budin's son.
Where his Cekak style comes from, he did not inform his students. Either that, or I was not worthy of such information.
Cakak Berunai (Brunei)
Silat Cakak Berunai on the other hand is very different from the latter and former (my initial impression), seeing as it is a pukulan system without any apparent locking. It was demonstrated to me by Pengiran Anuar from Berunai (he was featured in both SENI BELADIRI and SENI SILAT WARISAN BANGSA) and he told me that the strikes are delivered with a bent arm, ala a western hook punch but at solar plexus level.
This is at odds with many other pukulan silat which deliver their strikes as an uppercut or backfist. Given the opportunity, I would definitely want to study more of this.
Either way, I would greatly appreciate if there are any other Cekak stylists out there who could contribute more information here on their particular brand, be it on any of the ones I named above, or even the ones we don't know of.
This article was edited from my post at Martial Arts Planet forums many years ago, with new information recently gleaned or some that I forgot to mention.