07 January 2008

Friends or Fracture? The reality behind silat splits in Malaysia

An American martial artist once had the opportunity to sample a silat style from Malaysia. Unfortunately, his 'instructor' was not qualified to share with him the more 'secret' aspects of the art, including completing his training.

He vowed that one day; he would travel to Malaysia and look it up. Many years later, when he was finally posted there by his firm, he sought out the very art he was looking for.

To his surprise, things had changed somewhat since his acquaintance had been there. Instead of one silat style, there were now TWO groups sporting similar names, and he didn't know which one to train with. Sound familiar?

Westerners who are well acquainted with Karate and Kung Fu know the difference between Hayashiha and Shito-Ryu, or Wing Chun and Ving Chun or even Bruce Lee, Bruce Le, Bruce Li... However, being newly introduced to Silat Melayu, they just can't get over how many arts bear similar names or worse, similar uniforms in their activities. Hopefully, this primer will assist those in the dark.

How it all began
Traditionally, training in silat would involve knowing who the master was and what he was teaching. The ‘name’ of the art itself was rarely important. In fact, a majority of traditional silat styles had no distinctive names.

However, as more and more silat became organized and legally registered, problems cropped up regarding identification. They needed unique names and unique identities. But when two masters study from one source, how much different could they make their art from one another?

Another matter that compounded the problem was organisational politics. Because of individual preference, fractures sometimes occur within a particular organisation. Dissafected members often just the leave the group and martial arts altogether, migrate to another one or establish similar organisations.

The third type happens rarely in Malaysia, but it happens. We will not go into the reasons these fractures happen. Instead, we shall run through some of the more famous organisations with similar monikers.

Before the 1950s, silat styles in Malaysia were mostly taught in small village groups to a select few and were rarely known outside of one particular village. As such, they sometimes sported such catch-all names as Silat, Silat Melayu, Gayong, etc.

Sometimes, when two or more silat were being taught in close proximity, the arts would be differentiated by adding a descriptive suffix, usually the name of the master, the origin of the art or the clan it comes from. Thus were born 'styles' such as Silat Pendekar Ahmad, Silat Terlak or Silat Minang.

However, when the late Datuk Meor Abdul Rahman, mahaguru of Silat Seni Gayong arrived on the scene, he paved a path that was soon to be walked by other silat styles. Organisation.

Silat Seni Gayong
Following the advice of the nationalist Datuk Onn Jaafar, Datuk Meor Rahman founded the first legal silat association in Malaysia, Pertubuhan Silat Seni Gayong Malaysia (Reg No: 361), originally based in Johor. It was such a novelty that many thought he was establishing a political party, especially with his usage of the word Pertubuhan (organisation) in its name.

Unfortunately, Gayong itself is a common word denoting silat in Malaysia and this caused problems to many other silat masters on the East Coast who also called their art thus, but had no links whatsoever to Datuk Meor Rahman. This began the trend towards identification. When the process of standardisation and spelling codification of Bahasa Malaysia was concluded in 19722, 'Ayer' (water) became 'Air', 'Kuching' (cat) became 'Kucing' and 'Gayong' became 'Gayung '.

This provided an opportunity to other masters to create a separate identity, thus Gayung Fatani was understood to be different from the Gayong of Datuk Meor Rahman. Other 'Gayongs' that have no stylistic relation to the former Silat Sendi Harimau (now Silat Seni Gayong) include Seni Silat Gayong Maarifat, Seni Silat Gayong Ghaib, Seni Silat Gayong Harimau and more.

Aside from the commonness of the word itself, the original organisation saw offshoots established by eminent students of the late Datuk Meor Rahman that used variations of the same name. Thus was born Pertubuhan Silat Seni Pusaka Gayong Malaysia, Pertubuhan Silat Seni Gayong Warisan Serantau Malaysia and Pertubuhan Silat Seni Gayong Pasak (the Malaysian import from Singapura).

The first of these to be established was Pertubuhan Silat Seni Pusaka Gayong Malaysia. To differentiate between this and the original organisation, it became informally known as Gayong Pusaka while the latter became Gayong Malaysia and the latest offshoot, Gayong Warisan.

Seni Silat Cekak
This happened again when a leadership crisis rocked the Kedah-born Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Malaysia in 1993 which saw the founding of Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Ustaz Hanafi Malaysia. The art, simply known as Silat Cekak was now polarised into Silat Cekak Malaysia and Silat Cekak Hanafi.

This was also an answer to the many other extant styles who employed the word 'Cekak' in their names, especially those of Minang origin such as Silat Cekak Minang, Silat Cekak Harimau, Silat Cekak Sabil Sri Indera Sakti, Silat Cekak Monyet, Silat Cakak (Brunei), etc.

Coming back to Gayung Fatani, although an organisation was founded by guru Anuar Wahab as Pertubuhan Seni Gayung Fatani Malaysia, there are still many old masters who teach the art under that name, without having connections to PSGFM, as it is known. Since very few of these have established associations, the confusion is minimal.

Cimande, Sendeng and Rajawali
However, things took a funnier turn in Selangor where the Sunda people have made their home for many generations. Their signature art of Cimande went the way of Wing Chun and many local variations such as Chimande, Chimandey, Cimandee and Ci Mandi cropped up.

Things probably got too surreal and several masters eventually added suffixes, making their arts Cimande Sendeng, Cimande Lincah, etc. In fact, there are so many Cimande variations within Selangor alone that a majority of those masters banded together to form the Persatuan Cimande (Cimande Association). The prerequisite for membership is obvious.

Beside the Sunda, the Bugis are by far the most widely-travelled clan of the Melayu stock, settling in Acheh, Selangor, Melaka and Johor among others, bringing with them the art of Silat Sendeng. This is why we see so many variations of the same art emanating from these settlements.

The one man who popularised the name itself was the late guru Haji Abdul Hamid Hamzah who blended his family art of Kuntau and Sendeng into what was colloquially known as Silat Sendeng Muar. When the style was formally organised, it took the name of Persatuan Seni Silat Sendeng Malaysia, thus becoming the standard reference for all other Sendeng styles such as Sendeng Kuntau Jawa or Sendeng Merepat.

Another interesting find is the Rajawali group. Originally founded by the late guru Mohd Idrus Yon, Seni Silat Burung Rajawali was inherited by his eminent students, the seven 'blood brothers', who each established a different administrative body for their arts based on their specialties.

Thus were born Persatuan Seni Silat Rajawali Putih, Persatuan Seni Silat Rajawali Sunan Putih, Persatuan Seni Silat Rajawali Anjung Sari and so on. Admirably, their mandates were given simultaneously by their guru Idrus and no enmity exists between these organisations as their masters often cross-teach upon invitation.

As more new silat organisations continue to appear in Malaysia, choosing what to call an individual style becomes exceedingly difficult, especially since all the good names have been taken. More often than not, the names are similar if not the same, or meaningless except to its founder.

If multiple-monikers continue to be the norm in Malaysia, maybe silat introduction brochures will start popping up on racks in travel agencies around the world. It would surely be appreciated. Culture shock is an ugly colour on a martial artist’s face.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab


Anonymous said...

it is sad to see the scenario of owning ppl & taking name happens...

ps: mAdMiKe keeps on training cekak hanafi w/o worrying much about the 'political issues' in the organization.

amirulhusnitekpi said...


Brother Nadzrin,

I don't think the Sundanese or Orang Sunda would appreciate your writing of Cimande as coming from 'the Jawa' :) :D :P

Brother Madmike (and Nadzrin too i guess),

What is the current situation with Silat Cekak Hanafi??


Mohd Nadzrin Wahab said...

Salam hormat Amirul,

Ouch! That hurt! Point taken and corrected.

Silat Cekak Hanafi? Stalemate is my best guess.

Salam persilatan,