Monday, November 11, 2013

The King is Dead ...

Long live the King!

This is the traditional announcement on the death of the king, and refers to two kings–the one who has just passed, and the one who replaces him.

Sometimes the replacement is a tad on the iffy side …

Most of the visitors here are students of Maha Guru Stevan Plinck, and there are a couple of things I think you should know, if you don't already. Some of you have heard this before, but some have not.

When Pendekar Paul passed away, I spoke to it, briefly, knowing there would be a scramble by some of his students to see who became, in effect, the new lineage holder. There is a Board that supposedly shares the duties of continuing the system, and certificates and letters and whatnot have blossomed all over Facebook indicating who they are and how they stand in the pantheon of Bukti and Sera(k), and why they have the right to run the show. I'm not arguing with that.

Silat folks have joined one faction or the other and as these things go, things will eventually sort themselves out and a de facto leader will likely emerge at some point and claim that he is the "real" lineage holder. 

Understand, here, my teacher doesn't want the lineage, and is perfectly happy to go on teaching as he has been doing for decades. However, I want to set some things straight. 

So ...

For those of you who don't know, Bukti Negara was originally created so that Paul could teach westerners, because Sera(k) was a closed system; he said his teacher told him he had to limit it to family, or friends who were dedicated students.

(And if you think this art sprang full-blown into the Pendekar's head complete and all of a piece? You need to rethink that. Paul was aided by his then-senior students in devising the techniques of Bukti. Nobody really talks about that, but it's true.)

When I started training in Bukti eighteen years ago, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck was a senior Sera(k) student/teacher and one of the senior-most Bukti teachers. How it worked was, if a student who was diligent in his practice of Bukti and who learned the abbreviated curriculum entirely wanted to continue on, he (and even she) would be allowed to begin training in the parent art of Sera(k). The Pendekar didn't have any women students in Sera(k), but there were Bukti gurus who were female.

And from here on, I'm dropping the (k) because isn't what we do.

Bukti was then essentially a filter. It was fine in and of itself, but there was another whole system that was richer on the other side of that door and if you stuck with it, you could be invited through that door.

At the time I joined, Guru Plinck had only three or four students who had become Bukti gurus and were beginning to learn Sera, and those did so with Paul's approval. This is what Paul wanted, and this is what Guru Plinck did.

Somewhere along the way, the "Board" decided that Bukti teachers needed to come to SoCal every couple of years to be recertified. Since this involved paying a fee, that added a certain amount of income for those involved. Read: Paul.

Guru Plinck was asked, a couple of years after I started training, to teach a seminar back in the midwest somewhere, I recall it as being in Ohio or Indiana, but I haven't looked at that recently, so I might be off. 

The Bukti Board got wind of this and gave the seminar organizers a call:

We hear that you are having Guru Plinck come out to teach.

Yes, so?

Well, we can't vouch for his abilities because he hasn't come back for recertification in a while.

Oh, really?

So the seminar organizer passed this on to Guru Plinck, who was somewhat disturbed at the notion that he wasn't considered "qualified" to teach an art he had helped create, and that he needed to go test before a group of teachers, some of whom he had taught? 

So he called Paul and asked him, what's the deal here?

And Paul essentially said, Hey, it's the Board, I have nothing to do with it.

And washed his hands of the matter.

Loyalty is a sword that cuts both ways.

Guru Plinck had been a dedicated student, an obedient teacher, who did as Paul told him. He waited until Paul had put out his own Bukti videos before he did one. And for his loyalty, he was rewarded by a shrug. Can't help you, it's the Board. 

Which Board, of course, did exactly what Paul told it to do. And most of the members of it–if not all of them–today aren't the ones who were on it originally.

One thing that happened frequently if you were a de Thouars senior was that you were apt to fall from favor and get booted out or get which was the wind was blowing and leave on your own. Count the numbers of announced lineage holders who held that designation briefly before going away. 

Guru Plinck was more than a little disturbed by Paul's lack of support. At our class the next day, he stood in front of us and told us what had happened, then said, Well, I'm no longer certified to teach Bukti Negara, so I'm just going to teach no-name silat. If that is a problem for anybody … ?

Nope, no, no problem, Guru! I was on Bukti Djuru #6, as I recall, and probably a year away from being a Bukti guru, but that was fine with me, because what I knew of Sera, little as it was, was that it was a much richer art, more flowing and flexible, and where I wanted to go anyhow. From that point on, I stopped doing any of the Bukti forms, never looked back.

Bukti has evolved, so it doesn't look like it did when I was training it; in that day, there were no weapons-work, and the stances in the eight djurus were high and stiff. The joke was, it had been created for cripples, old people, and Americans. 

Over the years since, Guru Plinck has continued to evolve his own training and teaching, has reached back and retro-engineered stances and moves based on the old-style of teachers who pre-dated the current seniors, and while what we do now bears a resemblance to what other branches of Sera(k) do, it's not the same. I call it Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck, and that's how I see it.

Better? Worse? Well, I know what I believe, but I won't make any claims save that I am thrilled to be in the presence of a world-class teacher who cares more about the art than the politics of it, and behaves accordingly. 

If you are a student of Maha Guru Stevan Plinck, you should be thrilled to have that opportunity, too. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pendekar Passes

Paul de Thouars

The Pendekar has died, and I need to speak to it here. He was my teacher's teacher, and though what we learn now isn't quite the same, the genesis of our art came from Paul de Thouars. For that, I am grateful.

I never knew him personally. We talked on the phone a couple of times, back when I started Bukti training and I bought some videos from him. I have trained under one of his most senior students for almost eighteen years.

He was a most knowledgeable martial artist. He was the man who first brought Silat Sera (later Serak, and then Serak™) to the United States. He and his brothers, Willem and Victor, were among the earliest teachers of silat and kun-tao in the U.S., and over the decades, Paul's teachings eventually helped produce some outstanding teachers.

He was, back in the day for our art, the man.

Not that there is agreement on that, but that's what my teacher said, and he would know.

I used to engage frequently in the silat word-wars. I spent way too much energy doing so, and it was, I realized, a waste of time, so mostly I stopped doing it. Now and again, I'd stick my head up and see who was back-biting whom, and the accusations of lying, cheating, stealing, homicide, and my-style-is-better-than-your-style pomp and ceremony were (and still are) always evident.

When Paul passed, it was in full swing, and paused but briefly for condolences:

He is a miserable lying son-of-a-bitch! What? He died? Oh. Well, in that case, he was a swell teacher and a fine human being ...

One isn't supposed to speak ill of the dead, and I won't go very far down that road; then again, I'm not going to gloss over it. I will say what everybody involved with the brothers de Thouars already knows: They were a contentious family, with each other, and with their students. That more than a few of their best students went their own ways, and as often as not, involuntarily so. 

The old joke about Sera players is, you aren't anybody until you've been kicked out of your system at least once, but I was there, I saw how shabbily my teacher was treated by his teacher, and it wasn't funny, it was ugly.

Loyalty is supposed to be a two-way street, but it isn't always. 

Somebody will step up to take Paul's lineage, though who the best-qualified teacher is will be hotly debated as much as anything else. Lineage-holders in our art have been changed more often than a diarrheic baby's diaper. Yesterday's fair-haired boy, who spent a decade or two of close personal study with the head guru and was deemed one of only a couple finished students, will, as often as not, be today's ne'er-do-well ungrateful know-nothing who, when the guru tells it, studied only a couple of weeks, and didn't really learn anything.  

Odd that that happens, but it surely does. Look around.

It won't be Maha Guru Stevan Plinck stepping up to claim Paul's lineage. When I jokingly said maybe we should start calling him "Pendekar," he said, "Please, don't!" Not even as a joke.  

Paul de Thouars has passed on, and it was, for a number of reasons, a sad thing. I mark his passing with mixed emotions. This is not a political post; it's the truth as I see it. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I just saw this on Facebook:

Well, the news is breaking, so I feel safe to post. It is with great sadness that to say that Pendakar Paul DeThouars of Bukti Negara passed away last night. My condolences to his friends, family and students. In particular, my prayers go out to his brothers, who have always been kind to me. We lost a hugely influential martial arts teacher. Godspeed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Perils of the Pit

The river that was Guru's yard has been diverted, and it has been dry enough this summer for us to re√ęstablish the sand pit for silat training.

Not so much a pit, actually, as a big pile of sand spread out for a gelanggang–a circular workout area. It tends to creep down the slope toward the chicken yard and needs be shoveled back uphill, but it makes for a nice slow-your-feet-down training surface. 

Churning in ankle-deep sand is not the same as moving on dry ground or a nice concrete garage floor. If you need lightning foot-speed to make a technique work, you need a workaround, 'cause it isn't happening there.

Of course, falling onto sand is somewhat softer than the concrete. Then again, dropping onto a knee repeatedly to practice shoots for single- or double-leg takedowns, and then being tossed by the defender hither and yon for continued groundwork does involve some abrasive action to one's bare skin.

Note to self: Don't wear shorts to class in the sand. Those sand burns take longer to scab over and heal than they used to take ...

Sunday, June 9, 2013


In our version of silat, there is a fair amount of blade work. A lot of it is with short knives, which we can define here as in the 4"-8" range. Some of it is with longer blades, and currently, we are playing with a machete-length blade (using sticks), of 18-24." Last class, we decided on the spur of the moment to do this, and most of us hadn't brought our practice blades, so we used sticks from Guru's yard. 

 I have a cut-down bokken from Cold Steel, courtesy of Edwin, of a dense and hard plastic that can do battle with an axe handle and survive. Would that I had it at class: the trimmed axe handle Todd used killed two of the wooden sticks I was using in a ten-minute stretch. Busted in half.

The main point here is to not think of this as a stick, but as a short sword, and to always keep your edge and point in mind. A stick is not a blade, and even though they may be utilized in a similar manner at times, the sword is a more efficient and effective weapon. You can use it like a stick, but you can also slice and dice and stab. Better,  else you'd have seen the Knights of the Round Table or the samurai or the vikings all armed with cudgels and not long swords, katana, or battle axes ...

The problem with practicing a weapon you aren't apt to really use is that you need a fair amount of time in grade to get even minimally adept with it. If you were carrying such a thing on a daily basis you could unhusk it and wave it about at odd moments to burn in the moves. Carry a tactical folder, you can practice pulling it from your pocket and opening it in places where nobody is watching. Walk into the mall sporting a sword on your hip, there isn't going to be any place where somebody won't be watching you, and maybe some of them will be police with hands on their sidearms ...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Black Steel

 Balinese Wedung, above;
Keris pejet, below.

Enlarge the image above and look closely, 
you can see where the hot steel was pinched with 
thumb and finger tips ...

Alan Maisey's latest keris catalog is up. If you have a hankering for Indonesian steel, have a look.


So, a few of us went to Guru's house yesterday morning. Did a workout, and then the dump-truck with four yards of clean sand arrived, and we shoveled and spread that around. Not exactly a sand-pit, because it's on top the ground and will eventually migrate down the sllpe to the chicken yard, but it does create a surface upon which we can fall and roll and do ground work. The combination of that and the slant of the ground makes for interesting footing. 

Plus Guru's granddaughters and cats love it ...