What is Silat?


In very simple terms, Silat is the fighting art of South East Asia.

Silat is known by different terms around the world.. in most of South East Asia it is known as Seni Silat, and in Indonesia and the rest of the world as Pencak silat- because of the Indonesian influences in most styles outside Asia.

To confuse matters further, there are many other arts that originate from the Malay Archipelago, that may have originally have different names, like Ma’en Po, Pukulan, silek, and then other spellings to denote the Dutch influence- so Poekoelan, Pentjak, etc. Some people mistakenly use the spellings to imply an older more authentic style of silat which simply isn’t true.

Seni means “art”. Some systems teach Silat without the Seni. One of the most respected old Silat masters in Malaysia said that Silat without the art is not Silat, but is merely fighting. Malaysian Silat practitioners place a great deal of importance on this aspect of the system, and on how to incorporate it into real fight situations. They say in Malaysia that it is called Seni Silat– the ART of Silat rather than Silat Seni, because the art is more important than the fighting.

There are 4 major styles in Malaysia, Seni Gayong Malaysia, Silat Cekak, Silat Gayong Fatani, and Silat Lincah. Lincah means fast. It is a fast moving, aggressive art.

Classically there are 4 aspects to silat:

  • Sport- Ohlaraga
  • Art- Seni
  • Self Defence- Bela Diri
  • Spiritual- Ilmu Kebatinan

There is little bunga- flowery movements- in the arts we teach, with the emphasis (Sadly) being on combat. Many or most styles of silat have an element of dance where the movements are performed to music. Because Lincah is a fighting art, we do not have a large amount of this aspect of silat. From my training in Malaysia, I found that there were lots of techniques in Lincah, but little structure, so I set about creating a system that I could teach here. The result is a basic system with 6 BUAH, and 6 pecahan for each buah.

The idea is that there are some more complicated techniques as you progress, but also some more effective and quicker ones. I aim to teach people body mechanics and principles of movement through the various techniques. Basic techniques and forms consist of the usual punching and kicking. From that the student moves on to the buah. These again are basic techniques, done on an attacking opponent. Once these have been mastered, the pecahan are taught. These are effectively add ons to the buah, or ways out of them, going into more complicated maneuvers. Buah in Malay means fruit. Pecahan means to open. The buah are the basic techniques, but you only get the essence of the fruit once you open it. They are the options that the style gives you. You don’t have to use them all, but the full repertoire gives you a style of movement. That is what STYLE is about. Dancing is dancing, but the samba is different to the waltz

The grading system there is also a little difficult to transpose to Europe. I believe that in Europe there is an expectation of belts, and grades, akin to Karate and TKD, so when you have a style that has only a few, or so many it os ridiculously complicated, it doesn’t give students the feeling of progress and progression.

Our Grading System

The grading system that we developed, gives students targets, similar to the normal grading. There are grades to be achieved before you are allowed to progress to the next grade. Maha Guru in Malaysia has vetted this system.

So, together with my senior students, we examined the techniques that I had learned, and put a structure to it. We have tried to build a system that gives progression, where one technique can build onto a previous one. We also have made drills to teach skills. I have often been taught on the Nike principle- “Just Do It”. That is OK when you have 20 or 50 people to follow. When you are trying to explain it, because you are the only one who knows what you are talking about, it is virtually impossible to teach. The drills are to teach some of these movements. Once the skills have been learned in the drills, I also try to make them an aerobic exercise to give a cardiovascular workout. We also work on speed drills, and such like to develop all-round fitness, while still working in our art.

The principle is of sport- specific training. Because of my professional experience in sport, working with two of Britain’s top athletics clubs, and then professional courses, I have acquired some experience in training. I put this into practice in my club. I also have specialist knowledge in areas like stretching, through my work with elite athletics and rugby and football so again, take that information from my work to my sport.

I believe in training for contact. My first silat teacher used to say that you train full contact to the body, and 1/2 or 1/3 contact to the head. That way you get used to getting hit, without the brain damage. Obviously you work up to it. The first time I got hit in the street, two things went through my head: the first was “I haven’t got a glass jaw”, the second was “I’ve been hit harder in training”. So I didn’t freeze or get scared, I just switched into training mode.