Seminar Journals: A Closer Look at Silat



Malay wedding with silat opening ceremony (Courtesy of

If you have been watching my Facebook posts of late, you know that I have been focusing my attention on the art of Silat.

This is not a new passion, for the past 17 years I have been following and training with Guro Dan Inosanto. In that time I have become proficient in JKD and FMA but the Silat always impressed and eluded me. In the past 7 years however, it really started to stick, becoming one of the primary influences in my takedown techniques. Suddenly however, I find myself hungry for the whole system, the culture and the applications. I think Guro will be proud of me for looking beyond the academy, for seeking out the wellspring instructors of our time.

And that mission has begun! At this time it is attending seminars, meeting with training groups and soaking up all that I can. I have a new training partner too, also committed to learning the source material, from the best we can find. At my dojo, the passion is catching, the students are engaged as I am and we are having a blast integrating the new movements, and the new principals.

So what is it about Silat? For the longest time it was the movement. The takedowns seemed so simple, so direct and devastating. And there was the fact that every move led into another move, following the opponent to the ground and finishing the fight there. For the longest time I admired the fluidity, and continuity of the motions as they flowed from the ground, to standing to the ground again. Now that I have seen more of the source material however, there is much, much more. I am falling in love with the culture.

I am very aware that my understanding of this culture is just dawning, but this is in process so there is a lot of fantasy mixed with fact in the way I imagine it, and I have a lot to learn about the history and mannerisms, that being said…I will share some of what fascinates me so.

When I see the forms that a Silat practitioner practices there is a level of expression that wasn’t appreciable for me until recently. I have learned that Silat and Kuntao while related are not the same art in all parts of South East Asia. Guro Dan has taught us that Silat is the tradition handed down by the personal guard of Alexander the Great, a multinational group of elite fighters who in their time created a hybrid of their various cultural arts. This hybrid spread out through the Malay people and in different regions became known by different names but most kept the ties to the term Silat.

Guro Maul taught us, that in the history of Brunei, Kuntao and Silat were separated by caste systems, Kuntao being practiced by the noble and merchant class of the water villages, and Silat by the artisans and villagers of the inland. As I saw it demonstrated, the posture of Kuntao is proud, it speaks volumes about the societal position of the individual, who would neither bow, nor bend knee in the presence of their people. People whose long and ornate robes would not be soiled, and whose finely appointed headdress would not be allowed to fall from their crown. These people lived in areas of commerce, on the river, in stilted homes connected by plank wide bridges, they lived in the deltas, natural harbors of the South East Asian islands and spent their lives elevated above the mud and water, or riding in trading vessels and their fighting was as much a statement about status as it was a matter of survival.

The farmers, who in the course of their work, were already close to the ground, if not toiling in the dirt directly, practiced Silat. Their fighting was about survival and family honor and the safety of the village. And it is the tribal mentality of the villagers that gives rise to the progressive inevitability of Silat’s signature finishes. When honor is everything, when it affects everyone you love, neither submission nor submitting an opponent is  an option.

In the short time I have been pursuing the source material for Silat I have heard more than a few philosophies. As a JKD practitioner, I listen closely for the mentalities, and concepts. As a fan of history, and anthropology I open my mind to the tone of the people and culture. And as a martial artist I look to see all these things meet in the movements and applications. Watch some Silat videos and consider this quote, “If one would shove a man off the mountain, that man should hit every rock on the way down.”




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