Friday, November 2, 2012

Ch-Ch-Changes ... (For Our Students)

Those of you paying attention here will have gotten it that the Maha Guru Plinck-style of silat has undergone some changes. Guru began showing this to us what? about a year and a half or so ago. The older stuff hasn't been tossed out, but it has been altered, and while I've spoken to some of these changes before, I want to get a little more into them before the new video showing the djurus comes out.

So, I'll speak to what has been done, and why, based upon my own perception and training.

It starts–as everything in our branch–with the djurus and langkas. We have Pendekar Paul's interpretation, but he wasn't the only de Thouars and de Vries student of the art.

In Paul's teaching, the djurus are started with hips and shoulders aligned and facing forward, with the hips "corked," in a front stance. 

In the new interpretation, the beginning stance is an open-horse. (Classic horse stance is as if you were sitting astride a horse with your feet in the stirrups, i.e., feet parallel and at a ninety-degree angle to an opponent to your left or right. The open-stance version angles the feet outward, closer to forty-five degrees.)

Obviously, if you get into a sudden fight, you start where you are, and you don't try to get into a stance to deal with actions that are moving too fast to allow it. Stances are transitional, you don't pose there like Bruce Lee for the camera, you move through them, but we are talking about the djurus here.

Kind of like the old joke about karate players who trained barefoot holding up a hand to an attacker and saying, "Wait, wait, let me take my shoes off ..."

So, why change it thus?

Several reasons:

Guru noticed, in old photographs of senior players, that they used this stance. He started with that, then retro-engineered it: Why would they stand this way? Why didn't we do it now? Did we find something better, or did we lose track of it? 

He talked with and watched seniors in other branches, looked at what they did, realized what they had–and what they didn't have.

This is the mark of somebody who is skilled, and who can connect the dots.

What he understood is that this side stance protects the center better against an opponent on the line of the lead foot. (And, I suspect, that you can also alter your aim to face somebody on the opposite line without having to move your feet.) 

Not that you can't cover your centerline in a front stance, but that the front stance needs the back-up hand more to do it. You can throw up a shield with the lead arm against somebody out there and enter. Entering as you face forward gives them a bigger target. Following your lead shoulder in with your shield up is safer.

The side stance is stronger, and it takes a lot of stress off the knees when you drop lower, a good thing–speaking as somebody who has had knee surgery.

Once you enter, then the front stance is effective; you can turn and cork, to deliver a stronger, hip-driven attack, your center is at less risk because you are already in and past a lot of the opponent's tools. So that's not being thrown away, but used when it is safer and more effective to employ.

This is reflected in the new djurus. Learn this with the first two, and you can alter the rest likewise.

This doesn't violate any principles. New students won't have a problem. Old students? It does take some practice to switch to, after doing it the other way ten thousand times. When I first saw it, I confess I was somewhat skeptical. After trying it? I can see why it is better.

The basic punches have been refocused and altered to suit the new structure. The Djuru 2 highline punch is now delivered with the fist held closer to an anatomical-chart position. 

Anatomy charts show somebody with their arms hanging down, palms forward. From this position if you raise your arm straight up and make a fist, you'll be in the new position.

What this means is the angle of the arm and wrist is such that the palm is upward, and somewhere around forty-five degrees–halfway between a flat-punch and palm straight up. Looks something like a stretched-out uppercut. 

Structurally, a twisted punch is somewhat less mechanically-sound than a flat punch, which is a little less so than the upward-45 punch. You can see this by how the radius and ulna align with each other as you do them. Bones parallel are a somewhat-stronger structure. There was a researched article about this in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts a few years back.

Lowline punches will generally be done with the palm down. Centerline can be done either way, or flat.

Pretty much that's what you'll notice if you see the new forms demonstrated. The changes do ripple through everything, but position and timing and distance are all still there, mostly it's position that has altered. Once you start getting used to it, you can see why it's better. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Let's talk about pukulan. If you are a western Javanese player, you probably know what this is. If not, it's a punching and blocking technique designed for mid-range distance.

 In bare-handed encounters, these ranges mostly are three: kicking, punching, and grappling (the last also called elbow range.) Knife works in the latter two. Close enough to punch or elbow, close enough to stab. And depending on the length of the blade and your arms, maybe reach somebody at their kicking distance.

Of course, a tall man's punch might be a short one's kick, but each fighter has his or her own measures. This far away, that tool will work, but this one won't. You have to determine what these ranges are for yourself.

Pukulan, which comes from the root word "pukul," means "hit," or "hammer." As in most Indonesian styles, there is some question about where the art comes from. One story has it that the Javanese watched the Dutch sailors fight, using their western boxing methods, and coƶpted the moves to develop pukulan as a counter. No real evidence to support this, but the style seems to have come into being around the largest seaports. Of course, on an island, there are a lot of seaports ...

Mm. Doesn't matter for purposes of our discussion. 

If you are a student of Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck, you know what it looks like. If you don't, it's kind of like an old steam locomotive's driving wheel and tie-rod. The punch/block–it can be either or both, is a reciprocating piston. One hand goes out, the other comes back in concert, and the hit or block tends to arrive on one line, retract, then cycle back on the other line. Not always, but the motions are tight half-circles in which the extensions impact on an opponent's body. 

One high, one low, one near, one far.

If you take a snapshot of a typical pukulan sequence midway, you'd be hard pressed to tell whether the model is striking or blocking, and in fact, once cycle will do both with both hands.

So the reason it works at punching distance? Because it is punching. And if you are one of our students, you know that if you are hanging out at pukulan distance, you have screwed up. You should either be going in for the finish, or backing out to reset.

But there is that transition, and the reason for learning pukulan is because you might get stuck at that range. Could be because that's were the fight started. Guy next to you at the bar just hauls off and lets a fist fly your way. Or maybe as you closed, he danced back just enough to keep himself at a range he likes. If he's a boxer, that's where he wants to be, and if he's a good boxer, you don't want to stand there and play his game as he unloads his combinations your way. You need something designed for his distance to protect yourself just long enough to get in or out and not eat a lot of his punches in the process. Which means you have to do it quick, catch up, and either close or step off.

Not to say you can't deck somebody with pukulan, certainly you can, but for us, it's another one of those Oh, shit! techniques you need for when you started out crooked or got that way because something went south as you engaged. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Vids

If you are a student of Maha Guru Plinck, you have access to the Resonant Video vids produced by Guy Bowring. These are unavailable generally, without permission from Guru.  

There's a new set out, from this past spring, three of them, from the Colorado seminar in April, 2012.

These are going to be something of a revelation for students who haven't had a chance to see the new material Guru has been incorporating into the system, the stance, the change in djurus, some other tweaks. 

(NOTE: There will be a public video on the updated version of the djurus, but that won't be out for a while, it's in the can, and will probably become available sometime this fall; these are not that video, these are nuts-and-bolts in applications using the new djuru focus, and if you haven't trained with Guru in the last year or two, you'll see some stuff you haven't seen before. Guru did some reconstruction on material going back at least to Oom John and Pak Ventje, and picked up some things that have been lost for a while.)

I've been giving you heads-up on this, and here is your chance to see it if you haven't. Of course, it's not hands-on training with Guru, which is the best way to learn, but it something not everybody can get.

The video teaser above, done in the Coming Attractions! style, hokey, but fun, is taken from the seminar. 

Guy's link is over there in the sidebar; however, you can get there here, too. You have to jump through some hoops to get to view the new stuff for students only, but if you've been there before, you can manage it. If not, you can send guy an email, and he'll walk you through it. 

Good stuff. My copies are on the way ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Those of you following this blog know I've mentioned that Maha Guru has been doing some revamping on the eighteen basic djurus of Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck. An evolution, not revolution, calling upon his experience and expertise, to refocus the moments in an improved way. 

If you know the old versions, you won't have any problem recognizing the newer versions; however, the purposes of the changes might take some work to learn and internalize. 

This summer, he will be committing these to video. 

I don't have the details yet, save that it is in the offing, and while they may become available only to his own students worldwide, I don't know that, either. Mostly, his students are the ones who drop by here, so this is news you might find interesting. (I certainly did, and I'll reserve my copy of the video as soon as I can.)

I'll keep you posted as I learn more about the project. Stay tuned ...

Update: The video has just been recorded, but won't been produced for distribution for a while, probably sometime this fall. Mostly, it's just Guru doing the djurus; there is some other material in it, but the djurus are the focus.

Guru has indicated he will allow distribution to students outside our branch of silat.

As I have said, if you know the forms now, you won't be lost looking at the new versions; none of the principles are violated; however, there are differences in stance; position; and, angles on various parts of the hand- and foot-work have been adjusted. The goal was to add in material that Guru felt needed to be part of the complete package. Nothing you learned before is wrong; this just gives you more bang for your buck ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reality Check: Compensation

On a given day, even walking down not-so-mean streets, you are apt to pass people who are either bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, better-trained, better-armed, smarter, meaner, and sneakier than you, just to name a few. 

Should you get into a set-to with somebody who is all of these? The smart money isn't going to bet on you to win.

You understand why, don't you?

Chances are you aren't going to run into too many people who are all of these, not if you are serious in your training, and you have learned how to compensate. 

Pump a lot of heavy iron, you can get bigger and considerably stronger, but not appreciably taller; if you are five-foot high, even if you can bench a Volvo, you won't ever get to six feet, with the reach of somebody that height. The amount of muscle you can pack on will be limited by your frame and testosterone, and a middleweight using strength alone can't outmuscle the heavyweights.

You probably can't get much smarter than you are. However bright you were on your ninth birthday, chances are you'll stay close to that, at least in terms of IQ. You can gain knowledge, but the wetware's processing speed doesn't get a lot quicker.

You might could get meaner, and by this, I mean develop an attitude that you are the person who gets to walk away, whatever it takes. It's what they teach the Marines and the SEALs and the Rangers–get it done and go home. 

You can increase your agility. You can, to an extent, increase your useful speed. But where you can really improve is in your skill. You can be better-trained and better-armed. 

You can surely be sneakier. That's my preferred route. I'm old, slow, weak, a pushover. So I have to come up with something else.

When you compensate for those things that are less amenable to change by fixing the ones you can fix, you could give yourself a useful advantage, should push come to shove. And if you can't run away and you have to defend yourself or your loved ones, then you want to play your game, using your strengths, and not those of your attacker.

There's an old saw: Don't get into a fight with an old man–he'll just kill you. It speaks to the point eloquently: You can be old, slow and weak, but if you have a gun  or a knife or a lightsaber and the wherewithal to use it, that MMA champ's physical advantages count for a lot less. Assuming, of course, you can get to your weapon before he takes your head off. 

All of this is to say that you need something that you can reach for when you need it. You need to figure out what that is, and develop it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Size Matters

I probably shouldn't have to say this, but in martial arts, one size does not fit all. What a man who is six-foot-four and two hundred and twenty pounds can make happen is different than what a five-foot-tall hundred pound woman can do.

Whatever techniques you use have to be adjusted to your physiology. The origin story for Silat Sera has it that the founder was gimpy–one good arm and a clubfoot–and that meant he had to devise ways that allowed him to get past his handicaps.

The one-armed martial artist who learns how to do circular blocks, or stop-punches, or other techniques that don't need the second arm or hand is a staple in origin stories. I've studied half a dozen arts over the years, and two of them feature a one-armed creator.

If you can take care of business with one arm, then having a spare is lagniappe. So the next teacher to come along can add that in, and give you more choices of tools to use.

Most recent class, I found myself working out with another student who was fifty pounds lighter and six or seven inches shorter. My reach was much longer than his. I could tag him outside his range, so in order to tag me, he had to get in. A fighter who is smaller has to make that adjustment. An in-fighting art can allow a shorter player to negate a bigger fighter's long-range tools, but you have to know how to get there.

The first serious arts I fooled with were out-fighting ones. If I could stand back and use long kicks, why wouldn't I do that? I liked the staff over the knife, the spear over the sword. Farther away was safer.

At least that's what I thought back then. Sometimes, closer is safer. It depends on what you know. And when I ran into in-fighters who could get past my long-range stuff, I was in trouble.

Um. Anyway, working with the shorter student, we had to keep adjusting his tools. If you can't reach me with that elbow or knee, then you need to use a different weapon. The punch is longer than the elbow, the kick reaches farther than the knee. Don't try to force a short technique to stretch past its limit.

A good teacher will tell you to adjust the techniques to yourself. If you can't safely reach the attacker's nose with your punch because he's too tall, then hit him someplace you can reach. But if the teacher is a big guy and you are small, you need to be responsible for making those changes. You have to learn your own range, and if it's not the teacher's range, use yours and not his.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Once upon a time, I entered a weapons competition at a martial arts tourney. This was in Louisiana, 1974, so long ago that they were still called "karate tournaments." Not the gathering in New Orleans at which I saw a "kung fu master" screw up a double machete demo that resulted in his student visiting an ER for sutures in his belly above his iliac crest, but not long before or after it. Those were the last days I spent any time attending such events.

I did a chan-gen staff form, and the level of competition back then was not anything like what it is today; no wushu gymnastics; nobody did somersaults and flying drops to full-splits while waving skeletonized aluminum weapons–it was all stand-up stuff and "real" weapons, such that they were. As I recall it, most of the competitors did Okinawan forms.

The guy to beat, apparently, was a fellow who was going to do a double nunchaku form while blindfolded. On the one hand, these were the standard tapered-octagonal ash sticks that used to be all you could buy–heavy, and if you whacked yourself, dangerous. On the other hand, waving them around is more a thing of feel than of sight.

I did my form and stepped off the floor. The guy-to-beat–let's call him "Chuck," for his choice of implements–came over to me, held up his nunchaku, and said, "I could take you."

I smiled. Didn't believe him for a second. I was, back in those days, very comfortable with a long stick, and the staff, handmade and capped with brass on both ends, was solid. To get close enough to whack me with his numbchucks, he'd have to get past my weapon, and I didn't think he could do it. 

Chuck stepped up to do his form, and it was pretty impressive. He had good control of the weapons, he danced around, moved his feet as he battled imaginary opponents, stepped this way, turned, spun, he was skilled, moving fast and hard. And blindfolded.

Thing was, Chuck got lost during the turns and spins, and when he was finished, he, did a deep bow to the judges, only, they weren't in front of him, they were ninety degrees to his left. When he came up and removed his blindfold, I could see it in his face–he knew he had goofed. Hadn't stuck the landing.

Probably that's why I beat him. And I  must confess that after his brag, that felt pretty good.

Of course, we were both outscored by a tai chi guy doing a sword form, which was really uncommon in those days and locale. Still, I got a trophy and it was bigger than Chuck's.

Um. Anyway, the point of all this is that while mindset matters–attitude will carry you through sometimes when skill alone won't, both will serve you better. Being a bad ass is good. Being a well-trained bad ass is better ...