I'm sure you've all heard of Silat, an Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian sort of martial art. I hear it is very effective, almost like krav maga. It's supposed to be intense and when I look online I find weird videos of martial arts teachers hitting their students with a stick really hard.

According to what I hear, it was made to fight the Dutch. Could someone elaborate on the history a little bit please? I want to know how it was invented and why?

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    There are some really interesting questions in there but as it stands, it is too broad and unclear. Could you break down each question into its own? May 30, 2014 at 6:58
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    I agree. I'm not voting to close because I believe this question can be salvaged. Please narrow down your question. Consider breaking your question into multiple questions. May 30, 2014 at 11:56
  • In a nutshell, silat is no different from martial arts like kravmaga and etc. What makes it unique is that is was develop by people with smaller frames, and using it to their advantages. Many of the moves incorporates very very low base or stances, and has alot of rolls and tumbles and fast movements. Aside from that, it is known that these practitioners do not wear armours and carry a very sharp dagger (keris) that would be able to pierce armor of that age. The tip was also poisoned so that just a cut would be fatal.
    – nigelhanzo
    Jun 3, 2014 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


I am not someone who has studied the style, so I cannot give insider information, but my understanding is that Silat as a single martial arts style is about as informative as referring to Kung Fu or Swordfighting as a style. The name actually incorporates a wide variety of styles that only share a few common aspects and otherwise differ greatly.

That said, Silat is fairly heavily weapons-based. It emphasizes footwork to a greater degree than many styles. Visually, their practice drills are distinguished by the practitioner slapping parts of their body, ostensibly to remind themselves at all times that there are open spots on their body that could be attacked.

I can't really comment too much on "deadliness", but it is one of those styles which is heavily tied to a culture, which means that it's generally taken seriously. Not every Indonesian person is going to be a silat practitioner, but those who are are respected in much the same way that a football player (respective sort of football) might be in the United States or in Europe.

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    I don't practice Silat, but I do practice Kali. In Kali, slaps are used to provide counter-force to launch strikes with, similar to chambering a punch in Karate or Gung Fu. There is also a "toughness" element to self-slapping, but this is secondary to the aforementioned reason. May 30, 2014 at 11:53
  • @TheWudangKid I've never heard the "chambering" theory, and it doesn't seem like it'd do anything but rob some energy. I'll ask my teachers, though. May 30, 2014 at 14:47
  • @Dave Newton, the concept of chambering may have been a bit theoretical for the explanation I gave. In essence, you slap a body part (say, the opposite hip) and immediately bounce your hand off to effect a faster strike. A slap-bounce is not a primary technique and is always, to my knowledge, setup from a previous strike. For example, right jab, slap left hip with right hand/slap right shoulder with left hand, use your hip to bounce the right hand off for a back-fist. In this way, strikes flow one into the next. Jun 3, 2014 at 12:35

The "purpose"? To hurt people, relatively quickly.

It's not terribly close to anything you list in terms of stylistic similarities, but it depends a lot on which version of Silat you're discussing. E.g., Maphalindo silat (Guro Dan) is different from a "purer" strain.

My silat training has been mostly empty-hands, but as with kali, most techniques work equally well with weapons. Some moves assume you're wearing finger knives or holding a karambit.

As Sean says, footwork plays a large part in silat, although I'd argue that footwork plays a role in any art that does horrible things to opponents at close range. Unbalancing an opponent can only happen in so many ways--but IMO silat focuses on it in a different way than, say, Aikido.

Interestingly, for me, the closest thing to it that I have practiced was actually taiji, which surprised me quite a bit, but again, it depends on how one has studied taiji, which style, and with who.

Note also that the term "silat" may also encompass a bunch of non-martial arts cultural stuff, from dance to mysticism. The former is relevant to the martial art, the latter... is not.


There are hundreds of styles of silat. Take the entire area, assume most folks were living in villages and had fighting between other villages, pirates, raiders, and invaders for their entire existence, long before the Dutch. Then add in the influence from the Chinese, the Indians (both Hindu and Muslim) and you get a variety of styles based on what they had to deal with.

General commonalities among silat styles are weapon based (combative - you need to protect your village or king with the best you can, as fast as you can), often including limb breaks and take downs. Like any martial art group, the deadliness depends on how the people train and what they're training to do - you can find lots of videos of sports silat and you can find videos of knife training.

Right now silat is getting a small "fad" push from the combatives crowd, mostly because many silat styles have the karambit as a core weapon, and it's becoming popular as a knife with the knife/tactical crowd.

What does silat do in a fight? Hurt the person bad enough they can't hurt you back. That may include killing them, but when you realize the core assumption is people coming after you with knifes, machetes, or swords, it's a sensible adaptation for the environment as a response.

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