Taking a seat at the big PERSILAT table

Official PERSILAT membership announcement

Last month (January 2019), the United States Sport Silat Association (USSSA) was officially recognized by the world governing body for Silat, the International Pencak Silat Federation (PERSILAT) based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

THIS IS BIG

This makes the USSSA the only national body in the United States sanctioned by PERSILAT.

This gives us the authority to bring the USA Pencak Silat National Team to international competitions like the World Pencak Silat Championships, the Belgian Open, the Singapore Open and more.

At the same time this enables us to host first-class, PERSILAT sanctioned events here in the United States.

This opens up a wealth of global Pencak Silat knowledge and experience and strengthens bonds between the United States and the rest of the world. We are now in good company with 52 other member countries.

Most importantly this gives us the charter to showcase the uniqueness and diversity of Pencak Silat in America on a world stage.

Making it official: USSSA on the world and national stage

Just a sample of the richness and diversity of Pencak Silat in the USA

This past weekend was an historic event for Pencak Silat in the United States.  Our Roadshow to the Olympics was the first truly inclusive gathering of the diverse number of Pencak Silat styles in America.  This summit brought together silat players from over 12 different styles and 10 different states spread across all regions of America.  With approximately 30 pencak silat players in attendance, the atmosphere was abuzz with this newfound spirit of unity.

USSSA President Jacob Richter accepting an award of appreciation from PERSILAT Executive Chairman Benny G. Sumarsono

As part of the showcase, we were honored and blessed to host PERSILAT Executive Chairman, Benny G. Sumarsono.  He made the long trek from Indonesia (through multiple flight delays no less) to attend this gathering and to offer his expertise and leadership.  In addition to providing training on the specifics of pencak silat events — helping to lay the foundation for development of future athletes, coaches and officials.  Our event culminated with Pak Benny’s speech at our celebratory banquet.  He advised the audience that our success hinges on coming together under one umbrella and expressed support for USSSA, its mission of sharing Pencak Silat with the United States and its goal of serving as the governing body for Pencak Silat sports competition in the United States.

Pak Benny G. Sumarsono demonstrates a guntingan takedown as allowed in the  Professional Pencak Silat Federation rules.

Selection of State Coordinators

Also as part of this meeting we selected coordinators for the states in attendance.  The list below enumerates our current representatives.  More details will come soon on the website.  These people have graciously stepped forward to oversee development of Pencak Silat sports in their states and will be organizing state and regional competitions as part of the Road to the Olympics.  We will publish more details for about how to communicate with them in the near future.  In the mean time, thank you coordinators for your commitment.

State Coordinator Style / Affiliation
California Yusuf Kurniawan Perisai Diri
Colorado Edward Alexander Inti Ombak Pencak Silat
Florida Chester Melonius Pencak Silat Manyang
Georgia Kireeti Sangadala Premiere Martial Arts
Pencak Silat Tenaga Tiga
Hawaii (Big Island) Bahati Mershant Pencak Silat Tenaga Tiga
Hawaii (Oahu) Leo Sues Pencak Silat Mande Muda
Illinois Dr. Sheik Shamsuddin Silat Seni Gayong
Maryland Dr. Scott Sobel Silat Serak
Massachusetts May William Baringin Sakti Pencak Silat
Missouri Jeff Sprawls Maju Bela Diri Pencak Silat
New Hampshire Ismail Sujadi Pencak Silat Galih Pasundan
New York Benny Rahardja PGB Bangau Putih
Texas K.R. Doc Dority Pencak Silat Mande Muda
Utah Nate Zeleznick Merpati Putih
Vermont Mark Zizis Inti Ombak Pencak Silat
Virginia Chris Robinson Silat Satria

A Good Sport: An Argument for Combatives Sports

“Smack. Smack.” That was the sound that resonated from my opponent’s body and head as I landed a double round kick, one to the stomach and one to the head. Both kicks landed with speed and precision. “Point,” yelled the head referee. We broke apart and that was enough to end the point fighting match. Five points scored and that signified my second win at the 1990 All American Open Tournament held in Denver, Colorado. There would have to be a couple more wins before I placed. My next opponent was a seasoned kenpo fighter and a school owner from Colorado Springs. I was in my first year at the university and barely nineteen years old. I knew this was going to be a tough match. I stared my opponent in the eyes as we bowed, remembering Bruce Lee’s advice to “never take your eyes off your opponent, even when you bow.” It was his gritty kenpo techniques versus my athletic tae kwon movement. In the end he edged me out by one point when the timer went off. I was eliminated from the bracket, no second chances. With my head held low we hugged and my opponent beat me that day. Or did he?

Outsiders looking in may think competing in combat sports like UFC, karate, judo, jiu-jitsu or silat is ego driven. Some may think it is a watering down of traditional techniques, made safe for the masses. Others believe that every combat sport is simply human cockfighting with two aggro fighters going at it, vying for dominance. As a life-long competitor and practitioner of combat sports (namely Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu- and maybe one day Silat), I would like to offer a different perspective. There are three main reasons to consider when supporting or competing in a combat sport like silat. Of course there are more, but these are the three I feel are most important to anyone’s growth- not only a martial artist, but a responsible citizen.

Compelling Combatives Sport Reason One: Personal Growth

Back to the match from the opening paragraph; well, in the 80’s and 90’s, head gear was not mandatory and groin shots were legal at open tournaments in the cowboy state of Colorado. Needless to say, the rules do not bode well for the high kicking Korean-style artists, such as your humble scribe. I lost the above match to of all things, a groin kick.

Frustrating? Yes! Unskilled? Hell yes, but effective. From that point on, I trained to check my opponent’s movement with a low stiff leg technique of my own, thus pinning their leg to the ground, or faking a bunch before going full-on “Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace” on them. I had learned to adapt, improvise and overcome. This teaches students and practitioners that when you encounter an obstacle, you can overcome it. I may have lost the match, but I learned a valuable lesson and became better. This is the true spirit of competition, to make more resilient people and give them tools to succeed in life. Speaking of life skills, respect and humility are something to have handy- which brings us to point number two.

Compelling Combatives Sport Reason Two: Respect and Humility

For every outspoken Conor McGregor in the UFC, there are easily ten others that are respectable and humble. Sure, people like McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Chael Sonnen get the spotlight, and that may lead the masses to think all MMA fighters are brass and arrogant. But the fact remains, the majority of martial artists are respectful and humble (including UFC fighters). How do I know? My BJJ teachers compete in the UFC and Bellator MMA promotions. They are both as deadly as they are compassionate and humble. In fact, the majority of competitors I have met are all very humble. Why? This is because almost everyone who competes will taste defeat at some point in their career. (I say almost, because there is a few- emphasis on few- outliers who may not.) Combat sport practitioners get their rears whooped in practice, on a regular bases. They know there may be someone better. Even when they reach the top as a champion, it is common knowledge that winning or losing (at the elite level) is often balanced on the edge of blade- in other words it can go either way on any given day.

Contrast this to some traditional martial artists whose techniques always work on willing students or partners. These practitioners have never tasted defeat. They feel they are invincible. The enlarged egos can create tension and splintering in the arts, which brings us to the third point.

Compelling Combative Sport Reason Three: Community- A Group Who Kicks Together Sticks Together

Combat sports offer a chance for people to come together as a community to share something they love. These communities often grow stronger because of competition. I have observed first-hand the fracturing and animosity that brews inside traditional arts (which often shun competitions). One branch of the art may say, “my lineage is more deadly.” Another branch will claim, “my lineage is more pure and authentic.” While another branch within that style states, “you both are clueless because we have more forms and techniques than anyone.”

And round and round it goes. Faces turn red, lines are drawn and woe is to anyone who tries to mingle between the factions. In contrast, this rarely happens to the combat sport communities I have been involved in. If a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai teacher has a special way of doing things. Fine. Go ahead and try it out in competition. Any animosity is left inside the ring. No bickering, huffing of chests and the community remains intact and respectable.

Combative Silat Sport Conclusion

Starting with pankration and wrestling, combative sports grew to become a world-wide phenomenon. Sport silat is already established in Asia and Europe. Today, silat in the USA is taught primarily as a traditional art with few sport oriented teachers. With the USSSA and head coach guru Daniel Prasetya leading the way, it will be exciting to see Americans getting on board with sport silat competition. Soon the USA will be able to demonstrate their talent, innovation and spirit to the rest of the world in this exciting sport.

Personal growth, respect and a stronger community are only three good reasons to participate in combat sports. Do you have others? Please share your thoughts with us, or email the author through his site or facebook page.

The subtle psychology of scoring in Sport Silat

“Ngluruk Tampa bala menang Tampa ngasorake”

“Come without reinforcements. Win without harming”

 

The expression above originates from Javanese war tactics.  “Come without reinforcements” means go into battle assuming no one is there to bail you out.  “Win without harming” is a statement of principle. The goal is not to conquer or degrade it is to prevail in the manner best for all.  Over the years this expression has evolved into an ideal of nobility which has permeated into the psyche of silat.

But what does this have to do with sport silat?  Whether it’s Wrestling, Karate, Boxing, Judo or Silat, competitions are one-on-one bouts with rules.  The person who scores the most points, gets the submission or knockout wins, right?

The key lies in decoding the hidden meaning of each sports’ rules.  In all sports rules provide safety and they define a framework for rewarding desirable actions.  With combat sports, the rules highlight and reflect the spirit and mentality of the underlying martial art.

Consider Olympic Boxing rules. Before 2016 scoring was primarily based on hits landed.  In 2016 the judging criteria shifted to number of target-area blows landed, domination of the bout, technique and tactical superiority and competitiveness.

These boxing scoring systems reflect the adage “The best defense is a good offense”.  Both the old and new scoring criteria clearly reward an active, attacking boxer. Defense a factor in the event of a tie.  Consequently many boxing coaches and their gyms train with an offense-first mentality. Don’t get me wrong . Defense is obviously a huge part of the sport.  One cannot be a successful boxer without being able to slip, roll, or block. My point is that the rules do not equally value defense as much as offense. A boxer with superior defensive skills, according to the rules, must attack at some point in order to win the match.

In the silat tanding (point sparring) scoring system, the athlete earns one point for landing an attack with the hand. Two points are awarded for a successful kicks.  Flooring an opponent by way of scissor, sweep or throw earns three points. Right away we see a hierarchy of values.  Feet are more important than hands. Taking an opponent to the ground is rewarded most of all. Here is the first subtlety that encourages a defensive mindset.  Takedowns are much riskier and much harder to initiate offensively. Bonus scoring is really where we see the explicit importance of defense. Any of the techniques above earn a bonus point if performed as a counter to an opponent’s attack.  In practice this means that for equal effort acting in defense is more “valuable” than acting as the aggressor.

Understanding of traditional Silat training is the key to understanding the sport Silat scoring system. Traditional Silat training places a heavy emphasis on footwork. This partially explains why more points are awarded for a foot strike as opposed to a hand strike.  It becomes more clear when you note that many silat styles think of stepping with the foot and kicking as equivalent and interchangeable. Even though sport Silat scoring does not differentiate how you evade an attack, the theory is footwork is a more effective way to defend against an attack. This may be in part because traditionally Silat is a weapons-based art focusing primarily on edged weapons. It is impractical to rely on blocking, parrying, or evading edged weapons with your hands because they can easily damage leaving you in an undesirable situation.

The final and arguably most important, part of traditional Silat training deals with giving a smaller,  weaker person the best chance of surviving a physical encounter against a larger, stronger opponent. It is very important to understand that the smaller, weaker person is not trying to defeat the larger stronger opponent. The goal of the smaller weaker person is to survive. How does surviving translate to winning in a sporting event?

Returning to the adage at the beginning of this article.  Someone operating at a disadvantage must execute perfectly.  They must be precise in predicting their opponent’s movement and exactly time the moment to launch a counter attack.  In other words, they must rely on all the tools they have on hand. There are no reinforcements. There is no alternative.

A silat practitioner will even consider this final counterattack as a defensive action.  Not because “the best defense is offense”, but because this final, potentially devastating act ends the confrontation.  This is core psychological difference between Silat and other sports. The Silat practitioner is constantly thinking and acting with the intent of being “safe” as opposed to doing harm.  If an action causes harm, it is viewed as a means to increase the overall level of safety for everyone. This alternate viewpoint of winning without doing harm and emphasizing defending over attacking is the main idea that Sport Silat  hopes to share and to introduce to the world.

Sport Silat through the eye of a Pencak Traditionalist

As a newly appointed coach for Sport Silat, I often hear the question, “Aren’t you worried that Sport Silat will eventually destroy traditional Pencak Silat”? My answer to this: Sport Silat is to be used as a tool. It is not a replacement for traditional teachings.

To compete at a high level an athlete needs endurance, speed and strength. For many of us traditional martial artists, we tend to ignore athleticism and instead focus on defending ourselves by developing confidence and fluency in our technique. The rules of Sport Silat forces the practitioner to focus more time on physical training, but this does not mean technique should be thrown away. Similarly we as a Silat community should think of Sport Silat as another tool for self-improvement and martial art development. Ideally a participant will have a background in traditional Silat training before participating in Sport Silat, but we should also think of Sport Silat as a way to expose newcomers to the wider set of tools offered by traditional training.

Still, many folks raise concerns that when a traditional martial art becomes a sport it loses its traditional values and effectiveness. Some argue that training for competition builds bad habits. Others say that focusing on winning corrupts the spirit and throws away the heritage of the art. All of these arguments can hold true, if one only practices the sport aspect and allows competition to fully replace traditional training. When conducting traditional practice we aspire to stay pure and true to the traditional teachings. Even better if one can stay true to these teachings even when participating in Sport Silat.

Most traditional martial arts place heavy emphasis on virtues and development of character. Common teachings include lessons in humility and in contributing to one’s community. Take any traditional pencak silat style, and you will see how its practice ties directly to the the values of the communities in which it evolved. When people learn traditional Pencak Silat, they develop pride in their own style, their lineage and their jurus (aka forms or katas). For many the jurus highlight what their style considers important whether it be footwork, strength, strategy, etc… This is an expression passed down from teacher to student over hundreds of years.

Now contrast this to the development of popular martial arts sports in Southeast Asia, especially Pencak Silat. Competition rules and standards were created anew in modern times by committee to reflect the similarities across many styles and geographies. This raises the question: “how can we preserve the richness and spirit of silat when one has to follow a standard?”

My advice to traditional practitioners entering into Sport Silat: start with a clean slate.  Learn a new set of unfamiliar forms and rules. Some motions will feel awkward or unfamiliar and will not feel the same as when learned from one’s mother style, but by surrendering to this new challenge the practitioner will compel him or herself to be humble. Memorizing Sport Silat’s jurus/forms is not just a rote exercise, it is an opportunity to reevaluate your understanding of your traditional teachings.

As I went and continue to go through this process I have discovered my own connections between the jurus of Sport Silat and the teachings of my ancestors. Jurus Tunggal (Sport Silat’s solo form) consists of 100 motions and the rules specify it should be performed in three minutes. As a traditionalist, the number three embodies learning about unity of the mind, the body, and the spirit. Learning Jurus Tunggal’s 100 motions taught me lessons in putting aside differences and focusing on similarities and mutual goals. I’m not just talking about Silat styles, but about life in general. Every time we compete, we are learning to conduct ourselves with sportsmanship and working to build a network of practitioners. By putting aside differences to pursue a common interest we fill the larger Silat community with unity and friendship.