06 March 2011

The missing piece

It is nearly impossible to find a people on this planet who have not been exposed to war, either directly or indirectly. In the Western world, the two world wars, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq have left tremendous impact on the lives and culture of everyone there.
Similarly, Malaysia has had its taste of smaller-scale, lower technology battles since time unrecorded and our psyche is imprinted with the clan wars of Nusantara, the coming of the Portuguese, Dutch, English and, for a short time, the Japanese. Such a contrast, it is; Malaysia has never collectively undergone the horror of a truly modern war.
We've never had images of napalm, gas, missiles, tanks, M-16 (nor Steyr) gunfire burned into the backs of our brains, nor in our pop culture. Malaysian war movies are generally baulked at, because there's so few material to redescribe.
For those of you wondering why I'm scribing about war in a silat blog, that's exactly the reason why I'm doing it. Silat has been divorced from its root: war.
For many, many years, we've read visiting foreigners comment on the ineffectiveness of our silat styles, and how they have degraded into shallow versions of their former selves. And for those many years too, we've defended it with statements such as: "You don't understand our culture" or "We have deadly techniques that we can't practice".
Seeing the deadliness of silat with my own eyes, I am among those who defend its effectiveness.
Unfortunately, I'm also forced to admit that there are styles that are freeze framed onto the spot and have discarded the age-old philosophy of silat that I was brought up with: mengaji (studying), mengamal (applying), mengkaji (delving), mengajar (teaching), menyebar (disseminating), mewaris (inheriting), menyambung (extending) and mengaji (studying again).
Fortunately, for most styles, the effectiveness of silat doesn't disappear because methods and techniques are replaced by others. It happens when teachers and students lose the context of the teachings themselves.
I have been told by so many teachers that the younger generation don't understand the real applications of what is taught to them. They marvel at the counters and recounters of a fight exchange. They practice for long, drawn out demonstrations and they adjust the syllabi to ensure they can continue learning unending techniques they will never apply. Being part of the generation who didn't understand, I of course didn't get what these masters were saying.
Once upon a time, studying silat meant studying to masterhood. It never meant studying to instructorhood, or practitionerhood. It meant, that within 100 days of going the distance 8 gruelling hours a day, you would have discovered how to control every movement, spiritual, mental or physical. Your mastery of the system taught by the master was complete. Your next task? Go and find another master and master HIS system.
But how was all this possible? Today, hundreds of thousands of students in Malaysia are run through their syllabi, learning, memorising, performing, testing and memorising again. Eight hundred hours would never be enough for any of them, and for many, it isn't.
That's because silat was not taught by rote memory. It was taught through guided discovery. It was taught using simple, but not simplistic formulas called by various names: Petua, Sifir, Rahsia etc that provided the student an algorithm to process the mass of information that besieged him.
However, at a deeper level, behind everything that was intellectual, there was the instinctual. There was the most basic of basic necessities that has given birth to everything man has ever created. The one instinct that Allah has put into man to allow him to not just live, but prosper, and that is: survival.

True. So many silat styles today teach techniques that are deadly, but a deadly technique creates not a deadly fighter. Only the will to succeed, the drive to persevere, the instinct to survive is what provides context for the methods and buah we learn.

It is in the heat of survival that most effective martial arts are born. Unfortunately, survival is only the first phase of development, followed soon after by comfort and finally by prosperity. It is when these silat styles reach prosperity that they find it most difficult to maintain the quality of students.

When all they can think of is the quantity of participation and fees, of glamour and press releases, of power and politics, that is when the mighty shall fall. We have seen so many walk that path. We can only wonder who will be next.
Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

1 comment:

Steven Vance said...

The problems you describe here are not unique to silat. Globally, the vast majority of martial art styles have become divorced from the reality of combat. How many instructors have ever been in a serious fight, let alone a life-and-death struggle? How many people can switch on, at a moment's notice, the mental and emotional mindset needed to face combat? How many who practice a martial path these days really want to?

I guess the big question is how to regain the methodology that will allow the development of a combat-ready practitioner?