Silat Melayu

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Silat is an umbrella term for a number of martial art forms originating from the countries of the Malay Archipelago. This art is widely known in Indonesia and Malaysia but can also be found in varying degrees among the Malay-affiliated communities in Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. The art has also reached Europe, and is especially popular in the Netherlands and France. There are hundreds of aliran (styles) ranging from animalistic to human styles and schools or perguruan

Terms other than Silat are used in certain regions where it carries a specific or special meaning. For example, the term ‘gayung’ is generally used by the Malay community in the northern region of the Malay Peninsular. The word Gayung more specifically carries the meaning of spiritual practices in that are inherent in Silat. The word ‘pencak’ is more normally used in Indonesia, especially by the Javanese community. It is the name for thousands of styles in and originating from Indonesia. It is believed that the word pencak originates from the word panca or manca which originates from the pronouncement of the Minangkabau which carries the meaning of a Silat curriculum with five or seven langkah or steps. The term ‘kali’ or ‘basilat’ is used by the Philippine Malay community who developed the skill of tongkat (walking cane or staff) weaponry made of wood or cane.[1]

The origins of the word ‘Silat’ itself are uncertain and most hypotheses link it to any similar sounding word. There are two theories which are most widely accepted. One states that Silat may have originally come from sekilat which means “as (fast as) lightning”. This may have been used to describe a warrior’s movements and was eventually shortened to silat.

Another theory says that it comes from the term ‘Si Elat’ which is the name given to the practitioner where elat carries the meaning of efforts to confuse, deceive, trick the opponent. A similar term, ‘ilat’, means an accident, a misfortune or a calamity.[2]

Silat once played the role of forming the nation’s defence forces since the south east Asian empires of Malay Archipelago like the Langkasuka Malay, Gangga Negara, Champa, Funan, Pattani, Beruas, Minangkabau, Srivijaya, Majapahit, Melaka, Makassar and other kingdoms in the realm of the Malay Archipelago.[3]

Silat had existed in the Cham (Vietnamese Malay) communities approximately 2000 years ago with the discovery of a copper Keris in that region and also drawings on the Borobudur temple in the Javanese region.[citation needed] Commanders of Champa often earned places in and was held in high esteem by the Malay kings for possessing knowledge in silat and for being highly skilled in the art of war. Studies show that silat had a strong presence in the Malay community for 2000 years. The empires of Funan and Champa were two kingdoms that neighbored each other in the same cluster and era. Yet, in the same century, the kingdom of Champa frequently waged wars with China while refusing to submit to China.[4]

Silat was once placed under the protection of the palace, to form the king’s war troops. The Malay kings encouraged princes and children of dignitaries to learn Silat and any other form of knowledge related to the necessities of war. Prominent warriors were elevated to head war troops and received rank and bestowments from the king.[5]

In Sejarah Melayu (Malay History) it is told that Sultan Muhammad Shah had chosen a Cham official as the right hand or senior officer because the Chams possessed skill and knowledge in the administration of the kingdom. [6] Up until the 19th century, history has shown that Silat education continuously expanded and formed Malay leaders of war fighting against colonialists, such as Mat Kilau, Dato’ Bahaman, Dato’ Sago, Tok Janggut, Raja Haji, Mat Salleh and others. The communist era saw figures such as Kiai Salleh, Kiai Osman, Kiai Samsuddin, and Haji Abbas among others. This means that Silat was not deprived of leaders who continuously invigorated and instilled the spirit of ‘love of country’ and ‘fighting to the last drop of blood’. Those mentioned above are among several names that have gone down in history that fought sincerely for their country. Their eminence has a history of and is closely related to the knowledge of Silat and other such knowledge that allowed them to become effective leaders.[7]

In Malaysia, Silat is not only a necessity in defending one’s self, but is also the symbol of the racial persona and cultural art of the Malay which has become accustomed to the rise and fall of the Malay kingdom through the times and together has endured the trials and tribulations in fighting for and establishing the sovereignty of the Malay race. [8]

Since its disassociation with the palace, Silat did not develop in the national defence institution as it had originally, for approximately 460 years (T.M. 1511-1957). Silat returned to the countryside community and focused on the teaching of the person and the skill of self defense without using weaponry or using one’s body to face an adversary with or without weapons. Silat only continued the training of skill in using traditional weapons such as the keris, sword, sickle, golok, lading, kelewang, tongkat (walking stick/staff), etc. In Silat, a weapon is an object that can be suited to circumstance and need. Silat also plays a role in the effort to contribute to the nation as an alternative to joining the Police or Askar Melayu (Malay soldiers). Wherever they may be, Silat is an inherent knowledge which will help them become good officers and workers who are productive.[9]

Throughout the British occupation in the Tanah Melayu (Malay Regions/Realm), Silat continued to be left out of the national educational curriculum. Silat did not receive a place and be arranged into a subject unlike other subjects such as lessons on exercise, dance, singing, workmanship besides health education, nature education, history, English language, Malay language and arithmetic. Until today, Silat continues to be left out of the national educational curriculum and is only accepted as a uniform corps holding the same status or level as other forms of self defense arts from foreign countries. Although so, Silat continues to be conveyed to the community by means of the ‘gelanggang bangsal’ Silat education system carried out by Silat teachers.[10]

Silat education continuously faces transformation in its role and meaning in the socio-culture of the Indonesian, Malaysian people, relevant to time and the needs of the community. Silat education focuses on the development of the person internally and externally which will enable the formation of a community that embodies discipline, morals, patriotism, self identity and citizenship which can contribute towards the development of thinking and the forces of race, religion and country.