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Types of Silat

    • SilatChinese Kongfu image by huaxiadragon from

      Silat is a single name for all the different fighting styles found in the Indonesian archipelago. The ancestor of all these styles was developed in Sumatra, but the style changed as it spread from island to island. One of the things that all the silat styles share is their dual purpose: they are both a fighting style and a dance style that is intended for entertainment during social and formal occasions.

    Indonesian Style

    • Indonesian-style silat is called pencak silat. According to legend, it was created by a woman named Rama Sukana after she saw a fight between a tiger and a large bird. She taught it to her husband and then they taught it to the world. Typically, this style is done without weapons and focuses on throws, strikes and joint manipulation. Today Indonesia is largely Muslim and this has been a source of conflict for practitioners of pencat silat. The Islamic faith tends to disallow the fusion of other belief systems. Pencak silat is, however, widely practiced by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

    Malaysian Style

    • The Malaysian style of silat is called silat Melayu. It was heavily infused by fighting styles the Buddhist brought to Malaysia as long ago as the 5th century. This form is associated with royalty and is practiced by all members of the royal family. It is practiced with light armor and bladed weapons. It is a requirement for people wishing to advance in the army and in most governmental professions. Prominent practitioners easily step into high government jobs when they retire from active competition.

    Okinawan Style

    • The Okinawan style of silat is inextricably linked with Japanese martial arts. It seems clear that Okinawan silat and Japanese karate influenced each other's development. The Okinawan style is militaristic and heavily weapons-based. The predominant weapon in the style is the katana--the Japanese Samurai sword. This form is also popular on the island of Bali. For a long time, there was a conflict between silat and Islam on Bali, since Bali is heavily Muslim and silat often involves paying reverence to some distinctly non-Islamic gods. Today, the Islamification of silat on Bali is so complete that practitioners often claim that silat is impossible for non-Muslims.

    Other Styles

    • The Indonesian archipelago contains 13,000 islands. All of these islands, along with nearby mainland regions like China, Japan and Viet Nam, have developed their own style of silat. Outside influences like Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism have also affected the development of silat. In some places it is almost completely a dance form, while in other places it is almost like boxing is in America. Some places use elaborate weapons and some places use no weapons at all. One technique that is particular to silat is the emphasis on pressure points and joint manipulation. It is widely used by police on all the islands to subdue opponents without causing any permanent damage.

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