Bunga And Seni Silat

The concept of Pandai Akal can be seen when the Pendekar cleverly executes his counterattacks against his opponents. Sometimes it seems that the misfortune that befall his opponents happens quite by accident, sometimes with hilarious results. More often than not, it is quite terminal.

He can seem to accidentally step on the foot of his opponent, causing his opponent to stumble and fall with serious damage to the ankle or foot, ending the fight there and then. He may push his posterior against his enemy's in a comical move, shoving the unfortunate fellow into a glass wall or onto the point of a sharp object with fatal result. He can, while grappling, suddenly sit down on the knee of his opponent, breaking that leg in one easy motion. If held in a lock, he may prod his opponent with his finger or toe, creating a momentary distraction and opening from which he can free himself and launch a devastating counterattack.

His sense of timing and distance is superb, avoiding his opponent's attacks by a hair's breadth, somehow always putting himself in the best position to counterattack. He is elusive, constantly moving beyond the focus of the opponent's attack. It seems that he anticipates his opponent's every move, a single touch is all that it takes. This style of combat is Sepadi and certainly the most advanced level in Silat. It is very intelligently thought out, efficient, and maximizes all opportunities for counterattack.

To understand how he develops this skill and technique we must look at Bunga Silat, the dance-like forms demonstrated in formal occasions such as Malay weddings and Permainan Seni.

In many villages in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is quite common to have different pesilat (practitioners of a Silat style) meet together and 'spar' in a soft and flowery way, each showing their own distinctive Bunga and yet each understand the other well enough to be able to 'spar' in this soft and almost ritualistic fashion. A win can be signified by being able to take the opponent's head gear (called a songkok) or when the opponent falls in a very clumsy fashion. It is almost like a game and dance, and is often done with the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments. This is called Permainan Seni or Seni Silat because the emphasis is on an artistic, dance-like style of idealized combat. Permainan can mean game or play, and seni can be translated as art.

'Bunga Silat' being performed at a Malay wedding in Malaysia.

To the uninitiated, even among Malaysians, there seems to be no practical use for such activities and some even deride it by making comments such as tepuk lalat - slapping flies, in reference to some style's practice of slapping their hands against parts of their bodies. To the practitioners of Silat however, embedded within these soft flowing movements are the secrets of their art. It is a way of developing their mind (akal), sensitivity, and to develop their techniques to a very sophisticated level.

To illustrate this, a guru Silat and friend of mine related to me his experience learning Silat Batu Mandi in West Sumatra many years ago(click here to download a PDF file showing this). Silat Batu Mandi translates as The Bathing Rock Silat. As to how it got this name there is a legend, about a guru Silat who was walking by a river side. There he came upon a large rock (called batu in Malay) near which a beautiful maiden was bathing.

Suddenly, four men appeared and attempted to molest her. The guru saw the maiden jump onto the rock, and there ensued a fierce fight between her and the four men. Fascinated, the guru watched, for it was apparent that the maiden needed no help at all. Deftly, she evaded their attacks and launched her counterattacks. The people of West Sumatra are well known for their Silat, this region being known as Gudang Silat - Silat Factory, and her four attackers were probably highly-skilled as well, and yet she managed to dispatch them in a very short time.

The guru then approached the maiden to inquire about her Silat, but as he came to the rock, she was gone. It was if she had disappeared completely. This guru then extrapolated the techniques that he had seen into the Silat style known as Silat Batu Mandi in West Sumatra, Indonesia. This Silat style is also called Silat Puteri Mandi (The Bathing Princess Silat) and is not easily found as the teachers of this style do not teach openly.

The student of this style is first taught the basic movements, not on the ground, but in the house of the guru Silat. Training starts by sitting cross-legged in front of the guru, knees touching. The guru will then teach basic striking and parrying movements from this position. The movements progress to more complex techniques shifting from a seated position to low-level fighting and finally a standing one. To the onlooker, it is almost like learning a graceful dance for the students are not allowed at this stage to use aggressive and hard physical force. He learns coordination and technique as well as understanding the intricacies of low level and close range infighting. Attention to detail such as the positions of the fingers is emphasized, as in this region an opponent is very much likely to break one's fingers if one is careless.

At a later stage, the student is seated with four attackers around him also in a similar crossed-leg position who will launch attacks with bare hands and knives. The student has to defend himself from attacks from the front, sides, and behind him, utilizing speed and precision, and involves grappling and striking, using the whole body as a weapon.

In the next stage, the students move on to begin their training underneath the guru's house. The traditional houses in this region are usually supported by short stilts or pillars as a means to protect the occupants from dangerous animals. Normally one has only enough standing room to crouch below these kind of houses, where they train, knees bent for hours on end, with the short supporting pillars of the house providing obstruction. This concurrently teaches and adapts them to fight in enclosed spaces, develop leg strength, and stamina.

A traditional Malay house

It is only in the third stage that they begin to train on the open ground, usually in front of the guru's house. Here, another test await them as they will begin to train on a clay earth surface made slippery with oil. Again the student will be asked to stand in the middle and his movements will be restricted to a square area 2 ft by 2 ft. He will be asked to defend himself from multiple opponents, keeping one leg within this square at all times. At first, the attackers will be bare-handed, then with sticks and finally knives.

The training begins with soft flowing movements and then progressively the movements become quicker and harder. The guru insists on this so that the student will understand the fine points of attacking, defending, and the detection of the opponent's intent through touch. This would not have been possible had they trained as in a hard martial arts style.

Finally, all lights are put out, and they will train in the darkness of the night, relying on sound, touch, and instinct. As a result, practitioners of this style can also frequently fight blindfolded.

In the final stages, the students will begin to fight faster and harder, depending on pure instinct and reflex; fighting in a no predetermined pattern, and yet executing blindingly fast and deadly Silat techniques.

An interesting feature of this style of teaching Silat Batu Mandi is that the guru is personally involved in developing and testing the student and in the tamat ceremony. By some accounts there are gurus who may spar with each student for up to 2 to 3 hours. This is also the ultimate test of stamina and endurance which has been developed by the gurus of this Silat style.

Beginning with the soft flowing movements of Bunga Silat, the two will engage in Permainan Seni. As time progresses, the attacks and counter attacks become faster and faster until the attacks are executed with their full intensity. In the words of one guru, "Macam kucing yang berguling" which means like two cats fighting, fiercely rolling and clawing at each other. All the lessons that have been learned will be put to the test by the guru himself. Only after the student receives the approval of the guru will he have completed his training. But as a guru once said; "Silat ini tiada tamatnya." meaning that there is no real end to learning Silat. Tamat here means ending the student's tutelage under this guru only. For the pesilat, he will continue and learn and develop his techniques. What has been completed is his personal foundation for future learning and development of Silat, the deadly art of the Pendekar.

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