By: Richard Clear
Silat refers to a collection of martial arts from Southeast Asia. Silat was developed in a region where tribal warfare, hunting were common activities. Tribes fought over property, trade routes and even engaged in cannibalism. Tribes also fought as a group in ways that enabled them to catch large animals. They would wait for an individual to stray away from companions and then multiple attackers would use knives, clubs and other weapons in order to bring down the victim.
In addition to the tribalism that shaped this martial art, the area in which Silat developed also frequently fell prey to invasion from outside forces. China, Japan, and even the Dutch invaded Indonesia and the surrounding areas. Silat practitioners learned to defend themselves against these outside forces but also learned from them. Silat also derived much from the immigration of the Chinese. Silat practitioners learned and adapted the arts the Chinese brought with them. Consequently, Silat includes its own version of Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and other martial arts forms.
There are many different forms of Silat. Some Silat forms are completely focused on surviving dangerous situations. Others are more cultural in nature. There are forms of Silat which are used as sports. These sporting types of Silat do not make use of the more deadly features of the art. While participants might enjoy a good competition with other people in the village, they didn't want to break their arm or kill them. Another cultural form of Silat is used as a ritual challenge for the groom at the wedding. These types of Silat do not often include techniques which would be useful in combat. Instead they are very flashy and enjoyable to watch.
However, the combat side of Silat is very deadly. The environment in which Silat developed did not allow for artists to have a sense of fair play. In a life and death situation, attackers were not going to follow any rules and Silat practitioners couldn't afford to either. Consequently, Silat focuses on techniques that would bring an opponent down quickly. Bone break strikes are common as well as joint manipulation strikes and pressure point strikes. Silat also developed techniques for dealing with multiple attackers. Practitioners needed to be able to bring one attacker down quickly and then quickly disengage so as to be able to deal with other attackers immediately.
Silat training can take on a number of different forms depending on the school where it is being taught. Some schools teach Silat in much the same format as the teaching in a Chinese or Japanese martial arts school. Others use a conceptual style of teaching and still others focus more on sparring.
Because of the constant need for practicality, Silat also tends to be very adaptable. If something proved to be useful and worthwhile, it was quickly made use of by Silat artists. In the same way, if something wasn't useful, Silat quickly discarded this. This adaptability can be seen today in that Silat teachers often instruct students in firearm retention and counter firearm techniques as well as in the use of more traditional weapons such as knives or clubs.