So, you have seen The Raid or The Raid 2: Redemption and want to learn the deadly weapon-based martial art of Pencak Silat (pen-cha’ see-lot). Or, you have found videos of cool takedowns and techniques from one of the many silat teachers on YouTube. Now, you want to find a teacher near you or… better yet… visit Indonesia, Malaysia, or Borneo to train with the masters.
A quick internet search reveals… nothing… no schools anywhere near you and a bunch of websites in a foreign language. How do you find a silat teacher in the first place? How can you know if they are authentic and experienced, and how can you get in touch to train with a gym or trainer in Indonesia, like the other authors on Milk.Blitz.Street.Bomb. have been able to do in Thailand with Muay Thai?
Finding a trainer (Guru) or gym (Padepokan) in Indonesia to learn authentic silat can be a bit difficult, mostly because pencak silat is a relatively new and unknown martial art outside of Indonesia. In the United States, I would describe pencak silat as colonial, with Gurus arriving in the United States, gathering students and founding schools. Examples of this would include Herman Suwanda, the DeThouars family, Tharyana Sastranegara, and my teacher Daniel Prasetya.
Most American instructors are only a few generations removed from the gurus that founded their lineage so they can help you in finding a teacher in Indonesia. Schools will also host training camps in Indonesia that will assist you in finding a guru to train you. These camps and contacts are very important for a number of reasons delineated below:
- Silat is very rare outside of Indonesia, so when finding a local school you usually don’t have many choices and are lucky if you do have one. For example, there are only 5 silat teachers in New York that I am aware of and only 2 on Long Island. Colorado has approximately 4.
- If a guru is approached directly, odds are they won’t teach you if they don’t know you. I have been lucky to have a guru vouch for me, so that I could train with other silat teachers. In one case, even though I had met the guru personally beforehand, he would not even talk about practicing with me until his student (my guru) formally introduced me. Many trainers of pencak silat are secret, only teaching to their tribe or family and requiring secrecy from their students. Finding and training with those gurus is extremely difficult.
- Groups may tend to refer you vertically, to their gurus who they bring to the US to give seminars. So as a silat student in America, you may not even know there are 600 styles in Indonesia and other teachers in the area because silat is a) so rare and b) schools don’t talk to each other all that much.
- Traditional silat schools are really hard to find in Indonesia if you don’t know where to look. Silat teachers don’t advertise publicly, recruiting through their community or in schools, or most just teaching within their family.
- Most silat teachers in the US are Americans who are 1-3 generations removed from the original source. Hopefully they can direct you up the lineage if you want to train at the source through seminars or training camps. Introductions are key.
The organizations I belong to; UTAMA and Inti Ombak Pencak Silat are trying to make silat more open to the public by having camps open to everyone and helping to organize a huge event in Jogjakarta every year with seminars, performances, and a big parade with 5-7,000 silat players (more info here). The training camps in Indonesia are, in my opinion, the best bet for finding a guru because the instructors are collected for you and you have a de facto introduction as part of a group.
From that foundation, you can start negotiating for more training opportunities in the home or school of those teachers. Also, pencak silat can be highly technical, so having an introduction to the style as well as the guru can be very beneficial towards helping you pick up skills more quickly.
I have been fortunate to train with gurus in the United States and Indonesia through this process. I began studying from an Indonesian, Guru Daniel, in Colorado and from there was introduced to many other teachers during our first training camp in 2008. Using the training camps as a springboard, I was able to get private training with other teachers; notably Ki Poleng Sudamala and Pak Kardi in Jogjakarta and Mas Mochamad Amien who is based in Surabaya.
If you would like to train with these teachers, they are accepting foreign students and can be contacted through FaceBook or by inquiring with UTAMA International. I will be writing more about my training experiences with these teachers in future posts and I hope you will enjoy meeting them soon!
Charles Brandon Stauft has been training in Silat since 2006 and teaching for the past 4 years. He is the head instructor for Inner Wave Pencak Silat New York where he teaches occasional seminars in New York City, a number of private students, and a class at Stony Brook University in Pencak Silat basics. He has mainly trained under Guru Daniel Prasetya and also with instructors in other Filipino and Indonesian martial arts both in the United States and Indonesia. He has been lucky enough to go to intensive camps in Bali and Java as well as a number of seminars in the United States. Recently he has also taken up historical European martial arts (HEMA), specifically German longsword fencing in the Lichtenauer tradition.