Recently, I persuaded Ustaz Saiful Muhammad to publish his article Journeying In Silat: A Master's Monologue in this blog, the SMC Forum and his own website. He asked that I edit out a reference to Silat Bongsu being the 'mother of all martial arts', but I argued that it needed to stay in, because I wanted provoke a reaction from readers. No one wanted to take the bait, except in the SMC Forum, and that started his explanation on the actual meaning of the statement.
In fact, there's nothing inherently wrong with the statement itself. It just sounds too much like a brag. The problem is, depending on who is reading it, it's often confused with the 'best of all martial arts' statement or the 'my style is more authentic than yours' statement. Thus, the problem doesn't lie with the words, it lies with the reader.
Words are a human being's channel of communication. It is unfortunate that, unless you share similar experiences with another person, you will never be able to communicate with them using those words. Because of the variant differences between silat styles, no one can claim to have the exact same experience in studying. Therefore, what silat means to me, will not be the same to you.
For many people, the 'mother' is an event, an occurence, when they achieve that 'eureka' moment, when all strands of life suddenly merge into one, and they see what silat really is. In reality, their understanding has bypassed silat's original meaning at the lower level, that of a fighting form.
But silat has many levels of definition, depending on who is defining it. The paradox is that, there are so few people who attain the higher levels of silat and will publicly define it from their perspective, that the majority definition becomes the default. That means, it is the beginner students who tell you, "This is what silat means" when in fact, it should be the wizened masters who define it for them.
Democracy over truth, I'd say.
Ustaz Saiful defends his statement by saying, "The word mother of all this and that sound so good or great to others, in truth, in our style, it is just mean that the style is open for evolution process."
"It can easily be evolve personally according to practitioner understanding and experience. The versatility in it makes it easier to adapt practitioner’s own ability and necessity."
So what does it mean?
If you're still reading, then you still might not get what he means. Look at it this way. 'Ibu' or 'mother' denotes that something gives birth to another being, but in itself does not become part of the new creature. It only gestates and helps bring it into the world. The new creature only slightly resembles the mother, but takes in many other influences from other people, events and things to become an individual.
Thus, the 'mother' of silat is something that allows an individual to make his or her own choices based on the wisdom and knowledge of the past accumulated by the mother and their mothers before that. They are still dependent upon the mother's DNA (the unchangeable aspect), but they need to imbibe food and knowledge from outside the mother in order to survive (the changeable aspects).
When a child stands next to her mother, the resemblance is easy to see, but so is the individuality. This is the reason silat people can recognise various aspects of silat in other hybrid or eclectic arts, (oh, you must have studied silat before) even though it has been subsumed within another style.
So, what is the mother of all silat? It is the knowledge, that is held tightly with ultimate sureness of its truth in the breast of its practitioner. It is the understanding of where you came from, your purpose in life; which is to survive (and the purpose you survive) and the development to keep surviving in order to achieve that purpose.
For Muslim pesilat, all this is a moot point. They would summarise the last 12 paragraphs into only one word: Islam.