Silat Melayu has been, for many hundreds of years, the traditional martial art practised by the Malays. Its uniqueness has been preserved by successive generations as sacred trust and a cultural burden. It integrates soft, aesthetic movements with self-defence techniques that are both hard and deadly.
It transcends the physical defence aspect to encompass the spiritual, medicinal and religious practises of the Malays. Without these three aspects, silat could be compared to a dish without the seasoning.
A pesilat will never feel its pure essence if he familiarises himself only with the multitude of physical techniques. Silat Melayu has been infused with the essences of the extraordinary, of mysticism and of godliness. In it one can rediscover the origins of man and the greatness of God.
Silat Melayu has tread through a long and glorious history. The annals of Malaysia have proven that before the advent of guns and cannons, the ancient Malay kingdoms of the Archipelago were well-defended against incursions from foreign empires, especially the Europeans and East Asians. During that era, the Malays were known amongst the foreign traders not only from their appearance, but from their fighting prowess, customs and speech.
Although techniques varied between one style and another, the cultural reality remained, that the applications of the body such as the fist, feet, knees, elbows and traditional weaponplay were similar if not identical. A particular style could be identified from their salutations and wardances.
Outside factors that influenced the growth of Silat Melayu in Malaysia includes those from the islands of Sumatera and Jawa. Aspects of this can be seen in the clothing fashions, terminology of the movements, spiritual practises and the music that accompanies the wardances. In spite of this, the traditional concept of Silat Melayu remains unique and preserved.
Every pesilat nurtures a similar ambition, to one day become a Pendekar. A Pendekar is not simply an expert in the combat arts of silat, but is also able to master its spiritual and medicinal aspects. The mind of a Pendekar is like the wind. Its presence can be detected, but cannot be directly observed. His wisdom creates situations that makes his opponents lose their focus, thus incapable of anticipating his actions,
A pendekar is like a teacher. He is qualified to teach his students and may authorise any loyal disciples in the various branches of knowledge that he had acquired during his lifetime.
However, to achieve the status of the Pendekar requires perseverance. Without years of immense courage and incalculable effort, all his works could be for naught. Alternatively, this could also depend on their talents of mastery. Last to master means last to succeed.
As with any other skill, silat requires disciples who would dedicate their lives to unearthing its secrets. This is where silat is akin to a tree of discipline. The further we climb among its branches, the more we discover the meaning of brotherhood, patience and the revelations of its mystical secrets. Confidence is a pesilat's closest companion when faced with a multitude of physical and mental challenges that will surely block his climb to success.
Curiously, Silat Melayu was once regarded as giving undue emphasis to the softer movements of the human body. This could be the opinions of those who have yet to pluck the fruits at the highest branches of the tree. It cannot be denied that such an opinion arose from the archaic tendency to close off silat from the outside world. Thus it has been lowly regarded as unable to adequately defend against hard, violent incursions.
However, the 1980s saw drastic reversal of this opinion, never to return. Due thanks are owed to those vanguard Nusantara masters who spread silat to the world, resulting in the continued acquaintance of the European and West Asian communities with the greatness of this art. Now, the possibility of silat schools taking root overseas is increasing every day.
Perhaps the attractiveness also comes from the fact that silat's physical training provides an alternative that is no less effective on the human body. The soft, undulating motions of the art invite the functions of the body towards the development of a more active mind and spirit. A sharp mind will flow only within an active body.
In silat exist storehouses of knowledge that can never be recorded nor revised on paper. The meaning of silat is found between its branches, its leaves, its flowers and its fruits. Only someone who can master that meaning can realise just how valuable a life of silat, within silat really is.
In closing, let us ponder upon the theme of the 1987 Kuala Lumpur International Silat Championship, "SILAT FOR ALL", a truly apt acknowledgement of silat's seeds being sown across the continents.
By Basir Haji Ghani
Sourced and translated from PENDEKAR vol.7