Friday, February 09, 2007

REVIEW: Pencak Silat Through My Eyes

Reviews aren't something I normally do, but I felt that this was a topic I could adress relatively quickly.

I recently purchased the new book by Pak Herman Suwanda entitled Pencak Silat Through My Eyes. Though Pak Herman died several years ago, this book was already in the works so a student of his, Tony Somera (sp?) recently compiled the book and got it published (I presume). Maybe self-published?

First, let me say that I have enjoyed much of Pak Herman's silat (though I've not seen much). He has shared much with us in a way that really established pencak silat in the U.S. much more widely than it had been prior. He worked hard to spread Pencak Silat Mande Muda in a way that American's would be interested and he worked hard to understand our culture and our language. In many ways, his understanding and communication in English was a remarkable achievement by itself because I've seen immigrants to the US that after 40 or 50 years still are unable to communicate well in English but that's an entirely different rant.... So Kudo's for even writing a book in English!!

What I liked about the book:
The book gave some history of Mande Muda and introduced the main players within his family. It also gave a pretty good introduction into the structure of kembangan and it's necessity within pencak silat Sunda. There were some basic techniques and names of the various movements which is always interesting to me especially from the standpoint of comparitive silat.

Also, because of the way Mande Muda was structured, there was a large section that attempted to put into words and accompanying photos, the differences between the various systems that made up Mande Muda at the time it was written.

The book also showed Pak's love of pencak silat Sunda and his desire to see pencak silat Sunda preserved.

There was also a few sections of Q&A about specific silat systems such as the Harimau and Sabetan. These were pretty interesting.

Finally, it was good to hear the personal experiences of a few of Pak Herman's students and to get a sense of what these students learned and experienced training and traveling with him.

What I disliked about the book:
Though it is titled "Silat Through My Eyes" a portion of it seemed to focus on Pak's struggles with introducing pencak silat to the U.S. and some of the issues of culture and the way that Pak has been burned. I'm not sure, but I definitely got the vibe that Pak Herman had been burned a few times by people who claimed things they shouldn't have and he was trying to set things straight in a typically Indonesian way - from the side.

Though some of PS MM was introduced, the depth was pretty light. I guess I was hoping to learn a bit more about how MM holds all these systems together or something. How do they come to be called MM if they are taught as separate systems and that sort of thing... Maybe that was answered, but it didn't seem to be. It seems, after reading it, that MM is acting as a blanket name for pencak silat Sunda and a person can basically study any system they want within that blanket. Again, I could be confused since my dealings with Mande Muda are very limited.

There were many many typos. I can appreciate the difficulty of editing a book, especially your own book (if that's what happened) but it seemed as though Tony Somera could have edited it. It was distracting to me because sometimes the wrong word was used that sounds like another word with different meanings. There wasn't a ton of that, but it was in there. It could be that Tony S. wanted to preserve the original writings of Pak as a sort of tribute to him, and that would be fine but I didn't really see a statement to that effect (though I am notorious for skipping introductions and that sort of thing and just getting to the point).

I learned some things, but overall I would say that I had higher hopes than the book delivered. I hate to say it because I know how much Pak Herman was loved, and honestly because I really enjoyed the little bit of Mande Muda that I've had a chance to learn 3rd hand. For those who are followers of Mande Muda, it is a final glimpse at their teacher and friend and his love of pencak silat Sunda, a last chance to hear his voice so-to-speak, but from an outsider perspective it left me a little bit neutral.

3 out of 5 stars


Jay said...

Thanks for the review, Guru. I think if I come across a used copy, I would consider it, but am not going to run out and get it right away.
Take care,

SilatBlogger said...

Sure thing brother. We must be due for a phone call eh?

Jay said...

I have an interview at 1:00 pm Central today, but am around otherwise.