We have, in our version of silat, short upper body moves called djurus. (We use the Dutch/English plural -- some styles use the Indonesian method, doubling the word, as djuru-djuru, or dropping the "d" altogether. After Independence, the Indonesians rebuilt their dictionaries, and threw out the old spellings. Our style's head teacher in the West was raised with the Dutch versions, which we mostly still use. So we write "pentjak," instead of the newer version "pencak," wherein the "c" is given a "tj" or "ch" sound. To my mind, the new version looks like it should be pronounced "pen-kack.")
These djurus, we believe, are like the basic ingredients of flour, water, sugar, butter, and eggs. There aren't many of them, but they can be combined together in various ways to make everything from bread to cake to cookies. (Rita Rudner used to do a funny stand-up routine: "If you mix flour and water, you get paste; if you mix flour and water and eggs, you get cake. Where does the paste go ... ?"
Together with the lower body moves, which we call langkhas, and things like groundwork, we believe the most efficient tools one will ever need in a fight situation are covered. The forms are not to fight with per se, but to learn the tools.
A few weeks back, my teacher added a new wrinkle. The more senior students among us are now doing a fillip -- during a move called "trapping window," which ends in a punch, the position is varied ever-so-slightly into a pukulan-style punch.
"Pukul" is one of those multiple-use Bahasa words that means, among other things, "hammer" or "hit," and thus "pukulan" means the art of hitting. One of the ongoing arguments in silat -- and there are many ongoing arguments, many -- is how the hodgepodge of a given art's techniques came to be assembled. One of these contentions is that the Dutch brought western boxing to the Spice Islands and used it in the port bars, and that the locals liked what they saw and borrowed parts of it. Which is not to say that they didn't have their own ways of punching, or that they didn't alter what they saw to fit. It's a theory.
To somebody without any knowledge of our art, the new variation doesn't really look any different. The window is stretched a bit into three dimensions instead of a plane; the intent of the punch is different, but that's hard, if not impossible, to see from without. Doesn't break any principles, is almost the same, but there is a little flare ...
All of which is to set up the point: After you have been doing the moves one way for a time -- fourteen or fifteen years, say, then re-focusing them even slightly is passing hard.
We are supposed to practice these forms mindfully and with intent. By which I understand it to be something more than than as an automaton and by rote -- there needs to be focus and not just going through the motions half-heartedly.
Which is not to say that "mindful" and "thinking" are the same. As my teacher quotes his teacher, "If you think, you stink." What this means is that conscious thought is too slow to effectively deal with incoming attacks. If you have to think: "Oh, look. He's punching at my nose -- I should do something about that." then you won't have time to do anything about it before you get smacked. The best way to head 'em off at the pass is to get there before they do.
The djurus give you tools that, with enough practice, can be used via a kind of learned reflex. This term is, of course, inaccurate. A reflex is hardwired into the system, a short-circuit that only has to go as far as the spine and not the brain; nonetheless, enough practice of a motion will allow it to be used without conscious thought. Consider walking -- if you had to consciously detail to yourself each aspect of weight-shifting, leg-moving, foot-placing and like that, you'd never get anywhere save very s-l-o-w-l-y. Try it running and you'll likely fall down.
Which is to say that altering a motion you have practiced for a long time requires conscious thought and so for the last few weeks, my djurus have looked pretty ragged. (Not that they were all that great before, but they are definitely less so now ...)
Never a dull moment.