Herman Suwanda was born in Sumatra, Indonesia on February 10, 1955 to Uyuh and Mimi Suwanda.
Uyuh, his father, was not merely the patriarch of the Suwanda family, he was Pendekar Guru Besar of the Suwanda family art of Pencak Silat Mande Muda.
His mother, Mimi, was from a Cimande family. Her father and many of her uncles were freedom fighters against the Dutch colonization.
Cimande is the name of a village, a river, and a style of West Javanese Pencak Silat.
Cimande is highly respected.
When Bapak Uyuh died in 1989, Herman became the head of the family system.
Pendekar Herman Suwanda arrived in the United States in 1980.
Prior to his untimely death on March 22, 2000, Pendekar Herman had become a highly respected Silat master both here in America and throughout the world.
Renowned students included Dan Inosanto and Antonio Somero.
It is certainly an accomplishment for two Filipino Martial Arts master teachers like Inosanto and Somero to embrace the teachings of Pendekar Herman.
What was it that made venerated masters like Inosanto and Somero embrace Pendekar Herman and his teachings?
Was it his vast knowledge?
Perhaps it was his ability?
Could it have been his unique style?
Maybe it was his humility and sincerity?
Do you think dedicating his life to the promotion and perpetration of his art could have been the reason?
It was all of these things and much more!
Before answering these questions, let’s first address why
Herman Suwanda was born to be a torch-bearer.
As you know from the introduction, Herman was born into a martial arts family.
His training in Pencak Silat Mande Muda began in 1960 under his father’s tutelage.
Despite the fact that his training with his father continued, Herman began studying with many other Pendekars from many different systems in 1965.
His goal was to learn as much as possible so he could preserve the cultural martial arts of West Java, where is family relocated shortly after his birth.
Herman began teaching in West Java after nearly 10 years of private training with his father and other Pendekars.
So, it’s easy to see how he was a torch-bearer for martial arts, isn’t it?
But he was so much more than that!
He was a torch-bearer for the rich culture and history of Indonesia too!
His training gave him an understanding of various village ceremonies, costumes and rituals.
It taught him deep respect for his teachers and their arts.
Growing up in the Sundanese highlands of West Java exposed him to oral traditions of culture by listening to stories from his parents, grandparents and many other elders; it also gave him the ability to learn the Sundanese language; and it exposed him to the attire and costumes of the region.
The history of Indonesia is equally rich and Pendekar Herman was well-versed in it as well.
The history is rich with religion, external influences, conflict, the
rise and fall of empires, extensive trade, famine, disease outbreaks, and more.
Considering his training background with his father and so many other pendekars, as well as the fact that Pencak Silat Mande Muda is comprised of 25 styles, it’s no surprise that the knowledge of Pendekar Herman Suwanda was vast.
Corroboration of his vast knowledge can be found in two quotes from the legendary Dan Inosanto and one from the highly revered Tony Somero.
“Pak Herman Suwanda is one of the most knowledgeable and gifted martial art instructors in the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat.”
“I have never met an instructor who was so giving of his massive treasury of knowledge.”
“Pendekar Herman would open the door to the world about Pencak Silat and
be one of the world’s leading authorities on many different systems of
Indonesian fighting martial arts.
Even though Pendekar Herman is no longer with us, it is quite easy to catch glimpses of his impressive ability thanks to the Internet and other video material he left behind for those of us interested in him and his system of Pencak Silat Mande Muda.
Reading about his life also provides insight into his ability. When years of training time with many pendekars combines with a strong work ethic the result is impressive ability.
Furthermore, I have personally spoken to individuals who trained with Pendekar Herman. They all provide the same assessment – his ability was impressive.
In speaking of his ability, Dan Inosanto has used words like “gifted” and phrases like “… with all his talent and ability.”
With regards to his ability, Antonio Somero wrote, “… the physical
ability to wrap you up like a pretzel along with the means to manipulate your
body into many different compromising positions.”
The family system of Pendekar Herman Suwanda, Pencak Silat Mande Muda, was a unique style due to its’ expansiveness and peculiarities.
Its’ expansiveness relates to the fact that there are 25 styles that make up Pencak Silat Mande Muda. Some of the styles are actual fighting methods. Others are concepts or strategies only.
It should come as no surprise that the three major styles found in West Java, Suwanda’s homeland, Cimande, Cikalong, and Syahbandar are all part of Mande Muda.
Other styles contained within Mande Muda include Harimau, Kari, Madi, Cipecut, Timbangan, Nampon, Sera (sometimes spelled Serak), Rikesan, Tanjakan, Ulin Naps, Ulin Baduy, Galih Pakuan, Pamacan, Pamonyet, Syahbandar Baru, Cikalong Baru, Harimau Baru, Sanalika, Benjang, Sampiyong, Sabetan, and Ujungan.
Its’ peculiarities are visible in certain styles, such as Harimau (a
Sumatran ground fighting system based on the movements and tactics of the
tiger), as well as in its’ dress, which traditionally includes wearing a black
top and black pants, a sarong, an ikat belt, and an ikat headdress.
Despite the stature and successes that Pendekar Herman Suwanda finally achieved in his life, his humbleness remained.
This does not surprise me at all given very modest beginnings that revealed the challenges life can present and an upbringing that taught him deep respect for family, community, and culture.
Those fortunate enough to have personally known him could recount many examples of his sincerity.
For those of enough who, unfortunately, did not have the pleasure of knowing him, I believe his genuineness is best exemplified by the selfless support that he provided to so many people back in his homeland.
He saw to it that people had food and that children were able to get a good education.
Dan Inosanto has written, “Yet with all his talent and ability, Pak Herman remained a humble, honest and sincere man.”
Antonio Somera has written, “Just like so many immigrants before him he had a dream to make his life and the life of his family better including the people of his village and country.”
From what I have learned of Pendekar Herman he fulfilled the dream
Antonio Somera described.
Both Dan Inosanto and Antonio Somero could easily relate to the dedication to the promotion and perpetration of Pencak Silat Mande Muda that Pendekar Herman Suwanda displayed, as each had dedicated himself to similar causes.
This promotion and perpetration began with him learning all about his craft in Indonesia.
It continued when he came to America and began educating people about Indonesia and its’ rich culture of martial arts.
It expanded when he began traveling the world and educating many more people.
Despite his life being cut short, Pendekar Herman undoubtedly fulfilled
his father’s wishes – for him to teach the family’s art and educate the public
about the Indonesian martial art and its’ rich culture and history.
Pendekar Herman has been gone for a long time, many teachers and students help
to keep his legacy alive.
As I mentioned earlier, the Internet can provide access to actual video footage of Pendekar Herman displaying his art and his skill.
Of course, many of these same teachers, pass on stories of Pak Herman via the oral traditions of Silat.
This biographical sketch of Pak Herman is one of the ways that I display my commitment to keep this greatly revered Pendekar’s legacy alive.
I speak to my students about Pendekar Herman.