Friday, June 11, 2010

Some ideas about Combat Silat

This was a letter that I just recently wrote to someone interested in joining Pencak Silat Pertempuran. I've also added a bit more to it as well.

This may be fairly long but I'd rather sort through some of this up front.

As you've read the website, you've probably got some of my message but it would be worth saying it again for the sake of clarity—at least imo.

My Vision of Pencak Silat Pertempuran

The name: PSP or Combat Silat derives its name from the Indonesian word Tempur which means "to combat/fight against many". The changing it to Pertempuran was to acknowledge it as a noun in Indonesian. One of the higher level understandings of PSP is that it needs to work against multiple attackers. It is not simply a one on one art. The use of the term combat is significant to me because I want the art to be effective on the street. The use of the term pencak is because I do believe in beauty and the value of beauty. The terms together talk about the beauty of coordinated combat against many. That's not the literal translation of course, but the interpretation of how it came to be and represents the primary culture from which it was derived or at least where the primary shift of understanding occurred. Others use the name Tempur or even combat silat without this. I've talked with people about it before on a personal level and will probably make it public on my blog after I send this to you. In any case, that's the background of the name. It went through several conversations with my Pamur teacher before it came to be called this.

Key idea: It's a name but it's the idea that matters. 

Where are the people?: What sometimes confuses people is that I do not do much teaching against multiple attackers. Some people have concluded as a result that it doesn't exist within PSP. The reality is that they haven't asked me what my idea is or where the two meet. If they had, the would recognize that I teach people to engage in multiple attackers all the time—in the best way I know. The best way to deal with multiple attackers is to handle each person individually and engage them in ways that allow you to keep moving or quickly move from opponent to opponent. Primarily a person training in PSP needs to get good at the individual attacker and then when the time comes and a person is sufficiently able, I will introduce them to the principles of fighting multiple opponents. It's a one day thing to communicate and a lifelong practice to get good at.

Key idea: If you're fighting multiple people you're doing it wrong—take things one at a time. 

Discovering your attributes: I believe whole-heartedly that everyone is unique and that our own attributes as fighters vary in starting point and end point. Likewise, anyone we encounter will as well. Tall, short, fat, slow, quick, smart... whatever! Everyone is at least a little different and as a result they cannot be expected to attain the same level of skill in everything. It's up to you to you to recognize where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. You must train all of it but focus on your strengths, developing your weaknesses as you can but do not focus on your weaknesses or you'll only neglect your strengths. If you're right handed, fight right handed. If left—left. Don't try to become ambidextrous. It's not a good use of your time. It took me a year and a half of throwing a football with my left hand, 5 days a week, to get so I could throw a spiral for 30 yards. It still wasn't comfortable and the thing is, I could still throw it with my right hand 60 yards without much practice. Every time I picked up the football with my left hand to throw it took so much concentration and effort to accomplish half or less of what I could with my strong hand. Now today, I can still throw it better than I could, left-handed, but it's not comfortable, strong, or adaptable. It's barely functional :) Learn your attributes. Strengthen what's already strong to make it as strong as it can be. Raise your strengths to their pinnacle and in the process you'll naturally raise your weaknesses as well. Understanding your own attributes is a good step in understanding someone else's.

Key idea: Keep what's strong—strong, develop your strengths and the weaknesses will follow. Exploit your attackers weaknesses.

It's all relationship: For many years the martial arts was about pursuit of the "answer". I went to great lengths studying many different martial arts simultaneously trying to find The Answer. Then I gave up on finding The Answer only to realize that the answer is relationship. For thousands or millions of years or whatever men have been clubbing the crap out of each other and nobody has really improved it. We've even created bigger badder weapons but in the end. Unless you kill me you can't be guaranteed you'll beat me and even the process of killing is not a guarantee. If only I could take back all the time and ways my mind has ruminated over the idea that somehow "I" was going to figure out what thousands or millions of martial artists, warriors, etc. had never figured out. My friend Hugo and I used to talk about the configurations of positions that a body could make. It's mathematically possible to figure out, by joint and position, etc. how many possible variations you could have and it was during one of those conversations that it dawned on me that it was all about relationship. For years I struggled with techniques that worked in the school but I struggled to apply to someone unwilling. For years I searched for better technique to apply to someone unwilling. For years I tried arts from all over the world trying to find solutions. AND the reality is that I found solutions for everything that I looked for. Unfortunately, that was still no guarantee that it was going to work in the street. Why? Because it's all about relationship and everyone I engage brings different physical attributes and it may happen in a different environment (environmental attributes) and they may bring a different mentality (mental attributes) and so on. That combined with my own attributes makes the relationship infinitely unpredictable and infinitely changing. Even time is an attribute. How quickly do you respond or they respond?

Key ideas: Be adaptable, be responsive, be aware. 

Relationship is also about the ratio: This has led me to develop an art that was responsive to the relationship. The only way to do that was to create an art that doesn't plan 3 steps out but tries to exist right now as much as possible, being aware that decisions I make now (or the attacker) can influence potential responses later - from me or from the attacker. Consequences for actions type of thing. So as an art PSP focuses on short bursts and what I call a 1 to 1 ratio. For every attack or change, there is a relational change that needs to occur. Philosophically some people say that there are no absolutes. I thought about that for a long time and I disagree. We can deny absolutes but there are, in fact, absolutes—you are reading this. If you weren't, you wouldn't know to respond. What is absolute is what has happened in the past and what is happening now. What may happen in the future is Not absolute. That's the relationship idea.

As a result, I've come to look at combat like a puzzle, the pieces of which are unknown until they are needed. You cannot absolutely plan for the future. You can however, with some probability predict a short future outcome if you are directing the combat. It's not an absolute but it is an issue of probability. To see that manifest within PSP you have to recognize the small pieces that are taught, recognizing that they are meant to work together to create, in relationship, answers to combative situations.

For a time studying PSP, you will not have the understanding you need to answer all of the questions. That's where most people fail at PSP. They assume because they do not see it in what they have learned, that it does not exist. So far, for me, that has not proven to be true.

Key idea: There are no absolutes in combat. It's a puzzle to be built on the fly and the right answer is the right answer.

I'm not a superhero: Part of what make PSP special and what connects to this idea of a puzzle or relationship is that much of PSP is set up so that if when something fails you can continue. You're going to get hit. You're going to have things go wrong. You are not invincible. You can be beaten. Even the best fighter can have an off day. The issue is, what do you do when that happens? Do you abandon what you've trained because "it obviously doesn't work" or do you climb back on the horse and keep going. You need to develop Set Points in your martial arts training. That thing you fall back to when everything seems to be going wrong. If you abandon your training in the middle of the fight you are abandoning the only thing you've trained to use. You are increasing the level of unknowns. You are increasing your risk of failure. This of course, assumes that there is at least some basis for your training to be considered combative to begin with. In PSP, the system is full of things that can be used as Set Points. The things in life that help reorient you and start you moving forward again. Set Points keep you from spiraling out of control.

Key idea: You will fail at times. Have a back-up plan or re-starting point. 

Combat Positioning System: PSP uses a combat positioning system to help us recognize key relationship points. These points can be used as Set Points for us when we are engaged with an opponent. They can also be used as references for bridging and applying our technique. All systems of combat can be recognized through this positioning system. Some of these positions will not be comfortable or desirable to you as a choice but they can and will show up in combat situations from time to time and having that understanding of what to do from them is valuable. These include Pencegah Tangan (Checking), Ales (Elak or Evasion), Various Masukan, and Tangkapan. These are the primary pieces from which the rest of the system draws itself out of. When looked at as a totality they address most significant possible positions/relationships.

Key idea: Know where your at in relationship to your attacker.

Keluarga is important: Keluarga is family. PSP is meant to be a family. It is not meant to replace any family you currently have but it is meant for the betterment of all who participate. It is about relationship on every level—even relationships outside of PSP. My vision of PSP is to eventually have a symposium of instructors that meet annually and share topics of concern and keep PSP relevant to what's happening culturally. I know from my own training that even a simple thing like a change in climate has impacted how I perform PSP. I would not have known that except that I moved to FLorida. If PSP is to be refined and grown and relevant it needs to have input from it's high level practitioners.

Key idea: Family helps family.

It's all about movement: From my perspective, PSP is teaching a body culture. It's not only a martial art but a way of moving. It is about a body culture that is uniquely Pencak Silat. People often say that there are no standards for pencak silat. Even within Indonesia it can be hard to see but my experience has been different. I've seen systems from all around Indonesia and I've seen a body culture a movement style that, though different from place to place, often contains similarity too. I intend for all of my instructors to have that body culture, that movement. I want them to be easily recognizable as PENCAK silat. Though our regions and our origins will not be as clear, since we have many influences from around the country and even outside of it, it will be clear that we have a lineage of pencak silat. I do stress pencak, not just silat. I expect that my instructors will move as pencak silat pesilat. They will not represent PSP without representing the movement of pencak—the beauty. It has been my experience that the beauty of pencak has only improved my silat.

Key idea: Movement is the key.

Additionally, combat doesn't happen statically. It's always moving, always changing. You must be about moving and moving in ways that are more efficient or more effective. As a result, the Gerak are a primary piece of what I teach. Historically they have been taught a little bit later in the system. I did that in an attempt to show people some more combative things earlier on. Ten years later I think that it may not have been the best choice because they often miss the greater understanding of PSP and the value of movement. Likewise, if you understand the full breadth and depth of Gerakan you understand PSP. They are a fundamental key to the system.

Key idea: Understanding some movements to great depth gives great value.

Combat Silat is a flower: The curriculum of Combat Silat is the equivalent of a flower bud. It's not meant to be the blossom. You are supposed to take the very basic pieces of the Combat Silat curriculum and build them into YOUR system. I don't know what everyone out there in the world is good at or what their attributes or interests are. Likewise to build a system that would address all of it for everyone is a ridiculous idea. I've been in systems that have tried—it doesn't work. However, because PSP is the bud and not the flower there has been some very prominent misunderstandings about the material. Some people think that everything that is taught is all that a thing can be. Take the Gerak-gerak for instance. It's simple and with a little work you can start to develop the body culture of pencak silat through them. However, that's to miss the obvious connection between the Gerak and the entirety of the applications of the system. Taking the Gerak and applying them to checking for instance will get you a check but take the checking and apply that to Sarong or Bandana and now you have a way to tie up, control, or choke an opponent. Nothing in PSP is isolated. It is all related and all inter-connected. To isolate a thing is to miss the blossom and only see the bud.

The DVD's and the books that I've produced so far, only teach what the bud looks like. In person training teaches how the bud feels. When you put it all together and start to explore it you'll discover the blossom—that can take a few years minimum to many years depending on you. The reality is that you've got to be willing to put the time into it. It's not a short trip. It's about depth of understanding not breadth. The curriculum is meant to be the starting point of your expressive journey. The place where everyone starts from. I can show many different ways to do things from most of the basic things you'll learn. You'll find your own if you start learning to look at the system. In other words, if a question about combat arises you have a choice—look within PSP or look elsewhere. Every time I've looked within I've found the answer.

Key idea: At some point you've got to trust a thing. Not blindly of course but honestly and with sincerity.

Largely I think that people have forgotten the art of learning and want to be told everything.

This has been added since I originally sent this out.

Pencak Silat is not a religion: PSP as I teach it has a Christian philosophy and ideal behind it. That is, that I am a Christian and any of the philosophies, ideas, etc. that I teach are not opposed to my beliefs as a Christian. You don't have to be a Muslim to study PSP, nor do you have to be a Christian to study PSP. You do have to be willing to be tolerant of my Christian beliefs and ideals. I don't have to be tolerant of yours but I probably will be because I'm not threatened by other beliefs. I've looked at and considered many of them myself.

I don't have many rituals in PSP but the ones I do have are based on my Christian beliefs. There are no secret religious or spiritual practices, just a few simple things that most people don't know anything about except the two people that have reached instructor level.

Key idea: It's not a religion.

The secret to pencak silat is anyones: Practice, practice, practice. That's it. Don't think you're going to learn Tenaga Dalam or anything other than the secret art of sweating here.

Key idea: Practice and you can get it.

That's a bit about PSP. There's more but I don't want to re-write my third book, I just wanted to give you some things to think about and to understand before you even begin the process. I would recommend reading this again and again (Lagi-lagi) over time. As you develop—if you choose to do PSP—it will probably mean more to you as you train and begin to deepen your training.

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