23 November 2010

The Mask of Silat

The reporters were being led on a visit through the Moro section of the Philippines, Mindanao, the southernmost part of the archipelago, which comprises several provinces: Surigao, Misamis Oriental, Occidental, Zamboanga, Ausan, Budidon, Lanao, Davao, Gotobato and the Sulu archipelago.

Each reporter had been on a “cultural” assignment, and the Philippine Tourist Bureau had whetted each writer’s palate for the benefits of the Philippines and the reasons for tourists to come to the islands.

Before being invited, the tourist board wanted to know who the reporters were, what magazines or newspapers they represented, and any or all of their special interests. The increasing interest in Philippine culinary arts had captured the fancy of many daily newspaper cooking columnists and the delicacies of the islands were spread out before them. I represented Black Belt. I wanted to know more about silat, the legendary, death-inflicting martial art that had been kept under wraps whenever any publicity about the Philippines was released.

“Silat?” asked the Philippine representative. “Oh yes,” he said with a smile that came too easily. “Yes, we can arrange for you to see some silat.” He called over an assistant and whispered into his ear.

A Quaint Dance
I was shown silat, at least the silat the tourist men wanted me to see. It was a dance that one of the journalists called “quaint.” Frankly, it was a dance movement accompanied by music. This “modification” is “quaint,” but it is not real silat, true silat. Langka, the modification, has as much terror connected to it as Red Riding Hood against the Big Bad Wolf.

For the tourists to the Philippine islands, such entertainment is satisfactory for the movements do smack of the cultural aspects of the islands, but when you consider the origins of this martial art, it is a pretty weak stew.

The art of silat, known to the Samals and Tausogs, is believed to have been introduced by the Bugi (sic) natives of Cebes (sic) during the second half of the 19th century. According to some Moros, silat is a Malayan word that means “offense and defense with bladed weapons.” It also refers to actual combat. It is more than a dance; it is a form of war.

There is a historical reason behind the martial art. To begin with, the Moros have a record of defiance to both Spanish and American authority. Hatred by the Moros toward any foreign domination runs rampant and the feeling is still intense. Gen. “Blackjack” Pershing, who commanded the Allied armies of World War I, gained much of his battle experience through the encounters with the Muslims of Mindanao before going to the battlefields of Europe.

The Americans were the only ones to wage a winning war with the Moros using heavy artillery against the armadas of silat-trained Moros to gain their ground. The despotic Spaniards, however, those conquerors of many lands, put up fortifications along the coasts, but whenever they ventured within the interior of the country, they came out bloodstained and weary for their efforts.

The Lanao Muslims have built a long reputation for their fierceness of attack in the art of silat, and the Moros are expert, to this day, in the use of the kali, a native style of fencing played by a selected few in royal places. With this background, to have summoned up this watered-down routine and call it silat is like calling Bunker Hill a tea party.

The Secretive Moros
Through constant prodding of the secretive Moros, I was promised a display of true silat, which is now practiced by the Samal tribe of Sibutu and Simunol in Tawi-Tawi. This deadly sport has since been introduced to the natives of Jolo and Mindanao and has been practiced in combat sport by the Moros.

Seeing silat is an unforgettable experience. The art is never played, it is fought, and it is not a martial art where the combatants walk away without some shedding of blood. Moro tradition observes the secrecy of instruction. Silat lessons are considered top secret by both teacher and students, and not everybody can witness the exercises and play. Perhaps, the tourist bureau actually believed that what they had shown me and other reporters was the true silat. The combat art is practiced in the home, all windows and doors are barred and no outsiders are allowed until my persuasion opened those doors and windows to me.

Some of the silat masters I talked to alleged that the originators of the art in Mindanao were Tubba, Suhudah and Wabulongs. These are the very same people who were war-oriented and brought the art of kuntao, a karate-like sport to the Philippines.

Usually, an expert in this Mohammedan combat art only exhibits his knowledge of the art by body maneuvers like pivoting, parrying, hitting, turning at four corners, leaping, evading, swinging the bladed weapon for hit and parry. Silat, when executed by Muslim players, gives the rendition of coordinated movements with modification of various techniques. It is sometimes combined with the rustic and graceful striking movements of the Amis. The real silat is unlike arnis in that two people cannot hold bladed weapons and start executing the hit and parry strokes for practice. The Moros believe that if two players were allowed to perform practice face to face before a crowd, the enthusiasm of the audience might drive them on, excite them into killing each other upon such provocation.

Some basic strokes of silat are similar to arnis, “cinco tiros” or five strokes in that they are a right high cut, a left low cut, a right low cut, a left high cut and thrust. These skills are practiced with a Moro dagger called the kris, or a barong.

Metaphysical Aspect
In talking to the combat players, they are extremely enveloped in the metaphysical aspects of the art. They claim to feel the supernatural powers of the anting-anting charm, and many wear ornamental decorations such as lockets or amulets on their neck. There are unbelievable stories that are related by the teachers about certain phrases spoken in time of danger and actual combat.

Because of the precision movements necessary in the martial art, the student learns the lagot (hit) and the tangkis (parry) after he has mastered the graceful art of walking, jumping and balancing on one foot and swinging the forearms like a fan called the bunga. Silat, except for the undeveloped form and moods of skill, can compare favorably with foreign fencing. Individual techniques, however, can be degenerated into graceful steps and dance movements, the kind I was shown by the tourist bureau.

The art of silat, because of its martial effectiveness, spread through the efforts of Ussin, the son of Tubba, who journeyed as far as Mindanao to earn a living. However, his pupils propagated the Muslim art of combat in various places in Mindanao. Today the deadly art introduced by the Samals has become a patrimony and a legacy of the Philippine nation. However, up to the present time, the ancient art of fighting with bladed weapons still survived in the southern islands of Mindanao.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Corrections in terminology to this article include Bugi to Bugis and Cebe to Celebes or Sulawesi. Aside from these, although words like Kris do not conform to Silat Melayu: The Blog and Silat Melayu Community's language policy, this article has not been edited to respect the language use of the time.

Originally published in BLACK BELT Magazine, September 1967.
Sourced from http://www.blackbeltmag.com/archives/542

22 November 2010

Bersilat Is Like a Dance: This Popular Art of Self-Defense Is Serious Business in Malaysia

In Malaysia, they say a man is not really capable of defending himself against an attacker unless he knows something about bersilat. It is a self-defense art that dates back to the early 15th century and today is still popular.

The art enjoys such popularity that it can be practiced by anyone whether he’s 8 or 60 years old.

When the art was first introduced to the Malacca Court by a religious teacher from North Sumatra, Indonesia, it became a necessary part of a young man’s education.

There have been considerable changes made in the original style, and through the years, it was practiced in secret with complicated rituals and customs.

In Malaysia, bersilat attracts many men to its evening classes. Particularly youths living in villages and suburban areas indulge in the art. They are taught the fine points of parrying or avoiding an attack by an opponent who may be armed with a kris (Malay knife) or pedang or parang panjang (Malay sword).

Young folks nowadays take up bersilat as an artistic form of physical exercises, and they often demonstrate the art at ceremonials.

Instructors emphasize its use as a form of self-defense. Basically, bersilat exists in two forms. One, the silat pulot, is purely for exhibition at weddings and other ceremonials. The other is known as silat buah and is used for serious fighting.

One can tell by the opening graceful movements the type of bersilat the performer has mastered. With a leap, he will begin moving to the rhythmic strains of an orchestra, demonstrating the techniques of defense against one or several assailants.

The movements consist of quick parries and counter-strokes with the arms, well-timed steps and swift kicks.

There are many versions of self-defense bersilat. The most common are the bersilat gayong and bersilat harimau. To a lesser or greater extent, most of the movements involve a spiritual aspect, with the performer uttering religious incantations and blessings. This, say its devotees, helps bring out supernatural strength and provide the body with protection.

All of the training and exercises in use today have been handed down from the original bersilat masters and are passed on by the loyal disciples from generation to generation.

Malaysians interested in the art like to speak of its early beginnings. They tell of the legendary hero Hang Tuah of Malacca, who lived in the 15th century and is considered the father of bersilat in Malaysia.

With his friends, Hang Tuah traveled great distances in his day to learn the art, and his glorious exploits are vividly described in many Malay classics.

With four of his friends, Hang Tuah made long and difficult journeys to reach Mount Rundok to meet mahaguru (grandmaster) Adi Putera to learn the defensive tactics employed in bersilat.

After long training and plenty of strenuous exercises, Hang Tuah continued his studies at Majapahit in the Mount Winara area with mahaguru Persanta Nala as his instructor.

The knowledge he acquired through his vigorous training taught him how to face an enemy and this he passed on to his followers. Many later proved to be loyal warriors to the State.

The movements involved in bersilat when used for defense or on the attack can be summed up as follows:

1. salutation movement (gerak langkah sembah).

2. art of bodily movement, a dancelike affair in which the performer employs weapons. This is known as penchak seni tari dan seni tari bersenjata.

3. avoiding movement, which Malaysians call elak mengelak.

4. side-striking tactics, which Malaysians refer to as tepis menipis.

5. kicking and falling techniques or sepak terajang.

6. stabbing tactics, called tikam menikam.

7. art of warriorship, classified by Malaysians as ilmu keperwira’an.

In addition to being an excellent form of physical training, the art of bersilat has great spiritual value, serving, according to its devotees, as an important aid of enhancing one’s spiritual development. As a bodybuilder, it helps in the achievement of general fitness, it provides alertness and gives the participant the courage he needs to meet his daily challenges.

To the people who take part in this great art of self-defense, many significant benefits are offered.

According to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Malaysia and Selangor Silat Seni Gayong Association of Malaysia, the value of bersilat can be summed up as follows:

As a dance, it develops an aesthetic feeling of a cultural nature. As a form of physical training, it promotes good health, and as a form of spiritual education, it develops such qualities as calmness, tolerance, observance, mental efficiency, courage and self-confidence.

An expert who specializes in the throwing and unbalancing techniques of bersilat says any Malaysian can defend himself against an attacker by using very little physical strength if he knows bersilat.

The expert, who is skillful in the use of a technique of hitting the vital spot known as seni sendi, points out that there are 12 critical nerve centers in the body. “All of these spots are vulnerable to severe pain at the slightest touch of an expert’s hand,” he says. “The technique will make an assailant react as though he had suffered an electric shock.”

According to this authority, a small man should never try to rely on his own strength when he goes up against a bigger man who happens to be a sheer brute. Instead, he should make use of the opponent’s strength for counterattacking.

“If attacked,” he explains, “one must think quickly, clearly and analytically about the position one is in and how best to get out of it. All this is more or less automatic.”

As he further describes it, “Just screaming and struggling may not avert tragedy. For example, if grabbed by the throat from behind, the victim of an attack will be thrown back and probably lose his balance and fall if he becomes panicky and pulls forward. However, if he grabs the attacker’s wrist and pulls the arm away from his neck, he can flip the attacker to the ground. The confidence and know-how a bersilat performer displays is often enough to send an attacker running for dear life.”

Another technique taught to bersilat students is kunchi, a locking procedure. It’s a handy way of giving a prowler or a burglar the bum’s rush once you sense his presence and give it to him in a very painful way.

If an attacker grabs his victim from the front, an expert can startle him by hitting a nerve center. The attacker will then loosen his grip and he can throw the attacker backwards by using his legs, the expert says. However, if the assailant grabs the victim by the neck from the rear, the defender can grasp one of the attacker’s fingers and bend it back. The pain is unbearable.

One of the simplest locks is to hold the attacker’s arm flat on the ground by pressing the knee on the outside of the attacker’s elbow. Once a person is pinned down, you can take all the time you need to decide what to do with the culprit. One thing is sure, the rascal will never get away.

One passing thought in the use of bersilat. Its teachers always stress that its followers must not use it to initiate an attack. It is strictly for self-defense, for counterattacking when one is in danger.

Only then, they say, is one justified to use it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although words like Malay, Kris and Bersilat do not conform to Silat Melayu: The Blog and Silat Melayu Community's language policy, this article has not been edited to respect the language use of the time.

Written by C.K. CHANG
Originally published in BLACK BELT Magazine, September 1967.
Sourced from http://www.blackbeltmag.com/archives/537

21 November 2010

Silat associations must contribute towards human capital development - Muhyiddin

KEPALA BATAS (Nov 20, 2010): Malay silat associations in the country must play a role in contributing towards human capital development for the next generation, said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

He said they should also make efforts attract the younger generation to the martial art at the school level, higher education institutions and community centres, including mosques.

"At the same time, we must remember that the younger generation of today are the inheritors of our religion, race and country in future," he said when officiating a gathering organised by the Malaysian Seni Silat Lincah Association here today.

At the function, Penang Yang Dipertua Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas, who is also the association's first 'Ulul Amri', conferred the same title, the association's fourth, to Muhyiddin.

Muhyiddin said silat training modules had proven to be able to mould individuals of strong character, which could positively impact others in society, Malays and non-Malays alike.

"The government from early on has been supportive of silat movements, and in relation to this, through the Youth and Sports Ministry, Information Communication and Culture Ministry and Islamic religious departments has been cooperating with silat associations so that the martial art gains recognition and is in line with Islam, which is the official religion of the country," he said.

He added that the 'espirit de corps' prevalent among members (of silat associations) if expanded in the context of leadership, would lead to fostering greater unity among the people irrespective of politics, economic power or ethnicity.

Sourced from http://www.thesundaily.com/article.cfm?id=54232