The Malay Art of Self-Defense – Silat Seni Gayong

Silat is the combative art of fighting and survival believed to have originated from ancient Malaysian and Indonesian civilizations. Until recently there has been no fixed form of instruction. It has now evolved to become part of social culture and tradition and is a fine physical and spiritual training. There are various styles of silat. Silat burung putih is based on bird-style fighting. Silat tjmande is water-buffalo-style fighting. Silat tjikalong is crane-style fighting. Silat harimau is based on tiger-style fighting. Not all silats are fighting arts; some are merely dancing forms such as silat pulut.

The definition of the word silat varies from one guru or cikgu (teacher) to another. The Malay dictionary defines silat as a seni (art) with the intelligence to attack and defend gracefully. Another meaning states that silat originated from the word kilat (lightning). A practitioner tries to acquire the characteristics of lightning: speed, dominance, sharpness, fluidity, and danger. A person with these qualities and intelligence was called sikilat. The word eventually came to be pronounced silat. Another meaning states that the word silat originated from the Arabic language. If the word silat is spelled with the Arabic letter seen, the word silat means brotherhood. If the word is spelled with the Arabic letter saad, it means weapons. Some believe that the word silat originated from the Malay word silap or solat. Solat means to pray or concentrate, to communicate among mankind and the creator. Silap means imprecision; the hidden concept of the defending oneself by making intentional mistakes while seeking and sensing the adversary’s open movement (langkah silap dan langkah sumbang) to abort the physical attack. Another definition defines silat as the Malay art and science of armed and unarmed combat. Yet another meaning of silat is simply “to ward off”.

In Indonesia, the art is commonly referred to as pentjak silat. Pentjak silat, also spelled pencak silat, means to defend oneself. In Malaysia, the words silat or seni silat are frequently used rather than pencak silat. Seni means art. It is internal, delicate, wise and elegant. It is a substance that one cannot comprehend by theorizing it, but rather by sensing it. Seni silat is analogous to spiritual and physical well being. Bersilat is a verb. It means, “to do silat.” In view of the fact that silat has some Indian and Chinese influence, some believe that the word pentjak might be derived from a Chinese word pen-cha (avert or deflect) and the word silat from the Chinese word sau-la (push hands or to perform with the hands).

There are a variety of silat styles. In Malaysia alone there are more than 150 known silat styles. Some of the known styles found in Malaysia are:

  • Gayong
  • Melayu
  • Cekak
  • Bunga
  • Pulut
  • Kelantan
  • Lincah
  • Kalimah
  • Rajawali
  • Burung Puteh
  • Gayong Fatani
  • Gayong Ghaib
  • Sendeng
  • Gerak Kilat
  • Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9
Examples of Indonesian silat are:
  • Tapak Suji
  • Tjikalong
  • Lintow
  • Setia Hati
  • Kuntao
  • Perisai Diri
  • Bahkti Negara
  • Tjimande
  • Serak
  • Perisai Sahkti
  • Menangkabau Delima
  • Jawa

Some silats are performed with Malay drums or other musical instruments while more vigorous and less rhythmic silats are not. Whichever silat style you learn, each is unique and stands on its very own. To assume that they are all similar is oversimplification.

In general, silat techniques use hand and foot maneuverings. The principle of silat is to evade attack. Training in silat includes cultural, spiritual, and mental aspects as well as tumbling, striking, kicking, blocking and agility movements. Many movements are described by names. Some are poetic, some are named after an animal’s movement, and some are metaphors. Here are examples:

  • Serangan Harimau – Tiger Attack
  • Kacip Emas – Golden Slicer
  • Tarian Kuda Gila – Crazy Horse Dance
  • Tali Gantong – Hanging Rope
  • Ular Sawa Berendam – Sinking Python
  • Timang Puteri – Winding Princess
  • Patah Dayong Nasi Hangit – Broken Paddle Overcooked Rice
  • Malaikat Maut – Angel of Death

Silat is a Malay symbol of identity as in taekwondo for Korea and aikido for Japan. However, silat is understood to be a creation by an ethnic Malay group rather than an art coming from a specific country. The characteristics that make silat distinctive from other martial arts include its use of:

The culture and tradition of the Malay ethnic group as its source and model. Mental-spiritual, artistic, graceful, and flowery movements similar to Malay classical dance paired with seemingly incompatible martial aspects. Looking slantingly to the ground and sensing the adversary’s movements rather than using direct eye contact. In some instances the practitioners seem to be in a trance-like state and possess an eerie ability to anticipate the opponent’s movements.

Excepts from “The Malay Art of Self-Defence – Silat Seni Gayong” by Sheikh Shamsuddin

Silat Betawi (Batavia, now Jakarta)

Tuan Imam Haji Zainudin Bin Haji Adenan was born on 25 December 1930 in Kampung Masjid, Kuching, Sarawak. In 1943, when he was 13 years old, he started learning silat Betawi with a teacher name Encik Mahli. Besides learning two/three forms of “Bunga Betawi”, he had the opportunity to learn the steps of “Helang Menyambar” (Snatching Eagle). Even though these silat activities were secretly ran it was thwarted during the time of the Japanese occupation. In 1945 when the British troop was in power again, the silat activities resumed however under some restriction.

The history of silat grew once again in the 1960s when Tuan Imam together with 70 other family members moved from Kampung Masjid to Kampung Siol Kandis, Petra Jaya, Kuching. Before the migration, he has pursued the art actively with a silat teacher by the name of Munir Bin Abu – (Silat Hailam Betawi), who was his own uncle. Further he learned silat “Cekak Betawi” from a silat teacher of Melanau (Islam) origin by the name of Encik Mohd. Noor Bin Totok. As early as age 30 till this day, he believes in teaching the art of silat to the surrounding residents.

Hidayah Melayu

The late Grand Teacher Tuan Haji Dahlan (Teacher Dahlan) was born in 1923, in Sambas Indonesia. Grand Teacher Dahlan at age 9 he began learning the silat art of “Mainan Pukulan 12” (the 12 Beating Game) from a teacher named Panglima Daud for 3 years. Then he continued to learn from the same teacher “Spring Sendeng” (the Tilting Spring) and “Pukulan Tujuh” (the 7 Beatings). At age 15, he was learning from Teacher Bujang, i.e. Orang Pemangkat Sambas, Indonesia, the art of “Paris Dendam” (the Revenge of Paris) and “Betawi”.

Teacher Dahlan followed his father to Kuching with his family at the age of 17. In the early days, Teacher Dahlan and his family were residing in Sungai Maong. When World War II broke out, Teacher Dahlan moved to Kampung Sambir Asajaya. It was here that Teacher Dahlan learned the art of “Mainan 12” (Game of 12) from a Teacher named Pak Seli in Kampung Sambir. When the Japanese War (World War II) ended in 1945, Teacher Dahlan came back to Kuching.

Teacher Dahlan started teaching Silat Hidayah Melayu (a Malay art of self-defense) in the 1948 in Kampung Sungai Maong. At that time, the school for Silat Hidayah Melayu art was established 59 years ago.

In 1980, Teacher Dahlan has chosen an Instructor by the name of Encik Morshidi Bin Maton to help him train his students until Encik Morshidi bin Maton had reached the stage of Teacher in the art of Silat Hidayah Melayu.

The school of Silat Hidayah Melayu was registered with Persatuan Seni Silat Bumiputra Sarawak in the year 1975 and its Patron was the then Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tun Abd. Rahman Yaakub. In 1989, the School of Silat Hidayah Melayu joined Rumpun Silat Sarawak (R.S.S.) where it saw a new dimension of growth in the world of Malay self-defense in Sarawak.

The School of Silat Hidayah Melayu Sarawak Concept

The School of Silat Hidayah Melayu Sarawak concept is based on the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. The emotional and spiritual elements are adhered and guided by the principals of Islam as the value and purity that shape personality and nobility among the students of Silat Hidayah Melayu Sarawak.

Whereas the physical and intellectual elements emphasizing on the agility, swiftness, skill and intelligence to manipulate the art of Silat Hidayah Melayu Sarawak among its students. The Game of Silat meant the students must have the ability to use the techniques and thus defend himself by using what he learns from his Chief Teacher, Junior Teacher, Head Coach, Assistant Coach and Trainer.

The style of play consists of body movement, hands and legs that is pukulan buah, tepisan and positioning in the art of Silat Hidayah Melayu is combatant, hitting or ‘dead’ lock that is fitting wit the “front eat, retreat eat” philosophy.

The School of Silat Hidayah Melayu Sarawak is opened to all without discrimination of religion and race.

Helang Putih Perkasa

The School of Silat Helang Putih Perkasa (Mighty White Eagle) or SHPP in short, was established in 1985 and till today it has became one of the biggest Silat schools in Sarawak.

Background of Founder – Tuan Haji Muhammad Haneef Ali

Tuan Hj. Muhamad Haneef Ali, the Founder of Silat Helang Putih Perkasa is a face widely recognized in the local silat arena and he has proven his dedication and commitment towards his effort to strive for recognition of the Malay silat not only in national level but also worldwide.

He has made silat his life struggle in hope that:

The knowledge of Malay silat will build a self-respect, disciplined, steadfast and self-confident character


Silat Betawi


Hidayah Melayu

Helang Putih Perkasa


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