Saturday, May 29, 2010

General Information - Sources for Silat

Silat is such a big tent that the only thing some of the styles have in common is that they are from the same part of the world.

The seminal work on silat in English is Donn Draeger's
Weapons & Fighting Arts of the Indonesian Archipelago. There are various versions of this around, you can probably pick up a used version in trade paperback. He has a couple other books on the subject, like Javanese Silat, but they are just okay.

O'ong Maryono's English version of his book,
Pencak Silat in the Indonesian Archipelago is good.

You can download Ian Wilson's thesis from the Murdoch University School of Asian Studies, in Western Australia (2002),
The Politics of Inner Power: The Practice of Pencak Silat in West Java. Wilson lived in the country and speaks the language.

Most of the books and tapes out there have some use, and though I'm not too impressed with some of the Paladin Press stuff, my teacher did a video for them on Bukti Negara, the daughter art Pendekar Paul and his senior students created, drawn from Sera. It's good for what it is.
Paul did an eight-tape series on Bukti, but I haven't seen it for sale on his site for years. Might find it used online somewhere.

There is material out there on some of the blades -- best books on the keris are from Holland, with a Dutch/English side-by-side text and hand-glued in pictures, but they are spendy:
De Kris, by Tammens, three volumes.

Best guy to see for buying the hardware lives in Australia, Alan Maisey, there's a link to his page here.

Lot of YouTube stuff on the kerambit.

Bobbe Edmonds silat videos on YouTube are good. He spent some time in the old country training, knows his stuff, despite the fact he came down with yesterday's rain.

Best general work on weapons:
Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago, by Albert van Zonneveid. A coffee-table sized book and also expensive.

You can get Maha Guru Plinck's vids from Joe Daggy, at Lexington Films:

And, of course, you can order my e-book,
But What if I Did This?! and get a PDF for $5, if you don't already have it. Just click on the PayPal button up there under the header.

There are bits of history and philosophy on our art ladled into my musings ...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Few Words About the Logo

A few words about the image: Pendekar Paul's logo is a garuda (eagle) with a tiger's head emerging from the bird's chest, with the eagle's talons wrapped around a pair of traditional Indonesian weapons, tjbangs, short tridents that are somewhat like the Japanese sai.

Stevan's logo honors the design, but changes it to American tropes: The bird is a red-tailed hawk, the cat is a mountain lion, and there is a Bowie knife and a tjabang in the hawk's talons.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Basics in Silat Sera - Questionable History ...

Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck
(Blame me for this one)

This information was gleaned from various book and magazine articles, along with letters, emails, and/or conversations by or with: Paul de Thouars, Stevan Plinck, Willem de Thouars,, Cass Magda, Todd Ellner, Chas Clements, and other Sera(k) and Kun Tao players.

DISCLAIMER - PLEASE NOTE: There are many disagreements among the leading practitioners about historical items, no consensus on dates, and some family contention over other issues that may color certain recollections. I have tried to present the material as best I could interpret it. Bahasa Indonesia and Sundanese dialects sometimes have variations in spelling, so there may be errors in such renderings on my part.

SPECIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this history featured several items regarding Pak Victor de Thouars. Mr. de Thouars has informed us, through one of his (former) senior gurus, that he considered his characterization in the article “unflattering,” and has asked us to “remove all mention” of him from our website. We have complied with his request, and believe the subsequent revision more valid as a result.

Any other mistakes in transcribing the material are mine, and none of this is in any way "official," but my own research. Frankly, it could all be fantasy -- there's no way to tell. It's a good story, though, and one of the first things you learn as a writer is to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, so ...

The term "sera(k)" (generally pronounced with the "k" silent, or without the letter at all) has several meanings, depending on spelling and accent. It can mean "hoarse." It also means "owl," and thus "wise," and with the accent on the first syllable, it means to "confuse," or to "scatter confusion," and thus "to decoy" or "deceive." It is also a shade of red. (I use as my reference here, the Indonesian dictionary
_Kamus Lengkap, _1985 edition, by Wojowasito, Poerwadarminta, and Wasito.)

“Sera” is a nickname, and what the actual meaning of the term, vis a vis the art, means is a point of contention. It has been argued that he was hoarse, wise, sneaky, and perhaps he even had red hair. All we know for sure is that the art is named for him.

One of Maurice de Thouars students posted a note to a website a couple years back, and in it, said Sera was nicknamed that because he had a hoarse voice, among his other physical problems, and that his real name was Eyang Hisak, aka H. Muhroji.)

Bapak Sera's precise date-of-birth is unknown. He's been listed as having been born as early as 1783 A.D.; however, this seems unlikely given the known lineage -- the dates don’t work -- and it is more likely Sera was born no earlier than the the 1830's or ‘40s, possibly even later.

If he was ever born at all. History outside the Sera family doesn't seem to mention Pak Sera, and one wonders at that, but to go on:

The birthplace and tribe of Pak Sera are also open to question and are the subjects of some contention among the senior practitioners of Sera -- as well as practitioners of other arts who also argue that Sera never existed at all, and who claim Mas Djut as one of their own. Such claims are dubious at best.

Some claim Sera was of the Badui. Since not much is known about the Javanese tribe called Badui -- the White (or Inner) remain cloistered even today, admitting few visitors to their villages -- this would seem difficult to determine. If Pak Sera was of the Blue (Outer) Badui it would seem more possible, but even this is unlikely, since the Badui, especially the White, seldom, if ever, traveled outside their villages.

How a man who was limited to his home village and not allowed to have visitors, save from his own tribe, managed to learn and master several fighting arts from which he distilled his own is a particularly intriguing question.

Others say Pak Sera was born in Tjirebon, on the north coast of Java, about 130 miles east of Batavia (now Jakarta.)

There is no consensus on this point, nor is there likely to be. Real evidence for Pak Sera's history is hard to come by.

Family history indicates that Pak Sera trained in Silat Banteng, which comes from the area of Serang, in northwest Java. From his exposure to Tjimande, which is it said he studied, and with his training in Banteng, Sera developed his own system, tailored to his physical handicaps -- he had one shortened arm and a clubfoot, and all the major players agree on this point. Despite this, he was reportedly a fierce fighter, having developed a system that relies on position and timing rather than speed and power.

According to the Indonesian silat player and writer O’ong Maryono, The most prevalent style of pentjak silat in the capital of Java, Jakarta, is Silat Betawi, one much influenced by the Chinese martial art kuntao, and one would assume that Sera would have seen this. One also has to assume that Sera was also influenced by Pukulan, and there are silat players (Dr. Philip H.J. Davies, for one) who say that Serak looks very much like Northwestern Javanese pukulan.

Maryono also says that kuntao was likely a major influence on Javanese silat, though Chinese influence are a touchy subject with Indonesians, and that the former term was used as a generic one for fighting in the area until relatively recently (WWII.)

Although the exact dates aren't known, it was probably sometime before the turn of the 20th ecentury that Mas Djut or Djoet (b. 1860? - d. 1938?) met Pak Sera, and subsequently helped Sera formalize the system. Mas Djut was reportedly trained in Silat Kilat, kun-tao, and probably Tjimande and pukulan. Who Mas Djut was is another of those points of contention, and there is at least one other art who claims him for its own, according to one of its senior practitioners.

Silat players are a contentious bunch, and it seems too often that it is not enough that what they do is valid, but that what others do is not. Lot of ego in this venue.

If both Mas Djut and Pak Sera studied Tjimande, that art's influence on Sera can hardly be denied. Indeed, it is the belief of some of the senior Sera practitioners that the art was at least partially devised as an answer to Tjimande, which was a much older and more established system popular at the time, if not an actually offshoot of Tjimande. (We use the old spelling here. The word is also rendered as "Cimande," just as "Pentjak" is also spelled "Pencak.")

The contention is that Sera and Mas Djut would have expected to face Tjimande players, and while this is admittedly speculation, it makes sense.

Whatever the influence, however, Sera is today not Tjimande, and the differences are apparent to practitioners of both, thought there are some similarities.

Enter the Dutch-Indo businessman, Johann (Jan) de Vries, (b. 1880, West Java.) de Vries eventually oversaw a plantation southeast of Batavia (Jakarta), in the Garut region, and in the early 1900s was a silat player who knew and trained with Mas Djut.

Jan de Vries apparently had little patience as a teacher, so later he had his sons, who included Ferdinand, Ernest, and John, trained by Mas Djut, instead of teaching them himself. Apparently there were other family members, brothers or cousins, as many as eight, total, who also trained at one time or another with Mas Djut. Recollections here are, not unexpectedly, somewhat spotty.

Another instructor, who reportedly trained under Sera, (who supposedly had four senior students who learned the entire system,) was Mas Shroen (Mas Rhun), who also reportedly partially taught Ernest de Vries.

John de Vries took the Djut lineage (supposedly after it was declined by Johann) shortly before Mas Djut's death.

Brothers Maurice and Paul de Thouars began to learn Sera’s art from Ernest de Vries (their Uncle) in Siam, beginning primarily in 1946. Willem went elsewhere for his training, not in the family art, but in Kun Tao, before branching into other styles.

The brothers de Thouar are often contentious, and while this is their business, it should be taken into account when listening to various versions of history. People who have axes to grind sometimes do so, and as seems the case with most martial arts, who did what, where, and when, can be as divisive as opposing sects of any major religion.

After leaving Indonesia, Paul continued his studies in Amsterdam under John de Vries, in the 1950s.

Maurice also continued his studies in Holland, with his Uncle Ernest.

Paul moved to the U.S. in the 1960's, and in the 70's, was given the Sera lineage by John de Vries. Supposedly, it is Paul who added the "k" to Sera, and that spelling has theoretically been trademarked by Victor.

At one time, Paul trained and taught with Rudy ter Linden, who later went on to create his own style of silat, Ratu Adil. There is some evidence that elements of Kung Fu San Soo might have been added by one or the other or both players. Martial arts tend to pick up bits here and there that get blended in and forgotten down the line. In an art based on principles, individual tools have less importance.

An early article on "Spice Island Fighting Men," featuring Paul and Rudy, was written for Black Belt Magazine in June, 1965. These men later had a falling out, resulting in bad feelings from some of the senior players on the ter Linden side, and almost certainly justifiable.

Paul created the system of Bukti Negara ("Witness to a County.") in the mid-to-late eighties, partially as a way of thanking America for taking him in. Partially, it was a way to teach the principles of Sera(k) without having to reveal directly what he considered a "closed" system to Americans. If you complete the Bukti training, you may then be deemed worthy to learn Sera, and for some teachers, Bukti thus becomes a kind of filter, even though it is an effective fighting style on its own.

The lineage holder of Bukti Negara is Danny Huybrechts.

Stevan Plinck (b. 1954, Holland) began training in Soeti Hati Silat with his grandmother as a boy, studied various arts, including Sumatran silat from his uncle, and eventually began training with Pendekar de Thouars after training for some years with a de Thouars senior student, Guru Besar Arthur Rhemrev. Later, as a senior student of Pendekar de Thouars, Plinck was instrumental in the early stages of Bukti Negara's creation, earned the rank of Guru Pangkat Tua in that art, and was recognized as a Senior Practitioner of Serak. No longer associated with Bukti Negara, Plinck now teaches Sera in Washington state, and his senior, and only finished student in the area is Narin Latthitham. (Some of the senior players -- this writer among them -- consider Maha Guru Plinck's version of the art to be an advancement over what he learned, and while I mostly refer to what we do simply as "Sera," now and then, I will call it by the full designation: Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck, which seems only right.

Basics in Silat Sera - Laws and Principles

A series of articles by Todd Ellner and Tiel Ansari, from Guru Plinck's website:

Laws and Principles of Sera

These can be loosely interpreted as "rules for doing things." The items listed here can be seen as rules for correct movement: technique that conforms to these rules will be efficient and effective. They can also be seen as tactical rules that maximize the Sera player’s chances of success in a fight.

A distinction should be made between laws and principles. Laws are ccommon to all situations, whereas principles offer choices. For example, Weapon Before Body/Body Before Weapon- can be considered a principle, because the Sera player chooses which to use depending on the needs of the moment. On the other hand, Fighting is Positional is true in any situation, and therefore qualifies as a law.

Laws can be broken under certain circumstances. (Some of these circumstances are mentioned in the discussion of the individual laws.) But it’s only after you understand the law and the reasons for it that you become able to judge when, how and why to break it. Therefore, as a beginner, you should regard the laws of Sera as absolute. In the following discussion, we will mostly not distinguish between laws and principles.

Sera’s principles are highly interdependent, and it’s therefore difficult to present them in any particular order. We’ve chosen to present them in a way that emphasizes the relationship of each principle to the sequence of events that might take place in an idealized encounter between two Sera players. Notice that the principles most closely related to Entering, which occurs at the beginning of an encounter, are usually the last to be trained. Understanding of these principles comes through sparring, and as explained below, sparring is not part of beginner training in Sera.

One of the goals of Sera practice is to condition the body of the student to move in accordance with the principles. As with most physical training, it’s initially the responsibility of the teacher to correct the student’s movement: "You’re not separating your bases", "You left the low line open" "Where’s your opposite lever?" These corrections have to be applied to all aspects of training: djuru practice, two-person drills, basic technique, and eventually sparring. (The knowledgeable student will observe that many of the core drills of Sera are not only in agreement with the principles, but designed to help ingrain them.) No part of Sera is exempt.

Initially, the student learns the principles associated with Positioning and Finishing. Over time, these principles become habitual, and the student no longer needs to think about each motion to ensure that it’s correct with respect to them. Sparring in Sera is usually deferred until this stage, because the student will now reflexively respond to a threat with correct movement. If sparring is introduced too early, whatever erroneous habits the student still has will be further ingrained.

It’s important to understand that "correct movement" does not imply that there’s a single correct response to a given situation. Any movement that gets you closer to your goal (whatever that happens to be) is correct. Movement that conforms to the principles will be tactically advantageous and mechanically efficient.
Fighting is Positional

"Positional" refers to the position of your body and limbs relative to those of your opponent. This relationship determines what options each of you has at a given moment. One of the strategies of Sera is to gain positional advantage, i.e. to create a position in which your opponent’s options are limited and therefore predictable, but which does not restrict your options.

At long range, we gain superior position through footwork. The ideal is to place the opponent in a position in which we can predict exactly how and when she will respond to an entry. The geometric relationship determines what tools the opponent can bring to bear. The distance determines the timing of the opponent’s response: she will strike when the attacker comes within range.

At arm’s reach or less, a superior position is one which gives you control of the opponent’s body. In this range, position is gained by a combination of good structure and sensitivity. Good structure, for the purposes of this discussion, includes footwork. At this range, footwork becomes one of several factors.

Close range is extremely dynamic, in the sense that minute changes in one person’s body alignment, balance and limb position can drastically alter the other’s "optimal" tactics. Therefore there is no single, static "good structure" that will serve throughout the encounter.

Sensitivity helps the Sera player create appropriate structure in response to a rapidly changing situation. The Sera player must maintain the criteria of good structure while accomplishing various other tasks, such as striking and throwing. This doesn’t imply that the Sera player consciously thinks about structure while fighting. Good structure comes from following the principles associated with Positioning, and as stated in the Introduction, these should have become instinctive by the time the student is introduced to sparring.

Guru Plinck says: "Understanding is the transition between stances and position." "Stances" here has a static connotation. The beginning student learns correct stances, because it's necessary to start somewhere-- as Guru Plinck also says, "You have to learn to stand before you can learn to walk". But position is dynamic, and as the student gains understanding, position replaces stance.
Separate Your Bases

"Base" in this case refers to the shoulder girdle and feet. In application, this principle might be expressed as follows: when moving your feet (sweeping, kicking, stepping), do not rotate your shoulders; when moving your upper body (powering a strike with upper body rotation, unbalancing your opponent for a throw), your feet should not move.
This principle exists because you need a stable base from which to generate power. There is an exception: when being completely evasive (for instance, getting out of the way of an incoming attack), it’s okay to move both bases at once, because you are not applying power and have no need to generate any.
Base, Angle, Leverage

These are the three components needed to set up a Sera-style throw. Most throws can be executed using two out of the three, but for safety’s sake, you should try to have all three. Successful execution of many Sera throws depends on precise use of these components. Though the terms are now in wide use, it's important to understand exactly how they are defined in this context.

"Base" in this context means the strength of the connection of your upper body to your lower body, and of your lower body to the ground. Often (not always) the placement of your feet will prevent your opponent from moving his feet to adjust to the forces you’re applying to his upper body. Your djuru stance provides a good base for throwing.

"Angle" means force applied along the weak angle of your opponent’s stance. Every stance has a weak angle, usually more than one. You can usually find one of your opponent’s weak angles by pulling one of her arms toward the point of a triangle on the ground, the other two points of which are defined by her feet. Correctly applied, angle should bring the opponent’s weight toward the foot that you plan to sweep, because sweeping an unweighted leg will have little or no effect on the opponent. Also, the more weight your opponent has on that leg, the less able she will be to move it and get away from the sweep.

"Leverage" means force applied to your opponent’s body in a different direction than the angle, and in a different direction than the force applied by the sweeping foot, creating Opposite Levers. In combat, leverage is applied as a strike— in a class setting, it’s usually applied as pressure.

The three components can be initiated in any order, but once a component has been initiated, it should be maintained until the throw is completed. You should not, for instance, give up angle in order to apply leverage, though the weak angle may change as the opponent’s balance shifts. The net effect of angle and leverage is to move the opponent’s center of gravity off the supporting foot, after which gravity takes over.

In the classic sapu, the sweep is followed by the upper-body unbalancing, while in the classic beset the order is reversed. In application, either order is permissible with either type of sweep. It's important to stress that, if unbalancing the opponent's body requires moving your upper body, this cannot be done simultaneously with the sweep. To do so would violate Separation of Bases.

Control at the Root

One of the favorite strategies of Sera is to control the movement of the whole body by controlling the spine. If the spine isn’t directly reachable, Sera players do the next best thing by controlling limbs as close as possible to where they join the spine. Thus, the arm should be controlled above the elbow and the leg should be controlled above the knee.

This also reduces the opponent’s ability to maneuver. For instance, if you hold an opponent’s arm at the wrist, he can still strike with the elbow or shoulder of that arm, or turn to bring the other arm into play. If you pin his upper arm, he cannot strike with the elbow, fist, or shoulder, and if you are on the outside, he cannot bring the other arm into play except by a spinning move.

Another reason to attack the root is that it is the part of the limb that moves the slowest. Intercepting a fast punch at the hand requires extremely good timing and hand speed. However, even on a very fast punch, the shoulder hardly moves at all. Stopping the motion of the shoulder will prevent the punch from reaching its target. The same applies to the hip, in the case of a kick.
Weapon Before Body for Speed/Body Before Weapon for Power

For a given technique, there is a tradeoff between speed and power. (It’s a mistake to assume that more powerful techniques are necessarily slower.) To deliver a technique at full power, the body should lead the motion. This is almost always slower than the same technique delivered without body involvement.

To enter, we usually need to deliver fast strikes to disrupt the opponent’s timing and allow us to move the body into close range. Full-power techniques are used as finishing shots, when the opponent is off-balance or already damaged, and timing is less critical.
Always Have Backup

Backup is one of the most fundamental concepts of Sera, and also one of the most complex. In the most general sense, the backup concept is that you should expect each technique to fail and be ready to follow up with something else. However, launching one independent strike after another may not be the most efficient way to accomplish this.

In Sera, the concept of backup implies that each technique should set up its own follow-up options.

One of the simplest formulations of this concept is the rule stated by Pendekar Paul de Thouars: "One hand never goes into battle without the other." This rule is exemplified in the djurus by the reinforced punch, in which one hand backs up the other. The reinforcing arm physically supports the lead arm, creating a structure like a brace, which can withstand a great deal of incoming force. It also allows the entire upper body to be involved in powering the strike, if desired, rather than just the arm muscles. In addition, the reinforcing hand is immediately available for a follow-up.

This should not be construed to mean that the hands are always right next to each other. Backup and reinforcement can mean a variety of things. Simple proximity and direct reinforcement are useful training tools for the beginner to give him or her a simple physical application to illustrate the concept.

Within this simple geometric relationship, either hand can be either hard or soft, embodying a number of different attitudes. "Hard" and "soft" are terms that mean many different things to different martial artists. The usages defined below should be regarded as strictly local: they may not be valid elsewhere in the martial arts world, or indeed, elsewhere on this page. Even in this context, "hard" and "soft" can imply a number of different things.

A physical interpretation might be that a hard hand is prepared to deliver a strike: if the strike is a punch, the hand should be clenched into a fist. In contrast, a soft hand is open and relaxed, able to monitor or pin one of the opponent’s limbs, deliver a strike, clear an obstruction, etc. In a more tactical interpretation, a hand that is hard is committed to a specific objective. A hand that is soft is able to improvise in response to a changing situation.

Another way of looking at it is that "hard" designates the hand that is contributing the most force to the strike, even though it may not be the one that is actually making contact. This is deceptive, because the opponent will usually expect the line of the strike to be determined by the striking hand. If the strike is in fact being guided by the rear hand, the line will be subtly different. (See "Lead hand soft/reinforcing hand hard" below).

We have the following possible soft/hard combinations, with examples of how they might be applied:
Lead hand hard/reinforcing hand soft-- Front hand delivers a strike, rear hand can deliver whatever follow-up is desired.
Lead hand soft/reinforcing hand hard-- Pressure from the rear hand can be used to slightly change the angle of attack of the front hand, circumventing obstacles.
Lead hand soft/reinforcing hand soft-- Neither hand is committed to a specific course of action, leaving the greatest number of follow-up options.
Lead hand hard/reinforcing hand hard-- This combination is tactically risky, because it restricts the sensitivity of both hands and leads to too much reliance on strength.
The hands can back each other up in many ways besides one reinforcing the other. Some of these, with examples, are:
Same line, same weapon-- Two rapid-fire hits are delivered in the same line: if the first one is blocked, the second one will usually get through. (Note: the first strike should not be regarded as a "fake". If the first strike is not blocked, it should hit. This is a general rule of Sera.)
Same line, different weapon-- Closely related to reinforcing. If the lead hand is blocked, the rear hand immediately strikes in the same line.
Same weapon, different line-- The rising punch in Djuru 2 is a good example of this. The opponent directs a countering technique to the line he expects the punch to be on, only to find that it’s not there.
Cover and hit-- The backup hand goes slightly ahead of the striking hand and clears away any obstruction that it finds.
Bait and switch-- Expect the first strike to be blocked; the contact signals an immediate switch to a backup strike delivered in a different line, usually with a different weapon. (Again, note that if the first strike is not blocked, it hits.)
Backup need not be restricted to one hand backing up the other. Here are some more backup concepts:
Anatomical-- Any body part can back up any nearby body part. For example, if your punch is blocked, it is easy to simply fold forward and strike with the elbow of the same arm. Or, you might step in and pivot to strike with the shoulder of the same arm.
Upper body/lower body-- Another formulation of the backup concept was stated by Pendekar de Thouars as "Hands don’t go into battle without feet." (It could just as easily be "Feet don’t go into battle without hands".) If you find your arms tied up, consider delivering a kick or knee or using footwork to change the position and give yourself more control. If your lower body is being attacked with a sweep, you can use your upper body to support yourself.
High/Low, Inside/Outside, Left/Right

A useful way to think about Sera technique is to classify it in terms of root motions. You can generate whole families of techniques by applying the same root movement to your opponent from different positions. Guru Plinck states this as follows: "What you can do high, you can do low. What you can do inside, you can do outside. What you can do left, you can do right."

The beset family is a good example. Beset luar and beset dalem are the same motion, applied either from inside or outside. (Note that in beset dalem, you are positioned outside the opponent’s arm but inside her foot: in beset luar this relationship is reversed. These are examples of Opposite Levers.) Both throws can also be done as low sweeps. And obviously, both can be done whether the opponent is in a right or left lead. In all cases, the root motion is the sweep.
Take the Line

Blocking is not encouraged in Sera. A block may keep you from getting hit, but generally does no damage to the opponent (unless you train in a style that conditions heavily and delivers destructive blocks). More importantly, blocking puts you a beat behind and, because action is faster then reaction, it’s very difficult to catch up. The common "block, then hit" strategy is likely to lose against an opponent who is your equal in speed, or even slightly slower.

Instead of blocking, Sera players hit. The hit has the effect of blocking the incoming strike, but it’s important that the goal is not to block: the goal is to hit. The blow is directed in such a way that it covers the incoming line. This is what is meant by "taking the line". If the blow reaches its target, it will have blocked the incoming strike.

Taking the line also brings your tools deep into the opponent’s territory, where you can begin to gain Control at the Root over his tools and limit his options.
Cover High and Low

Your opponent is likely to launch a mixture of high-line and low-line attacks. It behooves you to cover both lines at all times. In this context, "cover" does not necessarily mean "physically occupy": it means that you have something available to respond in that line.

An obvious way to accomplish this is to cover high line with one hand and low line with the other. For example, in the context of reinforcing, the Backup hand can be thought of as covering the high line if the strike is being delivered low, and vice versa. A low stance is very helpful here, because it means that your upper body tools can cover more of the target area. When standing upright, most people’s fingertips reach about to mid-thigh; in a crouch, your fingertips can easily reach to the knees or below.

Less obviously, a hand can be used to cover high line and the elbow of the same arm can cover the low line. Or a hand or elbow can be used to cover low line and a shoulder can be used to cover high line. These approaches can be very useful at close range.

Hands and arms can cover the high line and legs can respond in the low line. This is one of the reasons single-weighting is important: one leg or foot is always free to respond to a threat.
Control Center

The center plane (often referred to as the center line, or just the center) is the plane that connects the vertical axis of your body to the vertical axis of your opponent’s body. On the human body, most of the attacking tools are located at the periphery (knees, fists, elbows, feet: the head is a major exception). But many attacks tend to be aimed towards the center, where the preferred targets are located (face, throat, solar plexus, groin). Such strikes are seen as entering the center plane from one side or the other, and can be prevented from connecting by controlling access to the center.

In Sera there are several ways this is accomplished.
Occupying center This is usually done with a strike: the reinforced punch is a good choice for this, as it is structurally strong enough to withstand a collision with an incoming blow, and also protects against strikes coming in from many different angles.
Cutting center Also generally done with a strike, this is an example of Taking the Line. Cutting center differs from occupying center in that the strike is delivered at a slight angle across the center plane, instead of within it. This gives you the option of crossing to monitor and control tools on the far side of the opponent’s body. Cutting is the most effective approach against a hook or horizontal elbow: in this case the strike is aimed at the shoulder (Controlling at the Root).
Yielding center Against overwhelming force, center can be yielded by rotating the body parallel to the attack, allowing it to slide past. This can be viewed as an example of an upper-body Alleviation.
Clearing center An example of this is seen in the first move of the first djuru. Clearing center is closely related to cutting center, but is less aggressive and involves more Alleviation of the incoming strike.
Repositioning center This generally involves footwork, such as stepping off the line of an incoming attack. Notice that purely evasive moves are not a favorite in Sera: ideally, repositioning should gain you a better position in addition to keeping you from getting hit.
Offsetting from center If you have occupied the center plane, your opponent may try to strike slightly to one side or the other. You need to be prepared for both possibilities. But if your occupying tool is offset to one side, you make it much more likely that your opponent will attack to what he sees as the open center.
In practice, a Sera player will often use one or more of these in combination. For example, she might clear center and create an offset to guide the opponent’s next move. Or, she might deliver a strike that cuts center while repositioning herself out of the line of an incoming attack.
Right Tool for Right Range

The most basic application of this principle is one that many martial artists are familiar with: Use long weapons at long range, because short ones simply won’t reach; use short weapons at close range, because they take less time to deliver, and long ones are more easily jammed at close range. For instance, most boxers will rely on the jab and cross at long range, but at close range will use more hooks and uppercuts.

Broadening the definition of "tool" points up some of the other differences between ranges. For instance, position is extremely important at both ranges, but is gained in different ways (see Fighting is Positional).

At long range, you rely on vision to keep you informed of what your opponent is up to. At closer ranges, you must rely more and more on sensitivity. (Try to imagine a blind kickboxer, as compared to a blind wrestler.) The same is true of our opponent. At long range, we deceive our opponent by misleading her perception of distance, timing or position through the visual sense. At close range we mislead her senses of contact, balance and proprioception.

Long range and close range also require different attitudes. At long range a fighter should be eager to close, but not so eager that he rushes in blindly: he must be patient enough to create an opportunity to enter safely. Close range requires alacrity and commitment. It should be noted that both ranges require detachment, complete attention and intensity. Cultivating this set of emotional attributes should be looked on as a life-work, not a prerequisite.
Opposite Levers

"Always have an opposite lever"-- Pendekar Paul de Thouars

The more different unbalancing forces you apply to your opponent, the more difficult he will find it to compensate. Most people can keep their balance pretty well if a single force is applied to them. If two forces are applied, it becomes much harder, and is even harder if the two forces are not symmetric (not directly opposite from one another). The Base, Angle, Leverage formula with sweep applies three forces to the opponent, all in different directions.

If you pull or push on your opponent’s upper body, his natural reaction will be to step towards or away from you to keep his balance. There are two common ways of preventing this. One is to bring a substantial part of the opponent’s weight onto the foot he would naturally step with, so that he can’t lift it without losing his balance. The other is to trap the foot to keep it from moving. The "Opposite Levers" principle helps to create these traps. For instance, if you are pulling your opponent to your left, you should be planning to sweep his foot to the right, and this places your sweeping foot in the correct position to block him from stepping even if you don’t execute the sweep. ("Left" and "right" here shouldn’t be interpreted too literally, as the angle direction and sweep direction aren’t directly opposite from one another.)

A related concept is that people cope with steady forces much better than they cope with changing ones— this is sometimes stated as "People make better speedometers than accelerometers." This is why many throws become more effective if the directions of the forces being applied change in the course of the throw.

The throw known as puter kapala combines all of these concepts. The head and arm are used as opposite levers. As you bring the head towards you, the opponent’s weight shifts onto his front foot, so that he can’t lift it without losing his balance. (You can also trap the opponent’s front foot with yours, but it’s usually unnecessary if you are applying correct angles.)

Puter kapala is often described as a spiral or circular throw: the head is brought towards the ground in a smooth spiral. In this approach, the forces being applied are smooth and steady. An opponent with some sensitivity will extrapolate the motion and adjust to it. Puter kapala becomes much more effective if the forces are applied in a series of short jerks at different angles.
Long-Range Weapon Before Short-Range Weapon

This principle helps to create the efficient entries that are one of the strengths of the Sera style. Long-range strikes are used to disrupt the opponent’s timing and create an opportunity for the attacker to move to close range and bring to bear the more powerful short-range weapons, and eventually execute a throw. Entering with a short-range weapon is much riskier, because the opponent is in full control of his faculties and can counter easily.

One of the strategic assumptions of Sera is that our opponent is stronger than we are. Therefore, we do not resist force with force. One option is to evade the incoming force altogether: the drawback of this is that it does not necessarily improve our position. Alleviation refers to a dissipation or diversion of the incoming force with minimal movement and contact that is perceived by the attacker as very light.

In Sera there are several modes of alleviation, and most can be used in combination with one another. It's important to practice them independently. One should also keep in mind that more alleviation isn't necessarily better, and that upper-body-based alleviations are generally faster than footwork alleviations.

In tool-only alleviation, a tool (usually upper-body) is used to deflect the incoming strike. No other part of the defender’s body moves. Conversely, in upper-body alleviation, the upper body is rotated parallel to the attack, and no tool is used. Footwork can be used to reorient the upper body, but this will tend to be slower, and should not be resorted to unless it gains some other advantage.

Footwork can be used to alleviate by itself. Against an incoming attack, a Sera player can move along the circumference of an imaginary circle centered on the opponent, to get off the line of attack without changing the distance. Or, he can move out or in along the radius of the circle so as not to meet the attack at its point of maximum power. These effects can be combined in a step along either a tangent or a chord of the circle.

A level change can also be used to alleviate, removing the target from the line of attack without changing location.
There are two somewhat more specialized modes of alleviation that deserve mention here. In the mode known as "receive and give", the Sera player absorbs the incoming energy, storing it mechanically in the elastic muscles of the midsection, and then uses the stored energy to power a return technique. To an onlooker, it appears as if the player recoils slightly and then explodes forwards.

"Bypass and enter" describes an alleviation in which the player deflects the incoming blow and advances, leaving the deflecting tool where it is. This is a deceptive move. Since the contact point remains still, the opponent is (briefly) prevented from realizing that the player has entered.

Guru Plinck uses the term "english" by analogy with pool, where english refers to spin placed on the cue ball. Here, english means a circular, corkscrew, or rotating movement. An example of motion with english can be seen in the first move of Djuru One, where the wrist is rotated through its entire range of motion.

Notice that if you are moving forward while executing a circular motion, it becomes a three-dimensional corkscrew.

Genuinely two-dimensional circular motions are rare in Sera, but the terms "circular" and "corkscrew" are sometimes used interchangeably.

English is frequently used in Alleviation with a tool, to soften the contact and deflect the incoming strike. In one way of doing this, the alleviating tool executes an english movement such that the strike is nearly tangent to the circumference of the circle described by the english. The direction of rotation is almost parallel to the strike. This minimizes the opposition between the force of the strike and the alleviating force.

Another use of english is in the type of Alleviation referred to as "Receive and give". In this case it’s the body— specifically the hips— that execute the english motion, absorbing the incoming force and storing it on the first half of the movement and releasing it towards the opoonent on the second half.

This suggests that english can also be used to generate power, and indeed that’s the case. Body english involves most of the major muscle groups and thus can generate far more power than a tool alone can provide. It should be noted that techniques powered in this way will be slightly slower than tool-only techniques: see Weapon Before Body/Body Before Weapon.

English can also be used to generate power at the tool-only level. The forearm is a common striking tool in Sera. Consider the forearm as a cylinder: if it is rotated around its long axis, the outer surface is the part that rotates the fastest. This rotation can be added to a forearm strike to create a shearing effect.

One final note on english: unlike a corkscrew, the radius of an english movement need not be held constant. Such a motion might start very small, to efficiently alleviate a strike, and expand to cover the opponent’s torso (Controlling Center). Or it might start as a large arc, Taking the Line of an incoming attack, and spiral in to a strike.
Step With a Purpose

Every step you take in an encounter should accomplish something: never step just for the sake of stepping. There are many purposes that a step can have. Footwork is how you control distance; through distance, you control the timing of the encounter. Footwork is also how you control position; through position, you control your opponent’s options.
Most of the Sera sweeps and kicks are derived from the movements used in walking. Because of this, these motions are very natural and easy to learn – after all, you walk hundreds if not thousands of steps every day. Also, a step can be converted into a kick or sweep at any time, if a suitable target is available. So the purpose of a step could be to deliver a kick or sweep.

Footwork is what moves you from long range to close range. A good Sera entry should lead directly to a throw. This implies that the last step of the entry should accomplish at least two things: it should bring you into throwing range, and it should create a strong Base from which you can execute the throw. It may also serve to deliver a kick, knee or sweep; trap the opponent’s foot to keep him from adjusting his balance; add power to the delivery of an upper-body strike; or help pull the opponent off-balance.
Move Less, See More

At close range, this could be restated as "Move less, feel more." It is true in many martial arts that a good structure will defeat a flurry of techniques. Unnecessary movement is a waste of effort and time that an efficient martial artist would do well to avoid.

Movement also implies temporary loss of structure: even if you are in transition from one good structure to another, there is a space of time where you are not in good structure. During that time, you cannot capitalize on any opportunities that may appear, and you are vulnerable to attack.

Elsewhere we discuss the idea of dividing time into full beats and half-beats. A movement creates at least a partial beat, and this is a unit of time that you will find extremely difficult to subdivide. Put another way, if your opponent is alert and attacks you in the middle of a movement, you will find it hard to respond until you have finished your motion.

Moving divides your attention, making it more difficult to maintain your focus. It can also telegraph your intentions. Purposeless movement tends to fall into a rhythm, which helps your opponent predict what you're about to do.

Basics in Silat Sera - Mental Aspects

More from Todd and Tiel:


Everyone who does martial arts or combative sports for even a little while has more physical technique than he or she will ever need. If the basics are practiced and practiced until they are ingrained and the student can perform them under stress in response to a wide variety of situations not much else is needed. The important arena for training at this point is the practitioner's mind.

There are several things to be concerned about. Will the student be able to perform under stress? Will he or she be emotionally prepared to deal with hostility in a productive and efficient manner? Will the effects of combat be psychologically harmful or will they foster personal growth? Colonel Grossman's excellent book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill" addresses these in great detail as does his companion set of tapes "The Bulletproof Mind".

Historically many cultures have turned to religion to provide the training needed to deal with these stresses. The traditional Japanese bujutsu have close ties to esoteric Buddhism. The high art of Spanish swordsmanship used techniques from Hermetic philosophy to develop mental discipline and emotional detachment in its exponents. In Indonesia a variety of Animist, Hindu and Muslim practices have been associated with the practice of different schools of Pencak Silat. The Navaho and Apache nations have a variety of rituals which allow a warrior to leave normal society to practice war and then to reintegrate and leave behind the terrible things he may have had to do in combat.

Serak in this country is, as we have said, strongly bound up with the history of the de Thouars family. The de Vries and de Thouars families were and remain Christians. Animist and Muslim exercises were not appropriate to their religious faith, so they have not been transmitted. A variety of techniques and guiding principles have been included in the training methods which have the effect of helping the student develop the proper attitudes and mental attributes.
Progression from Tyro to Pendekar

Many martial arts, whether or not they have named ranks and certification, recognize that beginning students are different than intermediate students. Further, once a student has completed the art's formal curriculum there are broad classes into which the practitioner falls. Guru Plinck sometimes divides it up into five major phases:
The beginning student can't perform the techniques that make up the system. If he can fight it is because of what he brought with him.
Next, a student develops the ability to move according to the curriculum and principles of the art. He can't make it work yet and hasn't developed the mental attributes. He can't fight but can get hurt.
A practitioner who has developed the physical portion of the art and internalized it can fight if she has been well trained and will have good, strong intention. A knowledgeable observer will recognize her as an exponent of the style. This is the stage where someone with the inclination becomes a teacher.
With increased understanding and maturity the physical form starts to dissolve away. The practitioner doesn't show form any more but demonstrates intention.
At the higher levels intention and form disappear. Movement and technique become whatever is called for by the situation. Set attitudes and patterned movement have served their purpose as training aids and are no longer required. In Indonesia this is about the time that one is called a Pendekar (literally "Skilled Mind").
Needless to say these build upon one another. There is no way around the hard and sometimes boring work of practicing form and drills until they become automatic. And there is no short cut through the harder work of developing mental toughness and focus.
Create a Little Self That Does the Fighting so the Rest of You Can Be Quiet

Practice outside of class time is essential to advancement or even to keeping one's skills. We have been advised to do something every day and that practicing the djurus in combination with our langkas is the best single exercise.

How this is done is at least as important as what we are to practice. Small sessions spread through the day in one's regular clothes and without excessive warmup is best. That way Silat is something that isn't done in a special place, with special clothes or equipment. It is a small but constant part of our consciousness at all times. In case of an emergency it becomes easy to switch over from normal ways of thinking to trained responses.

In time it becomes easy to move from whatever one is doing to complete attention on Silat and back without wasting any time or effort on the transition. It is as if a small piece of the mind is constantly doing Serak in the back of one's mind. When called on it handles the fight and then returns control to the part of the mind which handles normal concerns.

Straight to the point - Intention

Silat teachers are full of short pithy sayings that illustrate important ideas. One of the best comes from Todd's first guru, Brandt Bollers "Attitude without technique beats technique without attitude." The will and strength of character needed to assess a situation, step right in, and end it without malice or hesitation is the heart of Serak. The curriculum is just an efficient means to that end.

The first sort of footwork new students learn is langka jalur - the straight line. The first djurus teach the student how to enter efficiently and seize the initiative. This begins to change the way the student views the world. When in fear or doubt she learns to move forward with a goal in mind and without hesitation. Even when evasion is taught the smallest possible displacement is used, and only if it puts the student in a stronger tactical position.

As we have discussed elsewhere students learn to cover entire lines and planes and to hit in a manner which closes off the opponent's attack rather than blocking and then countering. Through these training progressions a goal-oriented mindset is encouraged.

"You are the director. He is the directee." "If you're not in control you're out of control." These are some of the slogans that get reinforced time and again in Serak training. All of the technique and curriculum we have seen so far has been designed to put the practitioner further in control of the situation with every action.

This is not to say that one has a plan for how each encounter will go. A fight is a chaotic, unpredictable affair where anything can happen. There is no faster way to go wrong than to assume that everyone else will do exactly what you want.

The art stresses gaining control first of oneself, then of the other people involved in the confrontation. Developing proper structure ensures that you can make the best use of your own physical resources. Understanding of position, timing and distance allows you to choose the time and order in which things happen. Physical techniques which increase your options while decreasing the number of things that the opponents can do give you more freedom and them less. Forcing the opponents to react to you rather than the other way around gives you more power to decide what will happen next.
Soft Focus

In combat what you don't notice can kill you. Obsessive attention on one thing - one opponent, one direction, one technique, one of anything - can lead to a variety of bad consequences. So students are taught to use a soft focus or their peripheral vision. Techniques for this include looking down so that other peoples' movement is seen only with peripheral vision, using the senses of touch and balance to address closer opponents and the eyes for further ones, and constantly moving the gaze around so that it doesn't rest on just one thing.

In a similar vein students may have to perform with distractions. Doing broken rhythm timing while music with a strong beat is playing in the background. Sparring in an area with obstructions and uneven footing. Djuru Sempok - an exercise which develops kicking and footwork skills - mixes several langkas. Sometimes the upper and lower bodies are done on different platforms.
Deception Without Faking

Sera is known as the decoy system, and many of the training methods develop the ability to trick or deceive opponents. But the principle of no wasted motion is also obeyed. Sera training tries to satisfy these two demands by teaching deception that does not involve fakes.

A student might alter the timing between parts of an attack so that the second part is on the way before it should be. Or lines might be left open in order to goad an attack. Body and foot placement can be altered to make an opponent think that the distance and time are different than they actually are.

A classic introductory technique involves letting the opponent apply angle and leverage on himself in a throw. The practitioner directs the defender's hand to a weak portion of the defender's tiga and lets go of it. For just an instant the defender is off balance even though nobody is actually keeping him there - time enough for the attacker to complete a sweep from an angle that shouldn't be possible.

Detachment With Complete Attention

Becoming a good Serak player is a balancing act.

Skill, understanding, and knowledge have to be at about the same level. Obsessive attention or too-tight focus can blind you to what is going on around you, and making assumptions can be fatal. On the other hand, in a serious violent encounter you can not afford to let your attention wander even for an instant.

A fighter who is careless or doesn't take the situation seriously is already in trouble. But letting emotions rule you is just as dangerous and makes you easy to manipulate.

The ideal in this system is to develop complete attention to the matter at hand while cultivating emotional detachment from the situation. This is one of the things that a student really needs a guru for as it is very hard to learn on one's own. A thousand little adjustments have to be made to develop the right habits of thought and reaction through slight changes in the drills and exercises and their effect on the student.
The Mind Controls the Body, but the Body Trains the Mind

We heard this saying from three different people at about the same time. One was Guru Plinck talking about martial arts. The second was a good friend who is active in traditional Sufi spiritual training. The third was Tiel's grandfather who has spent much of his time since retirement working at a Chinese Buddhist monastery. It's an important lesson which we have become more aware of as we have done more Silat.

There are many ways to develop a person's capabilities. The good ones tend to exercise everything - the body, the mind, the emotions, intution, everything. The quickest way to develop this is through the body. Things that are associated with repeated physical action are learned most thoroughly. This includes the emotional states and habits of thought that are so important in activities like military training or martial arts education.

And it's the most honest. There is nothing so effective as an elbow to the head to tell you that your attention has wandered. We lie to ourselves all the time with words. It is much harder to lie with actions.

In Serak the training methods reinforce the ways of thinking and reacting that the student is supposed to develop. The simple physical act of getting in close and taking control right away and cutting off the lines of attack while hitting the opponent force the student to think differently from the first day. To think and act more like a Sera player.

A natural reaction to having someone closer than a normal conversational distance is to back up. Crowding a victim is often the first aggressive act a criminal performs to test for weakness or to intimidate. The physical actions a beginning Serak student performs again and again change her reaction to this stimulus. "He's too close. I'm afraid," becomse "He's close enough to hit. Now I'll make him do what I want."


Rules and conventions are a sticky area in serious combatives. In a teaching situation there have to be rules for safety and a certain amount of predicatability so that students can concentrate on absorbing the lesson. In confrontations where the aim is anything other than killing the other person as quickly as possible there are conventions, seldom stated but always there. A person who wants to live in society has to understand and follow certain rules of behaviour.

For example, there are rules surrounding self defense. Even if you know someone wants to hurt you you can't lie in wait and stab him in the back, poison his food, or offer him a beautiful book and strike him down when he goes to pick it up. All of these are techniques which exist in traditional martial arts in Indonesia, China, and Japan. These would all be more effective than waiting until he presents "an immediate and otherwise unavoidable threat of death or serious bodily injury". Violating these conventions pushes you beyond the pale of civilized people, and you are treated as a thug.

A similar dynamic applies in the practice of Serak. A skilled fighter (and the assumption is always that the opponent is skilled) can tell what the most efficient action is in any situation. If you always do the predictable thing the enemy will always know what you are doing - a situation to be avoided.

On the other hand, someone who is completely unpredictable will put himself in danger and miss opportunities to gain an advantage. So there has to be a level of discipline and regularity, especially at the lower levels of training. A player who never uses deception can be read easily. But a player who uses it too much will find that others won't believe him. In short, Serak teaches how to use rules by following them and by breaking them. The skill lies in knowing when and how to do each.

It has become a bit of a joke in Silat circles that the highest compliment that you can pay a pesilat is to say "You can't do that! That's not fair!" Those who want further instruction are invited to sample the teachings of Guru Newman and Guru Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Pay particular attention to the scene where someone challenges Cassidy for leadership of the gang…

Basics in Silat Sera - Langkas

More from Todd and Tiel:

What are Langkas?

Langkas, or platforms, are usually described as footwork diagrams. But note that when when describing a langka as a "footwork diagram", one should be aware that this does not just mean "a diagram for stepping". Among other things, langkas define the correct angles for sapus and besets. Each langka also represents a different strategy or set of strategies, which translates into a particular mindset.

Langkas are defined relative to the Sera player's location: wherever he is, he should be aware of a set of platforms defined by the present locations of his feet. Each time he moves his feet, these langkas are destroyed and a new set is created. Therefore the Sera player is always in position to sweep.

Langkas are also defined relative to the player's stance. The length of a side of Tiga or Sliwa, an arm of Sekurum, or a step of Miring, should be equal to the distance between the student's feet when the student is in a comfortable djuru stance. Players with longer stances should practice on larger platforms.

Students are expected to practice their djurus on langkas. The student begins by executing her djurus on the straight line. Once the student has at least three djurus, she moves to the Tiga or triangle. After the student has four or more djurus, she adds Sliwa or square to her practice. Sekurum is usually introduced at about Djuru 10.

As explained below, Miring or the staircase is a basic drill (though it is often referred to as a platform, which is why we discuss it here), and so is usually introduced very early in the student's training.
Jalur (Straight Line)

The straight line teaches the Sera student to enter directly. The mindset of the straight line is quite aggressive. The goal is to enter and take control of the space now occupied by the attacker. Guru Plinck has often referred to "Safety in the heart of danger". What this means is that the Sera player achieves safety by taking control of the situation, and this is most easily done at very close range. The straight-line entry is the shortest (though not necessarily the best) path to control.

One of the reasons that the Sera beginner works exclusively with the straight line is that this training forces the student to overcome any habitual aversion to entering close to an opponent. Evasion may be tempting, but at this stage, evasion is simply not offered as an option.
Tiga (Triangle) and Sliwa (Square)

These two platforms are very closely related and are most easily illustrated in comparison. Tiga can be characterized as being used for infighting, and Sliwa for long range, but it should be understood that these designations are relative. Sliwa (also known as Empat) is often used effectively at ranges that are much closer than what many martial artists would consider long range.
Finding Weak Upper Body Angles with Tiga and Sliwa

Proper angle for the basic Sera throws can be created by directing part of the opponent's upper body, (head, shoulder or arm) toward a correct point on the floor. The points are the point of the opponent's Tiga or the corners of the opponent's Sliwa, defined by the current position of the opponent's feet. These angles work no matter where the sweeper is standing relative to the opponent.
Controlling Center with Tiga and Sliwa

Occupying center is related to Tiga, cutting the line can be associated with Sliwa. Notice that many of the short-to-medium range strikes of Sera, such as the vertical elbow of Djuru 4 or the sansot of Djuru 3, are applied along Tiga lines. By contrast, line-cutting techniques can be thought of as following the diagonal of the Sliwa.
Sekurum (Cross or addition sign)

Sekurum is used to defend against multiple opponents. The mindset is often described as "standing ground". On Sekurum, the Sera player always keeps one foot at the center point, while the other foot can move from any endpoint of the Sekurum to any other endpoint. Thus the player can face out along any of the arms: all directions are equally accessible. Sekurum also, of course, describes a set of angles useful for sweeping. Sekurum also allows the Serak player to move his or her body out of the line of an attack very subtly and quickly.
Sweeping Angles with Tiga, Sliwa and Sekurum

Sapus in Sera are angled movements, not circular. Note that the returning part of the path is a rising motion, but the sweeping foot must make contact with the ground at the far point of the sapu. The sapu will be effective if the opponent's foot is located anywhere within the region of the sapu.

In all the sapu diagrams shown, if the opponent's left foot is presented, Sapu Luar will result: if the opponent's right foot is presented, Sapu Dalem will result. In the beset diagrams, if the opponent's right foot is presented, the sweeper will execute Beset Luar: if the opponent's left foot is presented, the sweeper will execute Beset Dalem.

Notice that two methods of executing the beset on Sliwa are shown. Also notice that on Sekurum, the moving foot is never the one at the center.
Alleviation with Tiga, Sliwa and Sekurum

Sliwa footwork is described as being evasive. It's important to note that "evasion" in Sera does not usually mean "getting further away from". Instead, Sera evasion means getting off the line of the incoming force, or repositioning the body to avoid the incoming force, ideally while gaining a better position relative to the attacker. Sliwa can be used to enter, while at the same time shifting laterally so that your center is no longer exactly where the attacker expects it to be. This can be called alleviation by repositioning.

Like Sliwa, Sekurum can be used to evade or alleviate by repositioning the upper body.

In Tiga, alleviation usually requires the use of an upper body tool: if the student visualizes an equilateral triangle with its base along her shoulder girdle and the point touching the opponent in the center plane, an incoming attack can be deflected along either side of the Tiga.

Pancar is the combination of all the other platforms. It is not a platform in itself so much as it represents the student's understanding of the basic platforms and their relationship to one another. In particular, the student needs to understand the advantages and disadvantages that the different langkas have over each other. We will only give a few examples here.

Consider an extremely powerful committed straight-line attack. Tiga sweeping is not always effective against such an attack, because it provides very little alleviation: the sweep may be executed successfully, but the attacker crash into the sweeper anyway. Sliwa or Sekurum is more likely to be an effective counter to this attack, because both can be used to remove the sweeper from the path of the incoming force.

In general Sekurum and Sliwa work well against straight line and Tiga, alleviating their attacks without giving up space. (The straight line, in particular, is all about taking space.) Sekurum tends to be more efficient than Sliwa, because it requires less motion.

Sliwa changes the relationship between the two players. It can be used to make the center point that the Sekurum-based player is holding less advantageous. So Sliwa can counter Sekurum.

Tiga can counter Sliwa because it is generally faster. Thus a possible sequence might be: a straight-line attack is countered by a Sekurum movement; the attacker shifts to a Sliwa attack to neutralize the Sekurum; the defender promptly attacks on Tiga.

In Indonesia, sparring and challenge fights are part of the tradition of Pencak Silat. One way in which damage is minimized in these contests is to hold a sweeping contest: combatants do not use their hands, but try to sweep one another's feet. It's generally understood that if one person can sweep the other at will, he could just as easily have delivered an effective strike. Clearly a Silat player without a detailed understanding of sweeping angles would be at a tremendous disadvantage in such a contest. Pancar is the means by which Sera conveys such understanding.

Pancar also shows that the upper and lower body can work on different platforms. In the form called Djuru Sempok, the footwork is primarily on Sekurum while the upper body work is mainly on Tiga. Thus a player performing Djuru Sempok might visualize Pancar to help keep the proper relationship between her upper and lower body.
Miring (Staircase)

Miring is not a platform in the sense that the langkas discussed above are: i.e. there is no particular strategy encoded in it. It is best regarded as a template for a drill. Miring is used to practice sapus and besets, alternating sides: the sapus and besets can be combined with silo, kicks and other footwork drills. The student can thus practice remaining on his baseline while executing a variety of different movements.

Miring can be based either on right angles or on 60-degree angles such as would be found in the Tiga.

Basics in Silat Sera - Djurus

More from Todd and Tiel:

Every martial system of which we are aware includes patterned movement in its fundamental training methods. There may be many of these - Wah Lum Preying Mantis Kung Fu has over a hundred forms. Boxing has shadow boxing and combinations.There may be few. They may be long or only a few movements long like the combinations a boxer practices in bag work. They all attempt to ingrain the habits and principles of movement of the system in the practitioner.

A common term for these patterned movements in the Indonesian martial arts is djuru. Some of them are long and involve the entire body and weapons. Some traditions use djurus which are actually two (or more) person sets of techniques. Systems like Sumatran Harimau do not use djurus. Transitions from stance to stance and position to position fill the same purpose.

How to Recognize Poorly Taught Djurus

One of the signs that a martial art is losing contact with its roots is when the patterned movements become mere rote disconnected from the techniques that people actually use. When a teacher says that the forms are "for art" or express some higher purpose not tied to the application of the system in combat or competition it is a sign of his or her lack of understanding. Some systems have been irretrievably lost because the comprehension that went with the movements has disappeared. All that is left is waving the arms and legs about with a vague understanding that somehow it is supposed to work.

Another sign of this is an overabundance of new curriculum. If djurus multiply to the point where a normal person can not remember them the style has grown too much. A teacher may be hiding a lack of depth by making a show of breadth. This is not to say that recombination and integration are bad. That is how every new system has been created and how old ones evolve to meet new conditions. But there has to be a core that can be encompassed, understood, and internalized if the style is to be useful. If these fundamentals are not in accord with the formal curriculum one or the other is a waste of time.

Djurus in Serak

We have been fortunate to study with a teacher who learned the old fashioned way and has chosen to transmit it to the next generation of Sera players. The djurus are the heart of practice.

Serak's djurus fit a very specific pattern. Some schools teach up to twenty four. Most senior practitioners agree that the first eighteen djurus contain everything essential. They all begin either with the entire first or second djuru. Some of them such as Djuru 10 include footwork; for the most part they are expositions of the upper body movements and principles of the system. Integration with the lower body part of the art comes through the practice of langkas and exercises which combine the two.

In general the djurus are practiced "low, slow, relaxed and with attitude". Speed and power come later with practice. In the beginning it is more important to practice correctly.

The first two djurus are the most important. They teach the student how to enter. They incorporate the most important technical principles of the system. And they give good basic defense and attack. While the movements in each can be used defensively or offensively the first djuru primarily teaches defense and the second offense.

With the rudiments of distance, a series of planned, practiced responses, the ability to defend and attack and a goal in mind ("Get in. Hit him. Take him down. Hit him again.") even the fairly new student has tools which will increase his chances in a confrontation.

Djurus in the Class Setting

Class starts with djuru practice to give the teacher a chance to assess progress and the students an opportunity to get in the correct frame of mind to practice in harmony with the principles of the system.In some sense, the lesson can't begin until the students have shown their djurus. Until that time the teacher is not in a position to decide what needs to be emphasized in that class.

Most instructional classes (as opposed to classes concentrating on conditioning or free sparring) center on some aspect of the djurus or langkas. It tends to be done in one of two ways which I refer to as "outside to inside" and "inside to outside".

The first approach starts with a technique or principle derived from the a movement or combination of a few movements in the djurus. The situation progresses from the straightforward to the more difficult. At first everything goes right. Then complications and contingencies are added. A simple straight punch becomes a combination of punches. Or the aggressor counters the defender's response. The beginning student leaves with a selection of simple effective techniques. The more advanced one gets to the point where he has identified the underlying principle and can use it or the root movement in a variety of ways. He has a physical reference, a somatic hook to hang his understanding from.

In the other approach the student is told how and why something works. Technique is derived from the appropriate part of the curriculum to illustrate the point. This could be as simple as entering with long range weapons and finishing with short range ones using Djuru 2 or very complicated.

The goal of both training methods is to combine simple movements with sophisticated understanding so that particular techniques and applications invent themselves on the spot and are done spontaneously with good form. A good sign that the students are progressing is when the teacher hears exchanges like "That was great! What was it?" "I've got no idea, but it seemed like the thing to do."

General Notes

How to Stand

In Serak the upper and lower body work together but independently. Power comes up from the ground, through the legs and the muscles of the core, and out the arms. The fundamental assumption is that the attackers are bigger, stronger and faster than you are, so structural strength and superior position are more important than your muscular strength and speed.

The basic djuru stance reflects these things. It is not a training-only stance. And it's not a stance you stand out of to fight; it isn't very efficient for that. It's a way you stand once you have are entering on your opponent.

In the basic djuru stance the torso and hips are turned forward. The tailbone sinks, and the shoulders relax and round. The front leg is bent, and the center of gravity is moved forward so that it is over the front foot. The back leg is straighter than the front but not stiff. Most of the weight is on the front leg so that you can move the back leg to step, kick or sweep without shifting weight.

As the stance deepens the position changes. Weight is more even distributed. The back leg may move outwards slightly so that the heels are no longer in line - at least for men; women seem to have an easier time keeping the same hip-foot relationship.

How to Breathe

In and out.

Seriously, at the beginning stages just the fact that you keep breathing in a relaxed fashion is all that is important. Later on you learn to coordinate the breathing with the djurus. Fortunately the djurus are designed so that with just a little instruction the form and the breath coordinate well. The fundamental idea is that when one is alleviating or receiving force one breathes in. When generating or giving force one breathes out. Since any movement can be used to receive or give you can completely reverse the breathing pattern on any djuru.

Breathing should be done without raising or overly expanding the chest. An old silat trick is to attack when the opponent is inhaling. Moving the chest a lot in breathing gives away valuable information to the skilled attacker.
If you are breathing correctly practicing djurus should energize you. If you find yourself out of breath, panting, drooling or dizzy (we've done all of these) you need to slow down and re-coordinate the breath with the body.
How to Walk

In order to step without falling down a person needs to move his center of gravity over one foot, step with the other, and move the center of gravity appropriately. In the first footwork pattern, langka jalur, the front foot is turned out suddenly. This moves the center of gravity slightly forward, off the front foot. The back foot moves forward and steps into another djuru stance.

In cross-stepping (sempok and depok) and kicking the rear leg can move without the weight shifting. This allows you to avoid commitment until the last instant.

How to Look

The effects of stress often begin with tunnel vision and proceed from there to effects which are incompatible with effective fighting. An attempt must be made to develop a "soft focus" which makes best use of peripheral vision. Peripheral vision is more sensitive to movement and allows a wider field of view.This is particularly important in confrontations with more than one opponent.

How to Train

Speed and power will come with time. In the beginning it is more important to do things correctly. Practice the djurus slowly. Relax every muscle that you aren't actually using at that instant. Increase intensity gradually. Don't move anything that doesn't need to be moved - e.g. don't bob your head up and down or wind up before throwing a strike.

All well-developed training programs of which this author is aware are made up of training methods which do more than one thing. In a short combatives course this may be as simple as combining anaerobic conditioning with aggressive attitude. In longer term programs there may be many subtle things, some of which only come into full flower after years of training. In this martial art one of the important long term goals of training is to change the student's response to confusion and stress from panic or non-productive anger to intensity and relaxation. Ultimately, at the highest levels, it leads to faith and acceptance.

Giving and Receiving

Any particular movement can be used in many different ways. One of the most important parts of training is dissecting the djurus in order to get everything you possibly can out of them and to figure out all the ways they can be used.

Perhaps the most important analytical tool in this exercise is the idea of giving and receiving. Any movement can be used to give - striking, unbalancing, cutting a line of attack. It can also be used to receive - blocking, dissolving, alleviating, storing the power of an opponent's strike to release it back at him (something we are just beginning to learn).
What You do Left You Can do Right…

It would be exhausting and frustrating to catalog every single way djurus can be transformed into one another and every single variation in technique. You can go a long way by remembering a very simple principle. "What you can do left you can do right. What you can do high you can do low. What you can do inside you can do outside."

This means that the movements in the djurus are equally valid if they are applied at different levels, on different sides of your or the opponent's body or in different orders. In a typical Serak class one might apply the same movement or couple of movements from a djuru in a wide variety of situations.
…But Not at the Same Time

The left and right sides of the body (and the upper and lower bases of the body for that matter) almost never do exactly the same thing at the same time. This increases coordination and gives the student the ability to use different parts of his or her body differently at the same time. It also affects the opponent. A single force along a straight line or a symmetric grab with both arms are easier to perform and easier for the brain to process than two different forces at the same time or a hold that affects the sides of the body unequally.

Other than the first movement of the first djuru, which has the very specific application of keeping a knife out of the guts there are almost no times when a Serak player practicing his djurus is doing the same thing symmetrically with both sides of his body or applying equal force to both sides of the opponent at the same time.

In the first two thirds of the curriculum the only other places I can think of where this happens are covering the head briefly in djuru seven and one movement in djuru eleven. And even in that one the force is only applied symmetrically if you happen to pulling the opponent's head down and backwards.

Connected with this is the idea of separation of the upper and lower bases of the body. If both are moving at one time it is difficult if not impossible to generate power. And there is no margin for error. If the situation worsens one part of the body can not come to the rescue of the other. So, unless they are being completely evasive, Serak players tend to move the upper and lower bases (shoulder girdle and legs) independently and to use one half of the body to back up or reinforce the other. The stable base and the supportive parts of the body can and should be able to change immediately.

Pictures and Examples From the Djurus

This will be coming Real Soon Now. I recently bought a new copy of Poser 5 and need to get through its learning curve. Check back around the last part of July 2003

Basics in Silat Sera - Disclaimer

More from Todd Ellner and Tiel Ansari, from Guru Plinck's site:


This website represents the understanding of Tiel Jackson and Todd Ellner, a pair of students of Pencak Silat Serak of the Djut, John de Vries, Paul de Thouars, Stevan Plinck lineage. We are beginners, albeit ones with solid instruction under a very skilled teacher. The material here reflects this; there will be mistakes, innacuracies, and omissions. This is not a definintive treatise on the system. It is a work in progress which will evolve with our knowledge, skill, and understanding.

There are also things which Guru Plinck has requested that we not include such as the offensive use of weapons and advanced attacking. These are reserved for long term students of proven character.

The terminology and analyses you see here come strictly from the Paul de Thouars and Stevan Plinck cabang (lit. branch). Some are found in other martial arts. But it's essentially a product of the minds and hard work of these two remarkable men. It should not be necessary to say this, but we feel compelled to. Many of their insights have been appropriated by others in the Silat community.

This is a good thing of itself; that is how progress occurs. But not when it is done without giving credit. As a case in point Guru Plinck came up with the analytical tool of describing techniques in terms of "Base, Angle and Leverage". After he had presented it as a teaching tool and his student Steve Perry had included it in the Tom Clancy Netforce books other Pencak Silat teachers started using it without acknowledging the source. And getting it wrong, we have to note.


Serak comes from the Western part of the island of Java. It is a cultural art of the Western Javanese closely related to styles such as Cikalong, Sabandar and Cimande. The style was brought to the West by Dutch-Indonesian refugees after Indonesian independence. It owes much to these peoples.

But everything changes over time. Lifestyle, physiognomy, local conditions, and exposure to people with different fighting and weapon preferences all leave their mark. In the same way that the indigenous fighting arts of Indonesia were affected by Indians, Arabs, Chinese, and Dutch they have altered to fit circumstances in the Netherlands and the United States. We recognize this. So while we try to stay true to what is important and precious in the art it will continue to be adapted to the needs of its practitioners.
Magic, Mystery, and the Need for a Well-Tuned BS Detector

Indonesian culture is marvelously syncretic. The high cultures of India, Arabia and Europe have been fit into the national character. Spiritual life is no exception. Animist, Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu influences can all be found in the world's most populous Muslim country and in its indigenous practices including martial arts.

Some of these are explicitly religious. Or they can be the result of a world-view which we in the West would consider "magical" but which makes sense to someone who grew up with it. Others are actually training exercises designed to develop mental and emotional attributes. Some are pure charlatanry dressed up in mystic clothing. Some are the perception of less-skilled opponents who couldn't believe that they lost to an opponent with greater skill and understanding. Some may be the results of phenomena which can not be explained by current scientific understanding - although we must hasten to say that we have never seen such things personally. And some flow from the nearly universal desire to have a good joke at the expense of a gullible foreigner.

In any case they can not be separated from the society in which they came to be. An outsider who takes up practices from a culture of which he or she is not a member is always in a difficult position. Whole sets of associations that a native would learn from childhood are simply not there. The foreigner's emotional and spiritual structure will react differently.

As Americans we think and act like Americans. We haven't grown up in a society where the call of the muezzin and the reading of the Ramayana are parts of everyday life. So while we respect the culture that the art came from we recognize that we are not and never will be part of it and must adapt the mental and spiritual aspects to our internal structures. And we can still smile mysteriously and say nothing when we throw someone who says "That couldn't have worked. It had to be magic!"

Even in Indonesia and Malaysia these practices are not universal. Devout Christians and Muslims will shun activities which a Hindu or Animist would engage in and vice versa.

Basics in Silat Sera - Curriculum

A series of articles by Todd Ellner and Tiel Ansari, from Guru Plinck's website:

The Sera curriculum is really very small. There are eighteen fundamental upper body exercises known as djurus. There are four essential footwork patterns called langkas. A short form called djuru sempok teaches multiple opponent footwork and kicking.

Students demonstrate their ability to improvise while maintaining good form and intention through a framework called djuru combinasi or kembangan. There are sets of techniques for a number of weapons.such as the knife, the big knife, the staff, the whip and the cabang. A number of exercises such as leg work, sensitivity drills, and counter-for-counter frameworks develop important skills and attributes. They show up in different forms depending on the skill of the students.

Gurus pass on or develop exercises of their own. A common one would be a set of sambuts - two- or multiple-peson attacking or defending combinations which illustrate important tactical principles and useful tools. Add a few throws and locks, sparring and similar techniques and you pretty much have what is taught in Serak.

This isn't a very large syllabus for a comprehensive martial art. The guiding idea may be summed up as "Simple tools used with sophistication". The training methods and teaching progressions of the system force students to apply a relatively small number of movements in many different situations in many different ways combined in any order with anything else that he or she has been taught.


Maha Guru Plinck's web server has died, and while somebody will probably get around to replacing it eventually, in the meantime,  anybody looking for information about his version of silat can drop by here and I'll try to answer those questions as best I can.

If you want general information, you can click on the link to my blog, here, or in the Links list, and put in the search term "sera," to get postings there connected to our art.

A somewhat more general look at martial arts I have experienced, with a primary focus on silat, is available as a short e-book, But What If I Did This?! click on the PayPal link for a PDF.