Monday, January 29, 2007

Purposes and background of pencak silat

I posted this on the Dragon List Forum.

A note to those still interested.

I am a pencak silat practitioner and I just wanted to address a few things.

1. No one really knows the origins of pencak silat. It seems to have been influenced by Indian MA, Thai MA, Chinese MA, and anything else that has come along.

2. There are MANY MANY different styles probably in the thousands. Pencak silat is typically very syncretic (as is the Indonesian culture) in nature and individualistic. I have seen teachers of the same style who have performed the material so differently that they would appear to be different arts - yet in principle they are the same.

3. Much of pencak silat is weapons oriented but not all of it. Indonesia is still a weapons culture today.

4. In self-defense you do not need to be attacked before you can respond if you can show/prove imminent danger. This probably varies from state to state but every state I have lived in agrees with this.

5. In ALL MA including MMA there are those who aren't very skilled and those who are very skilled. The art is only one part of the total equation.

6. It is probable that not all pencak silat started from animal fighting and not specifically the monkey. There are animal styles and there are non-animal styles.

7. Pencak silat has had much influence historically with various religions. It is largely the product of the spiritual nature of Indonesia. For instance, many Indonesians are Pantheists, many are also Muslim, some or Christian, some are Hindi. If you look at history, Indonesia has had several stages of cultural change. Each of these have left it's mark on the culture. Few have been abandoned. Therefore, you have silat with lots of mysticism, no mysticism, religion, no religion, and just about every conceivable mix including tenaga dalam, which is akin to Chi or Ki. Some of these practitioners are into the whole no contact self-defense belief (I find this funny normally but it’s out there).

7. Most pencak silat includes some form of spiritual practice or philosophical study. This is what separates bullies from the rest of us. It serves little purpose if you're only good at killing or self-defense in a culture because you WILL tend towards what you are good it. Therefore you must have balance IMO.

8. I know pesilat who can and have used their pencak silat for "self-defense" in the streets, against weapons without having their own weapons. Pencak silat is as capable as any other art. Likewise, it is as incapable as other arts too. There just isn't any magic bullet martial art out there or combination. Anyone can suck on any given day lest you think that you are all that.

9. Some of pencak silat was purposed for combat against many people simultaneously, so though they may go to the ground you will probably not see many submission holds. Of course, this is changing because Indonesians want to do what the rest of the world is doing.

10. This brings me to another point, what is on the video is not combative. It is demonstrasi. It is meant as demonstration. Pencak Silat leaders (not all by any means) have been trying to produce a sporting method for this art. They have been working since the early 70's to come up with a good blend that is indicative of the wide variety of pencak silat that is out there while still making it appealing to youth who want to participate and not losing sight of their history and function. No small task and largely they have not really had success. What you see in this clip is an attempt. Unlike MMA or Boxing or Thai Fighting, there are three aspects to every competition. One is termed as self-defense (loosely), the other is forms - Kembangan/Jurus Wajib, the other is fighting - Ohla Raga.

11. Culture plays a big role in pencak silat, even regionally. It is not uncommon that Sumatran arts have a lot of groundwork. Most other arts do as well. However, when you go to Java you'll typically see a lot more handwork, and more upright stances. In Madura there are more high kicks and wider, lower stances. In Malay silat I have typically seen pretty high stances and a good mix of Sumatran and Chinese influence as well as some Thai influence. All of that to say, that IMO, we should be considering our own culture when we perform silat. Some do and some don't. The ones that do are more in keeping with true pencak silat principles IMO.

12. Pencak Silat is a principle-based art largely. That is, that while there are specific things to learn they typically point to larger or broader principles which is why you can have people who study the same art with different movement interpretations, different applications, etc. That's what makes this art so exciting and interesting. It offers a lifetime of study within a very limited set of materials.

There’s more to say but probably few people would read it.

I do have a blog, website, etcetera if anyone of you are interested. I also have a couple of books on the market – they are mostly for students but anyone could get the gist of what we do by looking at them.


Guru Pencak Silat Pertempuran

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