Upon entering the website of SeniSilat.net, one is instantly met with the hauntingly melodic recitation of ‘Salawatun Nabi’ (a traditional Arabic prayer of blessing). This is the official website of Pertubuhan Seni Silat Telapak Nusantara Malaysia, an organisation that was established to revive and propagate the ancient form of Seni Silat Tuan Shaykh Ali.
It is said, the style originated as far back as 1,200 years ago on the island of Sumatera, during the wanderings of a Muslim Mystic named Tuan Shaykh Ali. Shaykh Ali originally arrived in Sumatera from either Iran or Yemen, and in his efforts to spread the fledgling Muslim faith in South-East Asia was often called on to defend himself against thieves, thugs, etc. throughout his travels.
Prior to this, Shaykh Ali had received absolutely no training in martial arts; consequently, his martial art revealed itself as the occasion called for it, unfolding slowly through ilham (divine inspiration) rather than extensive martial theory. This can be viewed as a testament to the authenticity of his style. Eventually these ilham came together to form the complete martial art of Seni Silat Tuan Shaykh Ali.
Silat (as with Melayu culture itself) had been a family/community-based martial art and pesilat (practitioners of silat) would protect its secrecy as one would any valuable family ‘heirloom’. Given this background, Shaykh Ali’s silat was unique in that people of all tribes or clans were welcomed to study under him, creating one of the first ‘intertribal’ systems of silat.
This however soon changed, as within a short period of the demise of Shaykh Ali, students seemingly began to revert to the previous cultural traditions that existed, and would later only teach their techniques to their own people, hiding them even from other pesilat of the same aliran (style of silat).
The style remained thus hidden, and almost lost, until Pertubuhan Seni Silat Telapak Nusantara Malaysia began their efforts to once again collect all the known styles of this martial art and recompile them into the exciting art of Seni Silat Tuan Shaykh Ali.
Through hard work, many styles were tracked down, with many variations and derivations of Shaykh Ali’s style rigorously studied, in the effort to revive the original art. Some of these styles seemed so different that, to the untrained eye, one would believe that they could not possibly be from the same original style of martial art; however, a common link existed throughout by virtue of basic techniques and philosophical outlook.
These various arts were then combined into the seven styles that now comprise the Seni Silat Tuan Shaykh Ali syllabus, culminating in the art of Silat Bongsu. Unlike other systems, in this aliran the final style, Silat Bongsu, is the first taught to the aspiring novice.
This is based on the fact that not only is it the easiest system to memorize but it is also the basis upon which all other techniques emanate, and has earned it the second name of “Ibu Silat” (literally meaning “Mother of Silat”, or Mother Style). It is speculated that, on average, the techniques of this style of silat can be memorized in as little as 1-3 weeks.
However, the practice of Shaykh Ali’s style is not confined to just one level of understanding, as one must first learn the technique, and then try to master it, before finally being able to feel the technique. This is the ultimate aim of the pesilat’s practice. The original style may sometimes take only 7 days to memorize, but to become fully competent in the complete system (in all 7 levels of the art) a period of 7 years continuous study has been suggested.
For the first time in a millennium, the passion of the elders of this art and their desire that it should never again be hidden away, has resulted in Seni Silat Tuan Shaykh Ali once again being opened up to all, as it had originally been intended. The art’s recent revival under the current Guru Besar Utama has protected it from the dilution or dilapidation of integrity that frequently occur with time within martial arts, and thus those fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study under him can be assured of the authenticity in history and tradition of their style.
A rare opportunity now exists for the martial arts enthusiast of the 21st century, as a genuine link to one of the ancient alirans of silat and its founder has been re-established through the efforts and teachings of its present day Guru Besar Utama.
By Abu Hurayra Irlandi
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