Sunday, March 28, 2010

Silat References

Got an email from a young silat student looking for some background on the art, so I thought I'd put up what I told him, more or less, here:

There's not a lot of general material about silat in English. The best overall book I've found is still Donn F. Draeger's Weapons and Fighting Arts of the Indonesian Archipelago, written in 1972. O'ong Maryono's work, translated by Ruth Mackenzie, Pencak Silat in the Indonesian Archipelago, is also good, and Ian Wilson's doctoral thesis from Murdoch University in Western Australia is available online:

A good place for a general look at the art online is You have to join, but it doesn't cost anything, and there are a plethora of styles respresented from all over the world, videos and discussion groups and such.

As for fiction, I modestly offer that my own writings, the first four or five Tom Clancy's Net Force novels, and The Musashi Flex depict our version of the art fairly well as I understand it.

Silat, as are so many martial arts, is highly political and the wrangling endless. I used to play a lot in this back-and-forth, not so much any more. Every group is certain that it is on the One True Path™, and that everybody else is second-best -- if that. Even in branches of the same art this goes on. I routinely piss off touchy Sera players from other lineages without even trying. They get upset over insults that weren't offered. Some of them don't realize that if I was trying to insult them, I'd be a whole lot more cutting.

As for where the arts came from, the truth is, origin stories tend to be only as accurate as the memories of those who pass them on -- most of that stuff is lost to the mists of time, and even if somebody wrote it down, that doesn't mean what they wrote is so. Getting too hot under the collar about it is pretty much a waste of energy. Takes a while to get to that point.

I'm getting there. Slowly ...

For me, the most important things are, does it work, and can the teacher offer it in a way you can get it? The wallpaper, history, clothes, traditions, etc. can be fascinating, but in a fighting art, they aren't the deal. Neither the certificate nor the sarong will keep you from getting an ass-kicking. My teacher tells a story about when he came home to tell his grandmother he had found a silat teacher. She knew the art, and was his first teacher, along with his uncle. Her question about the new teacher was, "Can he fight?" And the codicil would be, "Can he teach it, too?")

Whichever style of martial art you are in, you are going to get flak from other styles. You'll mention your art, and some people are going to sneer no matter what it is. Even if you are studying the same art they are studying, they will offer that their version is better. Or their teacher is better than yours. Or they are better than you.

More you can ignore that, the better off you are.

Today's lesson. All done now.


Dan Gambiera said...

Indonesian brain-rot strikes four out of five.

Please give generously.

Anonymous said...

Wing Chun also has lineage politics. I think its purpose is to make the practitioner feel 'special'.

Brad said...

Practically all martial arts, although my experience has been it's more predominant in Asian arts, have these politics. "Anonymous" hit it on the head with the purpose. What better way to get and retain students, than to make them feel special.

One reason I left my last organization and concentrate on what is effective, rather than what school.