What's The Appeal of Silat?

Prior to 2000, I had no real knowledge or understanding of Silat. 

Sure, I had read a few articles and seen some pictures over the years in Black Belt and Inside Kung Fu magazine, but, that’s it!

Then in 2000, I received Guro Cass Magda’s two-volume, 1993-1994 European Tour, video set, which featured Indonesian Pentjak Silat and Filipino Kali.

What I witnessed in those videos greatly appealed to me.

What was it that inspired me to learn more about this Indonesian Martial Art?

Continue reading and you will discover the answer.

Continue reading to discover if this might be what you’ve been longing for too.

Okay, it’s time to answer the question, What’s the appeal of Silat?

First Impressions

For me, my first impressions were directness, efficiency and finality …

… Aggressive directness,

… Consistent efficiency and

… Unrelenting finality

Counterattacks were dealt with by hard, forward-charging entries that created a balance-disrupting aggressive directness.

The strikes and manipulations that followed the hard, forward-charging entries produced consistent efficiency regardless of the attack.

The follow-ups that were executed after the takedowns not only showed respect for the downed opponent, but revealed the unrelenting finality that the art seeks to instill.

Out of My House

Prior to becoming a student and teacher of this Indonesian Martial Art, I had trained in several other styles of martial arts.  

But my previous experience never included anything like I witnessed on the European Tour videos.

Sure, I had seen aggressiveness, strikes, and takedowns before, but I had never witnessed the manipulations that resulted from, or that followed, the strikes but preceded the takedowns.

The strikes and/or manipulations support an “Out of My House” mentality, which involves moving the opponent to the left or right enough to move him out from being directly in front of you.

Moving the opponent left or right also serves to disrupt his balance, keep constant pressure on him, and make the way for the next thing – strike, takedown, lock, etc.

Calm the Tiger

Would you get in a cage with an angry tiger? 

No, of course you wouldn’t! 

You would tranquilize the tiger first.

In much the same way, you are best served by tranquilizing your fierce opponent before or during your entry into his close personal space.  

Pukulan styles of Silat tranquilize or tenderize their opponents through rapid striking.

Independent Bases

Forms have been a mainstay of my previous training, as they probably have been a foundation for you too. 

In all of my previous experience, however, the body was treated as a single element. 

This is not the case with Silat. 

In this art, you learn that there’s an upper base and a lower base. 

The bases are two parts of the same whole.

The independence of the bases, which is unique to this art, is critical to the success of its' techniques.

Counter for Counter

Nine different takedowns were listed in the European Tour videos.

During the initial stages of training, students learn each takedown individually. 

As the training progresses, students learn to counter takedown attempts with takedowns of their own.

As the training further progresses, students learn that each individual takedown can be countered by the exact same takedown, as well as all of the eight remaining takedowns.

In other words, nine takedowns can be used as counters to a takedown attempt in this system.

Knowing versus Understanding

You can know a lot of things but to understand them is another matter completely.

For instance, you can know how to do an inside foot sweep – Sapu Dalam – but to truly understand it is a completely different thing.

To truly understand it you must understand:

  • How to use it at close quarters

  • How to use it retreating

  • How to use it at speed

  • How to use it with upper levers

When you can use it in all of these ways, then you understand it.

Dalam versus Luar

Dalam means inside and luar means outside. 

Dalam and luar are typically associated with literal translations, such as Sapu Dalam and Sapu Luar, which translate to Inside Foot Sweep and Outside Foot Sweep, respectively.

Dalam and luar, however, can also refer to figurative translations.  

In this case, luar refers to the obvious interpretations of the art. 

For instance, an upward elbow delivered into the opposite hand during the performance of a hand-dominant form or juru signifies:

  • a head grab coupled with an elbow or

  • moving the arm out of the way and elbowing the chest

Dalam, on the other hand, refers to the hidden or less obvious interpretations of the art. 

In this case, that same upward elbow can be a:

  • throw

  • takedown

  • lock

  • counter to a throw

  • counter to a takedown

  • counter to a lock

A Bag of Flour

To delve deeper into the dalam aspect of this art let’s look at the bag of flour analogy.

What can you make with flour? 

The correct answer is – that depends upon your knowledge of baking. 

If you possess little to no knowledge of baking, you need the help of a baker to make bread, cakes, pasta, pastries, pizza, pies, waffles, pancakes and more. 

In essence, you need the baker to show you how to bake.

In this art, hand-dominant forms or jurus and footwork platforms / steps or langkahs are your bags of flour.  

What can you make with your Silat bags of flour? 

The correct answer is once again – that depends upon your knowledge of Silat. 

If you possess little to no knowledge of Silat, you need the help of a teacher to turn the “flour” into “deadly food” for the enemy. 

In other words, you need the teacher to bring the jurus and langkahs to life by showing you how to apply them.

So, as a student of this art it’s okay to think of yourself as a baker’s apprentice.

New Way versus Old Way

The new way of Silat tends to resemble a shadow boxing set. 

In this method, the movements of the jurus are interpreted literally. 

The upward elbow delivered into the opposite hand signifies a head grab coupled with an elbow or moving the arm out of the way and elbowing the chest and that’s it!

In other words, there is no bag of flour.

The old way is synonymous with bags of flour. 

Movements of the jurus are interpreted figuratively. 

In this method, the upward elbow delivered into the opposite hand signifies a lock, takedown, throw, counter to a lock, counter to a takedown, or counter to a throw.

While both have their appeal, I prefer the old way.

Complex Simplicity

Understanding the variations of all the neat moves and techniques of this art is complex.

So, how do you overcome this complexity? 

Simple …

… return to the basics!

Your return to the basics promotes true understanding as opposed to just knowing. 

True understanding of the basics results in complex simplicity for two reasons:

  1. You don’t have to learn a lot of complicated techniques.

  2. The complex techniques come out of the understanding of the basics.

The Never Ending Way

One of the principles of Buka Jalan Pentjak Silat – the Silat system taught at HIMA – is to “Make the Way.”

“Making the Way” involves setting the stage for the next technique.

For instance, a strike makes the way for a step.

A step makes the way for pressure to be applied.

Applied pressure makes the way for an arm to be moved to another place to push.

A push makes the way for a knee.

A knee makes the way for another step.

Another step makes the way for a sweep.

This is the never ending way of Buka Jalan Pentjak Silat a system in which each move is setup by the move before.

One Beginning ...

… countless finishes.

Silat can use the same defense, such as an inside parry coupled with a driving punch, against an attack yet channel that attack to many different finishes.

In other words, the same attack handled by the same defense can lead to countless finishes. 

As an example, each of the nine takedowns mentioned earlier could represent one finish. 

Thus, takedowns alone would account for nine different finishes.

Substitution Principle

This principle is found within many highly evolved martial arts systems to include Silat.

The Substitution Principle involves using a different implement to accomplish the same objective.

In the European Tour videos, the staff, knife, and empty hand substituted for one another during the execution of a takedown.

Dangerous Dancing

When I speak or write about kembangan, I’m not referring to the residential area in Kembangan, Singapore or the sub-district of West Jakarta in Kembangan, Jakarta or a village located in Selangor, Malaysia that goes by the name of Seri Kembangan.

Instead, I’m referring to the dangerous dancing of Silat.

Kembangan is a music-accompanied dance in which Silat players “flowerize” their moves as a means to conceal their dangerous implications.

Same Same, But Different

My when I first met my wife, Piyanan, in Thailand she always said, “Same same, but different.”

To many people this saying does not make sense. 

Many people think, “How can something be the same, but different?

Silat shows you how.

The trademark of a true system is that it has a “funnel of adaptability” that allows seemingly different attacks to be handled exactly the same.

As an example, Silat can “funnel” the following attacks:

  • Right step, right punch

  • Right step, left punch

  • Left step, right punch

  • Left step, left punch

To the same finish!

It’s important to note that the attacker is the one who is different!

You can use the same footwork, the same entry, and the same technique to handle each attack listed above.

Director - Directee

At the forefront of this system of Silat is a fighting philosophy that states, “You are the Director, your opponent is the Directee.”

This fighting philosophy is designed to change your mindset.

When you embrace this fighting philosophy and its accompanying mindset you no longer position yourself to the opponent. 

Instead, you learn to direct him.

You learn to direct him through openings that you purposely leave.

You learn to direct him through exercises that have you get into an entry position and then move – direct – him into different techniques, such as Sapu Luar, Biset Dalam, and Pueter Kepala.

You learn to direct him from the same attack to different finishes.

You learn to direct him from seemingly different attacks to the same finish.

In short, you become the Director! 

He becomes the Directee!

This fighting philosophy is far different from a system that emphasizes technique, technique, and more technique.

A Peculiar Ground Style

If you’re a fan of unique styles and athleticism, you’re going to love the peculiar ground style of our Silat.

This style is unique in that the hands can be used as feet and the feet can be used as hands.

It is athleticism personified, as it requires agility, coordination, speed, and leg strength to name but a few attributes.

This peculiar ground style is often referred to as harimau or tiger.

Your Next Step

While your next step is clearly your choice, I do have three recommendations for you.

  1. If you live in our service area (see below) and are ready to start your Silat training or just want more information, contact us today!

  2. If you live outside of our service area and you're ready to start your Silat training, look for a local Indonesian or Malaysian Martial Arts teacher near you and call today!

  3. Regardless of your location, use this gateway for further exploration into the magnificent martial art of Pentjak Silat.

Service Area

Given our prime location, we are in an ideal position to serve the 4-state area of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Here is a partial list of some of the cities and towns we serve:

  • Berkeley County, WV: Marlowe, Falling Waters, Martinsburg, and Hedgesville

  • Jefferson County, WV: Bolivar, Charles Town, Harpers Ferry, Ranson, and Shepherdstown

  • Washington County, MD: Williamsport, Hagerstown, Clear Spring, Funkstown, Sharpsburg, Keedysville, Boonsboro, Smithsburg, and Hancock
  • Frederick County, MD: Braddock Heights, Middletown, and Frederick

  • Franklin County, PA: Greencastle, Chambersburg, and Waynesboro

  • Frederick County, VA: Winchester

  • Morgan County, WV: Berkeley Springs

Thanks for checking out Silat!

Guro Ron Hebb

Return to Home Page