Pukulan Pentjak Silat

Global Training Report

Pukulan Pentjak Silat  

From Paladin Press

With Guru Stevan Plinck  

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira

   

    Does Silat work? It does. But can you use it? That depends on how much you believe you will be able to do something that you have never practiced doing,  because Silat is so devastating that it is unsafe to practice it with any useful degree of realism. You might be able to execute when you need to but you will never know until you try. That is a little bit late to find out that you can't.

    One could draw the conclusion that Silat, while potentially useful, is not worth learning. That would be shortsighted. Silat is well worth learning.

Learning Silat

    But learning Silat is nothing like learning Taekwondo, with dojangs in every mall and it is even less possible now to learn by going to Indonesia than it ever was. There are a few Indonesians living and teaching in the USA, but finding one is hit and miss. High quality and authentic Silat is offered in the Inosanto Academy curriculum, which is still conveniently located minutes away from LAX [It is a mixed system, which Guru Inosanto calls Maphilindo Silat]. One could learn about Silat from Bob Orlandofs excellent book Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals (to repeat, learn about Silat, rather than learn Silat). It is virtually impossible to learn skills by reading about them in a book. It is somewhat less impossible by watching a video, if the video is well conceived. At least the beginning, the end, and the points connecting them, of techniques can be seen, and some techniques can be learned simply by seeing them done. Others have to be felt to be appreciated, as Burton Richardson emphasizes.

    Compared to the number of every other kind of tape on the market, there are few Silat tapes. The reason may be that not many people want Silat tapes, or that not many people are qualified to produce them, but in any case,  if you want to learn Silat, your choices are limited. Rudy Terlindenfs O'Hara Silat tapes are attractively mounted, but the ratio of talk to technique is unfavorable. There is an old Panther series (from 1988) by William Sanders called Mastering Pencak Silat. However, all of the moves on the one volume I watched looked much more like a clumsy imitation of hapkido than Silat. The best that I have seen are Rick Tuccifs tapes, which teach (or rather demonstrate) the Dan Inosanto Maphilindo Silat system. At least I thought so because I studied that system at the Inosanto Academy and therefore could make sense out of what Rick was doing. Rick shows many moves and eschews otiose explanations (which is the way Silat is taught in Indonesia (Pauka, 1997)).

    In case you do not already know the fundamentals of Silat, you might prefer fewer moves and more talk. In that case, Pukulan Pentjak Silat, by Guru Stevan Plinck, filmed live on location at the Straightblast Gym, in Canby, Oregon USA , is the tape to get.

    Guru Plinck is a teacher in the tradition of Paul Vunak. He understands the well known pedagogical principle that learning is enhanced in an atmosphere of positive affect and moderate arousal. The important thing for a coach, trainer, or martial arts teacher is to get the message across. If you can do it with Oriental proverbs, fine. If you can do it with long winded lectures, ok. If you have to mangle the grammar of the language you are communicating in to do it, then that is not only ok, but might very well get the point over even more effectively.  

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Bukti Negra Juru 1

    The tape is divided into segments. The first is Bukti Negra Juru 1, which is basically forms. There are people who believe forms are useful and there are people who don't. Among the latter group there are people who believe they are useless and people who believe they are actually counterproductive. My view is that they are useful in some ways, useless in others, and counterproductive in others, but mostly a waste of time, in terms of opportunity cost, and that there is no substitute for a live opponent doing the actual thing that you are training for or as close to it as you can safely get. Obviously, it is too dangerous to really do this in some cases, but a martial art that does not have a way to combine realism with safety is missing a necessary element. 

    In Indonesia, Silat is taught primarily to young boys around the age of 12 (1). It is considered part of their social, cultural, and religious education, and it makes sense in that context to teach it by way of jurus. Guru Plinck is marketing his tape to a different audience, which the opening sequence identifies as guys who want to be able to subdue multiple tooled up bad asses who jump them by surprise near an open dumpster in a back alley behind the mall. So possibly a different training method would be more appropriate.   

Upper Body Principles

    Guru Plinck next discusses Upper Body Principles.  They include controlling the elbow, taking the center, approaching from angles, hits = blocks, the tool moves before the body behind it, and always have a backup move ready. Sounds reasonable. Also sounds familiar. These principles are not what make Silat unique. More or less the same principles apply in boxing. Contrary to what Guru Plinck seems to assume, it is not particularly illuminating to be lectured about abstract principles without reference to body movement, especially in relation to another body. If knowing a principle helped us to learn the  techniques (which is what we want), then that would be ok, but there is no indication that it does. On the other hand, if we can do the techniques, then we don't need to explicitly know why the techniques work. We will of course know implicitly, just as we know the grammatical principles underlying (or constituting) a language that we can speak fluently, without being able to state what those principles are. By the same token,  just as we study a language in order to be able to do something with it--to communicate--rather than to learn grammatical principles, we also study martial arts in other to do things with them, not to learn about principles.  

    Guru Plinck makes several comments that I somehow doubt are based in experience, although I could be wrong. Guru Plinck was a Muhammad Ali fan, and describes Ali's style as  gsting like a bee, dance like a butterflyh. [Actually, what Ali said he would do was to "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee"]. Unfortunately for Ali, his jab had no base and no angle, according to Guru Plinck. It wouldnft gworkh for combative purposes, Guru  Plinck believes. A lightening fast lead hand delivered with 220 lbs behind it wouldn't work? Work for what? That depends entirely on what you want to accomplish with it. A well timed, well placed, and well executed jab can work wonders on most opponents. Jabs incidentally are not intended to be put away shots. That does not mean that they wouldn't accomplish what they are intended to accomplish. Giving Guru Plinck the benefit of the doubt, he may have been thinking of a jab thrown by an average untrained person. (But in that case, would the punch deserve to be called a "jab"? You learn to jab in the context of boxing, which you learn in a boxing gym, using the methods boxers use to learn and perfect their skills. Sticking your left hand out the way Guru Plinck does and calling it a "jab" doesn't automatically make it a jab).

     And wouldn't more or less then same thing apply to any average untrained person using Silat techniques?

The 300 Lb. Samoan Fallacy

    Guru Plinck has fallen victim to a common fallacy in the martial arts world, which is that if a technique doesn't stop a 300 lb. biker on angel dust then it must not be a good technique (Vunak uses a similar example: a 6' 8" Samoan who has spent half his life in prison and is bent on your destruction). But 300 lb. bikers on angel dust and 6' 8" Samoans who are bent on your destruction are  few and far between, easy to see coming, and easy to avoid. And if one is bent on your destruction, you should probably work on your interpersonal skills rather than learning how to smash people in the face with your elbow. If you are training to beat those guys, you need more than a video.  

    I wonder how many 300 lb. bikers on angel dust Guru Plinck has tested his theory on? I'm not saying he is wrong. I am saying I would like to have a higher degree of confidence that he is right before I would personally want to take on a 300 lb. biker or Samoan, on or off angel dust. The fact that Guru Plinck's assistants are a bit on the small side doesn't boost the credibility of his claims. 

   Martial arts training is great, but for self defense a little common sense goes a long way. Learning how to smile, say "please", "excuse me" and a few other expressions that your mother hopefully taught you will keep you out of many street encounters. Not being in the wrong places at the wrong time will keep you out of most of the rest. As for three tooled up bad asses attacking you out of nowhere with no warning and no reason, luckily, that doesn't seem to happen too much. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about it if it does, although running fast works as well as any method and better than most. Airplanes sometimes crash. How much time can you afford to spend practicing to survive a plane crash?

   Now if you simply enjoy Silat training, that is a very different matter. Do what you enjoy doing and if it has self defense benefits, consider it a bonus. But studying a martial art system strictly or even primarily to increase your personal security is self-deluding at worst and wasteful of scarce resources at best (since there are vastly more effective ways to accomplish the same purpose with a smaller investment of time, effort, and money). 

Lower Body and Combined Principles and Applications

     Guru Plinck moves on to Lower Body Principles (or Laws; he doesn't seem sure)  of base, angle, and  leverage. The next segment combines upper and lower body principles. There is also a segment on Silat weapons. Guru Plinck demonstrates several defenses against knives including turning your back to kick. 

   At various points Guru Plinck stops to ask his assistant if he is "ok". What does this say about the safety of these drills? How many repetitions of a movement can you do before you hurt yourself in the gym and can't defend yourself on the street?  

    The Training Drill segment is very basic and the movements aren't explained in adequate detail. They are similar to the kali hubud drill but hubud has a million variations. The Silat drills presented consist of four elbow clearing movements: inside left, inside right, outside left, and outside right. There is nothing wrong with these movements. Boxers use them too. The benefits of getting "outside" are considerable and apply in many, possibly all, martial arts and self defense situations.

  The final segments are Combat Applications, where Guru Plinck demonstrates counter attacks. I have two problems with this. First is that the attacks are carefully staged so the counter attack is too easy. Who couldn't counterattack if they know when, where and how the attack will happen? It is the uncertainty of one or two or all three of these variables that makes defense potentially problematic. The second problem is that the attackers are all doing martial arts techniques, specifically tight karate lunge punches and taekwondo side kicks. It would make more sense to prepare for statistically likely attacks such as a wide wild right hand haymaker at your head or someone simply pushing his index finger in your chest in an attempt to make you defer to his testosteronicity and bar fighting prowess. Silat has good defenses for these as well as for tight punches. Guru Plinck does not teach them on this tape.  (However, the wrestler Matt Furey does teach them on Vol. 4 (How Wrestlers Take a Fight to the Ground) of his own series The Martial Art of Wrestling.)

    Which brings us full circle. Silat works. In fact, it works almost too well. The problem in that case is how to learn it well enough to use when you need to, without crippling yourself and your training partners. Pukulan Pentjak Silat will not help much in this regard.

  

References

Orlando, Bob.(1996). Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press.

Pauk, Kirstin (1997). Silek: The martial arts of the Minangkabu in West Sumatra. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 6:1,  62-79.

Notes

(1.) At least in West Sumatra, where Silat is called Silek (Puak, 1997).

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© 2001, R. A. Pedreira. All Rights Reserved.

Revised February 6, 2002.

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