13 February 2008

The Origins and Nature of Silat

There are many myths and legends concerning the origin of silat yet one story frequently features, albeit in slightly different forms and this is the one that the authors favour because of the lessons it embodies.

The story starts with a defeated warrior stumbling away from the battlefield. He is wounded and disheartened; his only desire to escape from the horrors that he has seen. In his confusion he wanders into a forest and stumbles blindly on until he reaches a fast flowing stream.

Following the water upstream he comes to a waterfall which drops into a pool and here he pauses to rest. As he watches the water dropping into the pool he sees a lotus flower come rushing down the torrent to end up floating in the water.

Something about this beautiful flower floating on the water intrigues him and he watches as the current carries it this way and that, sometimes away from the waterfall and then sometimes under the raging water. Each time it is hit by the power of the rushing water it disappears under the surface only to bob up somewhere else.

Seeing this he picks up a rock and throws it at the fragile lotus. Even though the rock hits it, the flower just sinks below the surface of the water and then bobs up again. Interested enough now to forget his own wounds and his despair he picks up a stick and throws it at the lotus but to no avail, it just twists and spins, flowing with the current.

With a snarl the warrior draws his sword and splashing into the stream slashes and thrusts at the offending flower. Is the lotus affected? Not one bit. Every slash just causes it to swirl and twirl and softly twist away. Every thrust just pushes it under the water only to surface again somewhere else.

At last exhausted the warrior stumbles and falls into the water. Spluttering and gasping he arises and stumbles up the bank and slumps down, back against a tree to contemplate what has just happened. How could it be that something so small and so fragile as a lotus flower could avoid destruction at his hands.

And as he sits there deep in thought he comes to a realization that will change his life, turn victory into defeat and create an art that will be passed on from generation to generation down the centuries. What is it then that this warrior stumbled on that day in the forest? The answer is simple and profound. The apparent weakness of the lotus flower and the softness and yielding nature of the water combine to create something that no force can destroy.

To the warrior this means that a new avenue is opened up to him in his study of the fighting arts. By using this principle of the soft and the weak to deflect and overcome the hard the warrior creates a new way of fighting both at the personal tactical level but also in the broader strategic sense.

No longer will he meet the enemy’s powerful blows with forceful blocks. Instead he will avoid, deflect softly and wait till his opponent’s strength is exhausted, or his balance has gone and then he will step in and counter.

As the warrior continues his research he notices how all of nature is teaching him. He observes animals at play and in combat and notes how the two are the same. The tiger plays with its cubs and so teaches them to fight. The bird swoops and soars when attacking its prey but also does the same across an empty sky, seemingly moving just for the joy of it.

The warrior now starts to treat his practice like play, he moves for the pure joy of movement and in doing so he learns more about his body. Instead of forcing it into fixed and rigid patterns he allows the body to move as it wants.

Now the warrior uses his new found knowledge and expertise to examine all that he has previously learnt. He recalls the stories of mythical warriors of the past and sees that they too followed these principles; they were true to their own nature. The mighty princes and princesses of the past used their grace and power and commanding presence to subdue foes weaker than themselves.

The mythical dragon twisted and turned using its coiling body and mystical powers to conquer enemies. All of these stories now taught the warrior truths that he could use in his new art. But now he was realizing that it was more than an art; it was a way of life and that everything he did now conformed to the principles he had discovered.

It is this warrior’s art that we call silat that we have inherited and it is these principles of the soft, weak and gentle overcoming the hard that we are practicing and that is what the Malay Dance of Life, Silat Tua, is all about.

What is Silat?
First and foremost it must be stated that Silat is not a martial art! It is much more than that. Silat is the art of fulfilling human potential; this is often practically manifested as the art of survival. In Silat the exponent explores all that makes him or her truly human.

In Silat Tua the lineage is traced back to the Founders who were hermits who isolated themselves high on mountains or deep in jungles to perfect their art and themselves. Thus in this art there is no rigid training of the “you must do it this way” type. Silat Tua is training to develop human beings not clones. Thus training in the art reflects all that is natural.

Consider the life cycle where the baby at first is weak and totally dependent then he grows strong and independent as it reaches maturity and then finally with the onset of old age weakness sets in again.

Thus the Silat trainee starts weak and gains physical strength but this then declines; along the way, however, experience and the use of strategy and tactics compensate for any decline in mere physical strength. The silat exponent learns to take equal advantage of everything and nothing.

The Pendita Guru, the mythical hermit founder of the art wandered the earth with nothing yet was able to make use of everything in his day to day survival. The Silat exponent knows that we enter the world with nothing and we leave it with nothing and anything that we appear to possess along the way, in terms of material goods cannot be taken with us.

In Silat Tua the answer to the question, “What is Silat?” contains much more than might be imagined. Author Guru Zainal Abidin’s teacher Tok Guru Aziz always stressed that true Silat begins the moment you step out of the house. Every step must be taken with humility and without ego.

The true Silat exponent should express love and compassion to all and behave in such a manner that no one has any reason to harbour ill-will against him let alone want to attack him. Seen in this light Silat is the art of living life to the full, avoiding the dangers and pitfalls that face man and being prepared for any eventuality. Thus it is truly the art of life.

Furthermore since silat is an art based on natural movement it works on the strengths and weaknesses, indeed on the potential of the individual’s body, nothing is fixed or forced. This is the reason that there are very few set sequences of movement or forms. Instead the exponent becomes proficient at basic principles which are then practiced freestyle.

The Silat exponent should not be concerned with winning, only surviving. When you seek to win you give yourself a goal which creates pressure if there is the slightest sign that it cannot be reached. But if you are happy just to still be in the fight there is no mental pressure and the body can perform to its highest potential.

The Silat exponent always strives to move from a position of seeming weakness. His tactics and strategy are dictated by the fact that he is weak while the opponent is strong. In Silat the exponent is trained to make full use of the attributes they already have and to develop others based on their own unique physical and mental characteristics.

The large person moves in a different way from the small person; a person with long arms has strengths that a person with short arms doesn’t, but where there is strength there is also weakness; through Silat training the exponent comes to realize how his own weaknesses may be turned into strengths.

Silat is a lifelong study in the development of character. In Silat Tua the teaching is that at the end of our lives the only things we can truly take with us are our skill, knowledge and deeds, whether good or bad. Thus the Silat student never stops learning or training.

This article is (c) Zainal Abidin and Nigel Sutton 2006. Sourced from http://www.living-tradition.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21

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