“The culture of the people of Borneo is very hard, and this makes the character of fighting styles from Borneo similarly hard and unforgiving.”
-Demank Ahmed El-Benjary
I first met Demank Ahmed El-Benjary at the Pencak Malioboro Festival in 2013. This event which brings over 5,000 silat players every year to the city of Jogjakarta, Indonesia also brought this teacher of silat and kuntau from the island of Borneo (Kalimantan). His method of striking is called Pukulan Patikaman, and is characteristic of martial arts from Borneo. It combine lightning fast striking combinations with devastating joint breaks and manipulations. He and his students train in the traditional way either in his home, or on a local beach. I was struck by his teaching style, literally, when he executed an extremely fast kick to my leg followed by a takedown. Demank is quite tall and thin, and I was impressed by how he was able to use his body type so effectively when doing silat motions. You are welcome to see his motions yourself on his YouTube channel.
I was happy when he agreed to be interviewed as a part of this blog series dedicated to bringing the voices of indigenous Indonesian martial arts teachers to the attention of the Western world. I apologize for any errors in translation, and as usual I will post his answers in the original Bahasa Indonesia in the comments for you to read (or Google translate) for yourselves. As anyone who has tried this knows, translation is its own skill aside from being able to converse in a foreign language. I am grateful for my teachers for their patience and the many things they have taught me about the history and culture of Indonesian martial arts. From Demank’s answers hopefully you will be able to see how varied Indonesian Silat and Kuntau styles are, as well as the fundamental compatibility that allows them to be combined after many years of study.
Who were your teachers?
My teachers were from my family of course. My father mostly taught me weaponry techniques, and unarmed striking techniques from my grandmother’s cousin Yakni Jakfar, as well as others named Aban and Kantil. Then I also studied to deepen my knowledge of Kuntao footwork with one of my uncles named Utuy. I also studied my village’s style of Kuntao from the late Guru Tabri, a village elder who was still alive at that time. From Guru Tabri I deepened my knowledge of joint locks and manipulations. These teachers are the major influences for the system that I created from my family’s knowledge. From outside my immediate family, I learned long and medium range striking techniques at Pahampangan (a village in southern Kalimantan) with Julak Awat, who is one of the old masters of the style Jasa Datu. I like this style very much because it is very dynamic and explosive. Being taken down by the techniques used in this style was very frightening! Then I learned from Guru Muhammad of Beruang Hitam; this style helped me deepen my knowledge of body positioning and the structure of Kuntau footwork. I also studied with Pangeran Muasysyidin Syah from the sultanate of Kota Waringin Barat since I was a teenager. From Angah Uran at the village of Mendawai I also learned striking techniques, and kaidah (for my explanation of Kaedah read this article) of the Bangkuy culture. I also studied footwork strategy with Haji Hasan in his village, along with traditional massage techniques. Additionally, I studied the style of Langkah Bunga Bangkuy with Kai Udin Gambut. Lastly, I deepened my knowledge of striking techniques by studying the SIKAP method with Haji Anang Mahlan, who is the son of the founder of SIKAP. Those are the teachers that have been influential in Pukulan Patikaman, all of those methods combined make a complete and comprehensive system. Definitely there are other teachers as well who I do not have the permission to mention.
What does it mean to be a guru of silat? How does one become a guru and what is the difference between a silat trainer and a guru?
I do not know the moment when I became a silat teacher. It was a gradual evolution that just happened naturally. Silat gurus are those who teach physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of silat. For myself I prefer to be called an instructor rather than a “Guru” because I do not yet have the characteristics of a Guru Silat or “Demi-God.” Haha just kidding. (This joke is a bit difficult to translate, essentially the quality of humility is important to a silat player and many teachers do not like to put themselves up on a pedestal. This can happen if the title of guru is given too much meaning beyond the simple translation as teacher. For example, an English teacher would be called guru as well as an instructor of air conditioning repair). Anyone can become a silat guru when they have mastered both the theoretical and practical aspects of the silat they teach, as well as having acquired a bit of wisdom.
Why should foreigners want to learn silat? Why is it important that Indonesians continue to study silat?
I do not understand why Westerners want to learn silat, perhaps because they like to explore themselves and are curious to learn about new things. Indonesians should practice their martial arts because it is one of the prestigious intellectual properties of the nation of Indonesia. In practicing martial arts, one can experience spiritual and moral development as well as physical. Ideally, the next generation of Indonesians will not only possess physical endurance but also a virtuous and noble character.
Do you teach foreign students, how can they contact you to arrange instruction?
Teaching is a long and difficult process, and learning is dependent not only upon the instructor but also the student. To successfully learn silat requires commitment between both pupil and teacher. That is what is important. Potential students can contact me through you hehe, or also through my Facebook or YouTube channel. I like to teach anyone who is enthusiastic, passionate about learning, and can pay their tuition hahaha.
Can you describe the weaponry within your system?
I do not have time to describe them in detail, but basically there is the war saber (Mandau), the machete used for daily use (Parang Ambang), and a type of knife (Belati) commonly carried by men in South Borneo.
What effect does your culture have on your system of martial arts?
Definitely culture has an effect. The culture of the people of Borneo is very hard, and this makes the character of fighting styles from Borneo similarly hard and unforgiving. Systems from Borneo are very direct and explosive. Islam is also a major influence in the mysticism of silat from Borneo.
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.