Silat: Wikis


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A Vietnamese pesilat

Silat is a collective word for indigenous martial arts of the Malay Archipelago of Southeast Asia. Originally created and developed in Sumatera Island and Java in what is now Indonesia, then spread to peninsular Malaysia, southern Thailand and Singapore, silat was also traditionally practiced in Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines. As a result, it is closely related to other Southeast Asian martial arts including krabi krabong and eskrima. Practitioners are called pesilat. The Chinese fusion of silat is known as kuntao[1]

There are hundreds of different styles but they tend to focus either on strikes, joint manipulation, bladed weapons, throws, animal-based techniques, or some combination thereof. Silat schools are overseen by separate national organizations in each of the main countries the art is practiced. These are Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (IPSI) from Indonesia, Persekutuan Silat Kebangsaan Malaysia (PESAKA) from Malaysia, Persekutuan Silat Brunei Darussalam (PERSIB) from Brunei and Persekutuan Silat Singapura (PERSIS) from Singapore.



The origin of the word silat is comes from the Minang word silek,[2] the etymology of silek itself cannot be traced.

Originally the word silat was used as a generic term for martial arts, including systems from outside the region. Some Malay-speakers (especially in Indonesia) still use the word as such, as can be seen in the term ilmu silat (knowledge of silat) which can used for any fighting style. Today, the word has a formidable arsenal of terms used to refer to martial arts in Southeast Asia.[1] It is usually called pencak silat in Indonesia or silek in the Minangkabau language. Some examples of the word's application in Malaysia and Singapore include seni silat (art of silat) and seni bela-diri (art of self-defence). The term kali or basilat is used by the Malay community of the Philippines who developed a style of fighting with the tongkat (walking stick).[3]


A silat exponent in Bali

The "silat" or "pencak silat" tradition is mostly oral, having been passed down almost entirely by word of mouth. In the absence of written records, much of its history is known only through myth and archaeological evidence. The primary weapons of Indonesia's tribal peoples were the single-edge sword, shield and javelin. The inhabitants of Nias Island had until the 20th century remained largely untouched by the outside world. However, they are culturally similar to the Himalayan Naga tribe. Neighbouring Sumatrans are said to have left the Nias people alone because they were fearless warriors.

India and China were the first civilisations from outside Southeast Asia with whom Indonesia made contact. Both countries influenced the local culture, religion and martial arts. Bas-reliefs in Srivijaya depict warriors wielding such weapons as the jian or Chinese straight sword, which is still used in some styles today.[4] Additionally, Javanese blades are of Indian derivation. It was during this period that pencak silat was first formulised. The earliest evidence of pencak silat being taught in a structured manner comes from the Sumatra-based empire of Srivijaya where folklore tells that it was created by a woman named Rama Sukana who witnessed a fight between a tiger and a large bird. She then taught the techniques to her husband Rama Isruna from whom they were formally passed down. There are several variations of this story depending on the region where it is told. On the island of Bawean, Rama Sukana is believed to have watched monkeys fighting each other while the Sundanese people of West Java believe that she created cimande after seeing a monkey battle a tiger. The accuracy of this legend cannot be substantiated but the fact that pencak silat is attributed to a woman is thought to indicate their prominence in ancient Southeast Asian society. Masters still believe that the first styles of silat were created by observing animals, and these styles were probably derived from animal-based Indian martial arts.[5] In the fifth or sixth century, pre-determined sets are said to have been introduced by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma who came from India to Southeast Asia via Srivijaya.[6] Through this connection, silat is also used as a method of spiritual training in addition to self-defense.[7]

Srivijaya had control of the Melaka Straits, making it one of the most powerful kingdoms in the history of Southeast Asia. Its reign encompassed what are now Sumatra, Singapore, western Borneo, peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. The empire was also a centre of learning and religion, attracting scholars and holymen from around the Southeast Asian region. More than a thousand Buddhist monks were living and studying in Srivijaya-ruled Sumatra alone. Among them were Javanese, Siamese, Malays, Chams and Khmers. This not only allowed pencak silat to spread throughout the archipelago but also brought the art into contact with what would become sibling fighting systems.

The spreading of Silat was also helped by diaspora of malays from Indonesian archipelago. Centuries of tribal warfare and civil wars led to immigrations of people from Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi to Malay peninsula and other islands. They brought the Malay culture and the art of silat. The art passed down to their descendants and developed into more various and unique styles.

One of the earliest form of silat in Malay peninsula was brought and taught by malays from Minangkabau, Sumatra during Malacca Sultanate in 16th century. There are several colonies of Minangkabau people in Malaysia, most notably in Negeri Sembilan. Several styles of silat in Malaysia was a fusion of Aceh and Minangkabau style[8]. One of the most famous silat school in Malaysia, Silat Cekak incorporated some of the Minangkabau technique into their curriculum, such as silek Luncua, Sitaralak, kuncian (lock) Kumango dan Lintau.

While Srivijaya dominated the coastal areas, the Sanjaya (or Mataram) and Sailendra kingdoms ruled central Java. Pencak silat especially flourished in Java which is now home to more different styles than any other Indonesian islands. In the 1200s, Srivijaya was defeated by the Cholas of south India. This was followed by the decline of the Sailendra and Sanjaya kingdoms but it also gave rise to the Majapahit empire. This was the first empire to unite all of Indonesia's major islands. From its base in eastern Java, Indonesian culture flowered and pencak silat became highly refined. Weapons made by Majapahit smiths were greatly prized in the peninsula such as Hang Tuah's famed Kris Taming Sari.

Since the time of Srivijaya and Majapahit, silat had been used by defence forces of the kingdom, this custom was later followed by their successor kingdoms in South East Asia. However, silat was never confined to any particular social class or gender but was practiced by all without restrictions. Even today, it is often taught in families who have inherited cultural traditions such as woodcarving, dance, herbalism or the playing of musical instruments.

During the struggle against Dutch colonists, Silat was utilized greatly by Indonesian freedom fighters. After achieving independence, pencak silat brought to Europe by Indonesians of half-Dutch ancestry. The art is now included in region-wide competitions, particularly during the Southeast Asian Games.

Southeast Asian trade had already extended into Okinawa and Japan by the 1400s. The number of Japanese people travelling the region increased after the Battle Of Sekigahara. By the early 1600s there were small Japanese communities living and trading in Indochina. Some arrived with the official red seal ships while others were warriors and pirates from the losing side of the Sekigahara war. Although mostly confined to Siam, some Japanese escaped to Cambodia and Indonesia after Ayutthaya was attacked by the Burmese. Silat shares many similarities with Okinawan karate as well as the throws and stances of weapon-based Japanese martial arts[4] which may date back to this time. Trade with Japan ended when the country went into self-imposed isolation but resumed during the Meiji era, during which time certain areas of Malaysia and Singapore became home to a small Japanese population. After the Japanese Occupation, some silat masters incorporated the katana into their styles. The weapon is still used in some systems today although its application has little relation to actual Japanese kenjutsu.

Except for generals and royalty, Indon-Malay warriors wore minimal armour. A rattan shield, or a breastplate at most, was the only protective gear available to the average soldier. The older forms of silat consequently relied more on agility than they do today. During the colonial era when the western system of law enforcement was introduced, police officers who practiced silat emphasised trapping and joint locks so as to disable criminals without killing or injuring them unnecessarily. The styles created during this period are the most widespread today. Indonesians and Malaysians would later use silat to liberate themselves from foreign authorities.[7]

Since the Islamisation movement of the 1980s and 90s, there have been attempts to make silat more compliant with Islamic principles. It is now illegal for Muslim practitioners in Malaysia to chant mantera, bow to idols or practice traditional meditation and deep breathing. This has given rise to various misconceptions that silat is inherently Muslim or can only be practiced by followers of the Islamic faith. In actuality silat has existed long before Islam was introduced to Southeast Asia and is still practiced by non-Muslims. The Hindu-Buddhist and animistic roots of the art were never eradicated, and remain very evident even among Muslim practitioners of traditional styles. Balinese exponents often argue that the newer and more "Islamised" forms are less authentic and less useful in real combat. Some of these old methods have been lost after silat masters in pre-dominantly Muslim areas could no longer teach them, but others still endure among conservative training schools in Indonesia and Thailand.



Stances and footwork

Almost every silat style incorporates multi-level fighting stances (sikap pasang), or preset postures meant to provide the foundation for remaining stable while in motion. The horses stance (kuda-kuda) is the most essential posture, common to all styles of silat. Beginners once had to practice this stance for long periods of time, sometimes as many as four hours, but today's practitioners train until it can be easily held for at least ten minutes. Stances are taught in tandem with langkah (lit. "step"), a set of structured steps. Langkah consist of basic footwork and kicks made to teach how best to move in a fight. The langkah kuching (cat step) and langkah lawan (warrior step) are among the more prominent examples of langkah. After becoming proficient at langkah, students learn footwork patterns or tapak ("sole") from which to apply fighting techniques. Each tapak takes account of not only the particular move being used but also the potential for change in each movement and action. Among the most common formations are tapak tiga, tapak empat and tapak lima. All together, the stances, langkah and tapak act as a basis for forms-training.


Silat is an important part of randai performances

Forms or jurus are a series of prearranged meta-movements practiced as a single set. Their main function is to pass down all of a style's techniques in an organised manner as well as being a method of physical conditioning and public demonstration. While demonstrating a form, silat practitioners often use the open hand to slap parts of their own body such the shoulder, elbow, thigh or knee. This reminds the pesilat that when an opponent comes close there may be an opportunity to trap their attacking limbs. Aside from solo forms, they may also be performed with one or more partners. Choreographed forms pitting one fighter against several opponents are common in silat, especially styles which emphasise defense against multiple attackers. Partnered forms are useful for teaching the application of techniques, particularly those attacks which are too dangerous to be used in a sparring match.

Tari ("dance") are freestyle forms which haven't been arranged beforehand. With a partner, tari is used as a way of sensitivity training similar to Chinese chi sao.[6] The aesthetic aspect of forms is called flower (bunga) or art (seni) forms. They are performed in slow, graceful movements with an intentional dance-like quality. Their purpose is to hide the subtle applications of a certain technique from onlookers or to trick the opponent into making a mistake during battle. Once the student has learned basic techniques, forms, and footwork, they are taught how to attack before being attacked, in self preservation. Silat exponents are entrusted to use their knowledge confidently in its rightful place and to ensure that their knowledge does not fall into the hands of the irresponsible.[9]


Along with the human body, silat employs a wide variety of weapons. Prior to the introduction of firearms, weapons training was actually considered to be of greater value than unarmed techniques and even today many masters consider a student's training incomplete if they have not learned the use of weapons. Except for some weapon-based styles, students must generally achieve a certain degree of skill before being presented with a weapon which is sometimes made by the master. This signifies the beginning of weapons-training. Among the hundreds of styles are dozens of weapons. The most commonly used are the kris (dagger), parang (machete), tongkat (walking stick) and sarong. The kris is accorded legendary status in Indonesian culture and is the primary weapon of most silat systems, although some styles prefer the stick for its versatility. Silat's traditional arsenal is largely made up of objects designed for domestic purposes such as the flute (seruling), rope (tali), sickle (sabit), chain (rantai) and trident (serampang).


In silat culture, the energetic body consists of interlocking circles called cakera. The cakera's energy rotates outwards along diagonal lines. Energy that emits outwards from the centre line is defensive while offensive energy moves inwards from the sides of the body.[6] By being aware of this, the silat practitioner can harmonise their movements with the cakera, thereby increasing the power and effectiveness of attacks. Energy could also be used for healing or focused into a single point when applied to sentuhan, the art of attacking an opponent's pressure points. The highest form of sentuhan supposedly allows a pesilat to attack pressure points using energy alone without physically touching the opponent.


Basic drum set

The movements of silat are often performed as a dance during festivities such as weddings. These performances can be done either solo or with a partner and are accompanied by music often played by a live band. Several traditional dances were influenced by silat, such as the inai dance from Malaysia. In the Minangkabau area silat is one of the main components in the men's folk dance called randai,[2] besides bakaba (storytelling) and saluang jo dendang (song-and-flute).

The music played during silat performances is known as gendang baku or gendang silat baku in Malaysia and gendang pencha among the Sunda people of west Java. The instruments vary from one region to another but the gamelan (Javanese orchestra), kendang (drum) and gong are common throughout Southeast Asia. The Minangkabau of west Sumatra play the music of talempong and sometimes use a type of flute called saluang. The most common instruments in Malaysia are the gendang (drums), serunai (oboe) and seruling (flute). Music from the northern Malay Peninsula more closely resembles Thai music.

Types of silat drums include the gendang ibu or "mother drum" and the gendang anak or "child drum". The serunai, which also comes in long and short variations, is what gives silat music its distinct sound. As with a tomoi match, the speed of the music adapts to the performer's pace.

Silat drum sample

Terms of address

In malaysia, silat instructors who are qualified to teach but haven't yet achieved full mastery are addressed as Cikgu or Chegu, a contraction of encik and guru. Masters are called Guru or teacher while grandmasters are called Guru Agong or Mahaguru meaning supreme teacher. An elderly male master may be addressed as Tok Guru or Tuk Guru (lit."teacher-grandfather"), often abbreviated to Tok. The honorary title of Pendekar may be officially bestowed onto a master by royalty or unofficially by commoners.

In Indonesia, a teacher or masters in silat are called guru without the encik, tok guru, etc; while the pendekar still has the same meaning in Indonesia. In the past, students in a silat school would be treated as one family and addressed each other as such. Junior students were called adik seguru ("younger sibling of one master") or adek. Senior students were addressed as abang seguru or kakak seguru ("elder brother/sister of one master") which were usually shortened to abang or kak. These terms vary according to local dialect. The Javanese term for addressing a senior is Kang. Seniority depends both on one's age and level of experience.

See also


  1. ^ a b Douglas Farrer (2006). "`Deathscapes' of the Malay Martial Arts"". Social Analysis 50 (1). Retrieved 2007-10-28. 
  2. ^ a b Kirstin Pauka (2003). "Umbuik Mudo and the Magic Flute: A Randai Dance-Drama". Asian Theater Journal 20 (2). 
  3. ^ Martabat Silat Warisan Negara, Keaslian Budaya Membina Bangsa PESAKA (2006) [Istilah Silat by Anuar Abd. Wahab]
  4. ^ a b Donn F. Draeger (1992). Weapons and fighting arts of Indonesia. Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co.. ISBN 9780804817165. 
  5. ^ Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1980). Comprehensive Asian fighting arts. Kodansha International. ISBN 9780870114366. 
  6. ^ a b c Zainal Abidin Shaikh Awab and Nigel Sutton (2006). Silat Tua: The Malay Dance Of Life. Kuala Lumpur: Azlan Ghanie Sdn Bhd. ISBN 9789834232801. 
  7. ^ a b Sheikh Shamsuddin (2005). The Malay Art Of Self-defense: Silat Seni Gayong. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1556435622. 
  8. ^ Shadows of the prophet: Martial arts and sufi mysticism. Ed.9. Springer. 2009
  9. ^ Martabat Silat Warisan Negara, Keaslian Budaya Membina Bangsa PESAKA (2006) [Istilah Silat by Anuar Abd. Wahab]
  • Quintin Chambers and Donn F. Draeger (1979). Javanese Silat: The Fighting Art of Perisai Diri. Tokyo: Kodansha Internat.. ISBN 0870113534. 


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. self-defense

See also


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