Silat is the traditional martial art of the Nusantara region also known as the Malay Archipelago, and has been passed down from master to student for many generations. It encompasses the vast knowledge of strategic and tactical human combat, weaponry and philosophy.
Integrating soft, aesthetic movements called bunga (blossoms) with self-defence techniques that are both hard and deadly called buah (fruits), silat transcends the physical defence aspect to encompass the spiritual, medicinal and religious practices of the Melayu.
Silat has tread through a long and glorious history. The annals of Malaysia have proven that before the advent of guns and cannons, the ancient kingdoms of the Archipelago were well-defended against incursions from foreign empires, especially the Europeans and East Asians. In the Melaka Sultanate, the legendary exploits of Hang Tuah has been forever inscribed in the hearts of Melayu everywhere.
More recently, the last century saw national efforts by Independence greats such as Datuk Bahaman and Mat Kilau of Pahang, Panglima Salleh of Johor and Yeop Mahidin of Perak, all of whom were pendekars in their own right.
In the islands of Indonesia, bloody battles were fought to regain independence from the colonialists, and names like Kyai Abbas Jamil Buntet are remembered for their sacrifices and efforts.
After Independence, silat grew to become an institutionalised and officially recognised martial art in Malaysia and in the region. To promote silat in Malaysia, the National Silat Federation of Malaysia (Persekutuan Silat Kebangsaan Malaysia or PESAKA, http://pesakamalaysia.org) was established in 1983 by four founding masters, each leading a main style. Silat Seni Gayong was founded by Datuk Meor Abdul Rahman Meor Hashim, Seni Silat Cekak by ustaz Hanafi Haji Ahmad, Seni Silat Lincah by Datuk Omardin Mauju and Seni Gayung Fatani by guru Anwar Wahab. These styles have helmed PESAKA since its inception.
In 1980, umbrella bodies representing silat schools in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore convened in Jakarta and formed the International Pencak Silat Federation (Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antarabangsa or PERSILAT).
At the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Jakarta in 1979, silat debuted as a competitive sport. Pencak Silat World Championships were subsequently organised in Singapore in 1980 and in Jakarta in 1981 and 1982. The first champhionship tournament outside of Asia took place in Austria in 1986. Silat was also introduced as an exhibition sport at the 2002 Asian Games in Korea.
In 2006, the Federal Government recognised silat as the official Malaysian art of self-defence and enshrined it in the National Heritage Act (Akta Warisan Negara), making it part of the nation’s protected treasures.
More than just a collection of fighting techniques; it was as much an integral part of the Melayu culture as any other form of education and prepared young men for adulthood. Because of this, there is a strong emphasis in this art on self-defence. This emphasis is what has made Silat spread through Europe and now the United States.
Today, silat exponents, interest groups and promotional activities are found not just in Southeast Asia but also in America, Japan, Britain and France where organizations like the Pencak Silat Federation of United Kingdom, Silat Association of the United Kingdom and Pencak Silat Bongkot are based.
In the new age of technology, websites on Silat have cropped up and have become the meeting place for practitioners online. Sites such as SilatMelayu.Com and www.senisilat.net from Malaysia and SilatIndonesia.Com provide an intimate look into the traditions of Nusantara from half a world away. Thus after thousands of years of blossoming within a secluded corner of the world, silat has now borne fruit that has travelled far beyond its birth home in the Archipelago.
This article was edited by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab from various internet sources for publication in the World Silat Championship 2007 souvenir book. For a full list of the above sources, please email webmaster [at] silatmelayu.com