On my trip to Indonesia in 2014, I had the pleasure of sojourning in the city of Bandung located in western Java. Bandung is one of Indonesia’s largest cities with over 8 million inhabitants and only one small airport (although a new one is currently being constructed), so most people that I know drive from the capital of Jakarta. Bandung is famous for the quality of its silat practitioners. I had previously visited Bandung for a workshop with Bambang Suwanda (Harimau Silat) in 2011, but that was only for an afternoon at a nice hotel. This time, I was going to have the pleasure of an extended stay where I could experience the city.
My impression of Bandung was that it was very chaotic and I was glad to have a guide in the form of my acquaintance, Tharyana Sastranegara, himself an accomplished Sundanese (west Javanese) silat guru. I am grateful for his help because, as a Bandung native, he could navigate Bandung using the city bus system. These buses are very small and nimble vehicles called “Angkot” that are ideal for the busy and crowded streets of Bandung. They are privately operated and operate on a byzantine route and schedule system I found incomprehensible. Wikipedia recommends asking the drivers for the destination, but the average stop time seemed to be about 5-10 seconds as everyone seems to know where they are going as they jump out and pile in. It was on one of these tiny buses that we went to visit Kang Mohammad Rafijen.
Guru Yana, Guru Rafijen, and myself sat down on some bamboo mats in his house and enjoyed dinner consisting of kue (Indonesian snack foods) including fried plantains, sticky rice pastries, and sweet jasmine tea. Kang Rafijen (Kang is a Sundanese honorific like Mr.) is a very powerful and fast silat practitioner of the art of Maenpo and I was honored that he agreed to be interviewed by me. Maenpo is one of the old terms for Indonesian martial arts that comes from the Sundanese language and the system is famous for its fast and powerful punches. Kang Rafijen is very knowledgeable about the history and weaponry of his art and I am happy to share that with you.
Can you tell me the history of the weapons used in Sundanese silat? What do you know about the karambit?
I do not know for sure what the true origins of the karambit are, I have only become acquainted with the karambit as a weapon within the last few years. According to a story in Kasepuhan Silat, the karambit weapon comes from a tiger’s claw and was made as a weapon of war by ancient silat warriors because it is comfortable to grip. Since then, the weapon has developed into one made of metal.
The machete (golok, or bedog in Sundanese) was born and created by the predecessors of the Indonesian nation and has many different variations and names. By chance it is called Bedog in Sundanese, which means golok (in Indonesian) or machete and was created or made by Indonesian warriors who intended it as a tool of war and a tool for farming. Because in antiquity the tools of war were very limited, for example: machetes, spears, sticks, knives, and so on. The golok is one of the most reliable and practical to be used as a weapon for war so in every style of Silat there is always a way to use the golok.
The short stick was mentioned among the first Sundanese warriors as a “Ruyung made from the wood of the Kawung Tree and Hoe made from the Rattan Tree.” The second type of weapon is very practical and effective for use as a tool of war or a tool for self-defense. For Penca Sunda (Sundanese martial arts), the short stick is known as “Ulin Ruyung” and in some areas of Tatar Sunda (explain geography) there is also a game using short sticks that is named Ironwood Play (Ujungan). And, all the tools discussed are used to aid daily life at that time, because they can be used as tools of war, hunting, farming, and many other uses.
What is the difference between a trainer and guru of silat? How does one become a guru silat?
A silat guru needs to be a silat Pendekar that truly is highly accomplished in silat knowledge and necessarily the title of Guru is intended for a highly knowledgable fighter, meaning he can build a school and having many disciples while the coach cannot be a Guru, because they are called a silat coach, usually they are an assistant to a silat master.
Please, tell us about your culture and how it influences your silat.
In the past, the Sundanese civilization was of course very thick with names of arts such as Penca, Maenpo, Ulin, and Usik. The Sundanese culture can be described by “Someah hade kasemah” which means being friendly to the guests who arrive.
My style of silat is called Maenpo Peupeuhan, which comes from the height of Sundanese civilization in the past, because the Sundanese civilization was glorious in the fields of economy, politics, and culture. The Sundanese people had very good trade relations with foreign merchants at that time and also there was a cultural relationship through pencak silat, or maenpo, so at that time martial arts could also be used as a communication tool. Maenpo was influenced by a past political condition that tended to be very strict and firm. Martial arts at that time was a type of wealth or property that was priceless in addition to gold, animals, houses, or money.
Describe traditional training methods within your art.
Traditional training in Maenpo has many exercises that are simple but heavy. For example, a maenpo warrior should strike the air every day, this should be done very hard and for a long time as well as many other methods.
Do you accept foreign students? How can they contact you?
Of course, strangers or foreigners can learn Maenpo from me, just call my telephone number (0818229648) and I am in the city of Bandung. Also, you can invite me for a seminar or come to Indonesia to learn Maenpo from me (MPAR) Maenpo Peupeuhan Adung Rais.
Why should Indonesians keep the tradition of silat alive?
Indonesian people learn martial arts to honor the ancestral culture of Indonesia and it is a responsibility and our obligation as the Indonesian nation because “a great nation is a nation that upholds his own culture!”
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.