I came to pencak silat from a background of Praying Mantis kung fu and Chen style taijiquan. I was actually working out with a friend of mine, John Eusebio, in Mantis when I saw silat for the first time. I’d read about it in magazines and was always intrigued, but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand. I was impressed with the straightforward, practical, and seemingly effortless way that the silat practitioner (pesilat) defends against attack.
I decided to try out Guru Besar Jim Ingram’s silat class. From the very first day I began learning a new perspective on the martial arts. At the initial phases of training, traditional Chinese martial arts concentrate on the practitioner. The iconic image of kung fu is sitting in horse stance: an individual, practicing alone, gravity, his or her own muscles and willpower the only opponents. Eventually, those opponents are turned into allies, as one progresses. But the focus is very internal to start with.
From day one, Oom Jim (Oom means “Uncle” in Dutch and is used as a way of showing affectionate respect among Indo Pesilat) stresses expanding your awareness outward. If you can avoid a fight because you have seen the trouble ahead of time, then you’ve won the best kind of victory. The point is not a form of paranoia that drives the pesilat to look at every situation as a possible threat. Rather, we learn to be open to and observant of our surroundings.
If a pesilat is faced with an unavoidable self defense situation, then the focus shifts somewhat to the aggressor’s movement and structure. Awareness of the physical context remains important so that you’re not caught off guard by objects that might trip you (for example), or by accomplices of your attacker who might try to lend a hand. But when it comes to dealing with an attack, the pesilat learns to sense the attacker’s weaknesses in balance and angle and to exploit these weaknesses to avoid the attack, break down the opponent’s weapons, and render the opponent incapable of doing further harm.
Later, as I progressed in the art that Oom Jim continues to teach me, I began to experience the internal training that silat also offers. Amerindo Pencak Silat is a complete martial art that quickly prepares students to defend themselves, while also offering a lifetime of personal development to the dedicated practitioner.
In my personal practice I train daily in Amerindo, Praying Mantis, taijiquan, and kuntao. These arts are separate, but inform each other.
If you are interested in reading more about my perspective, please check out my Chinese martial arts site shenfasociety.com
Here are links to some further essays I’ve written:
Healing a Martial Artist
What is a Warrior?
The Hidden and the Secret