Saturday, December 15, 2012

Weapon Spotlight: The Lading

The Lading Cekak

The Lading is a unique single bladed weapon that has served Melayu as both a tool of war and farming. The weapon, which is normally classified as a type of Parang (machete-like blade) is made up of three distinct parts: the Hilt (hulu), the Blade (bilah) and the Sheath (sarung).

The word Lading exists in many several Nusantara languages, including Banjar and Kutai, which use the term to mean knife. During the 1948-1960 Emergency Period in Malaya, the Banjar united the Melayu in Sungai Manik, Perak to oppose the Communist Threat. This was conducted as guerilla warfare and named the Perang Sabil (Religious War) or Perang Sungai Manik and employed among other weapons, one similar to a sword called the Lading.
In languageIn the Minang culture, the Lading is clearly a parang, as mentioned in this poetic verse:

Si-Muncak mati tarambau,Kaladang mambao ladieng,Adaik jo syarak di Minangkabau,Ibaraik aua dengan tabieng.

Translation:Si Muncak dies in a fall,
To the field we bring a parang,
Custom and religion in Minangkabau,
Is as the bamboo and the riverbank
And the Melayu sayings:

Belakang lading kalau diasah lama-lama tajam juga

Translation: Sharpen the back of a lading and eventually it will be.
Meaning: A fool, when taught well, will eventually become wise.

Mencencangkan sesuatu lading yang hilang/ lading patah

Translation: Slashing with a lost lading/ broken lading.
Meaning: Taking pride in something worthless.

Lading tajam sebelah.

Translation: A lading with only one sharpened edge.
Meaning: A taker, but never a giver.

Bagai lading tak tahu akan majalnya.

Translation: A lading unaware of its own bluntness.
Meaning: Someone who never realises his sorry state.

Memakuk dengan belakang lading

Translation: Chopping with the back of a lading
Meaning: Making a request or an inquiry that offends another person.

Although it rightly started out as a farmtool, but the utility of the weapon has made it a favourite among several groups of users. There is a difference of opinion as to its origins. Some scholars point to the long age of the Kedah kingdom and theorise that being the dominant culture, it would have influenced the exportation of the lading to Sumatera.

Others theorise that large kingdoms often attract immigration and influx of knowledge and technology from outlying areas, suggesting the lading being imported from Sumatera instead. Either way, it was well-known that Kedah once had very strong political and trade links with Acheh and undoubtedly this is when the use flourished.

As with many Nusantara weapons, the exact design date of the Lading cannot be ascertained. It is clear, however, that the basic design of the Lading follows the theme of the traditional round-tipped parang.
The Lading can generally be categorised into two types, based on location, Sumateran and Malaysian from which two sub-categories can be observed: Lading Kedah and Lading Cekak. These categorisations are mine, to lend easier understanding.

Lading KedahThe Lading Kedah is often forged without a sheath, unlike its Sumateran cousin. The Lading Kedah is often used as a farmtool and has no unique specifications between different forging.

It is customary to fashion the hulu (hilt) from the horn of the Balau buffalo. There are etchings on the tip of the hulu ring-shaped etchings on the top area of the hulu. Some assume that the etchings help to keep a grip on the tool.

Although within the state, farmers are normally seen carrying the lading over their shoulder with the blade facing outwards, outside of Kedah, the Lading is not as well known as the ever-regal Keris. It is often confused for its cousin, the Kelewang, which is widely used in Kedah and Kelantan because of its higher utility. The Kelewang is often designed with hooks and tentacles for odd jobs and farmwork, whereas the Lading more often has only a hacking and slashing function.

A normal measure for the Lading Kedah is:
  • Blade body= 60cm.
  • Tang breadth = 1.5cm
  • Blade body width = 0.5cm
  • Blade breadth at tip = 7cm
Lading Cekak

The present Lading Cekak is a recent innovation, believed to be introduced by Allahyarham Ustaz Hanafi during the height of Silat Cekak's founding in the 1960s as a continuation of an older warrior tradition. The Lading Cekak has 3 unique attributes:
  • The measurement
  • The grip, and
  • The cutting edge
Like many Nusantara weapons such as the Keris and the Pedang, the Lading also employs the customisation philosophy by ensuring that each weapon is tailor-made according to specific measurements off the user's body. Each measurement has a corresponding philosophical meaning.

These measurements have been published as:

  • Blade body (A): Equivalent to the distance between the left ear to the right eye, or the right ear to the left eye, which means: "Whatever seen or heard, the blade will find".

  • Tang width (B):Equivalent to the width of the thumbnail.

  • Blade tip width (C): Equivalent to the length of the thumbnail.

  • Cutting edge length (D): Equivalent to the distance between the two eyes.

  • Hilt (E): Shaped like a deer's hoof.
Rumours suggest that there are other measurements, but that these are supposedly kept secret to preserve the copyright of the weapon.
GripThe Silat Cekak practitioner always only uses a reverse grip to keep the weapon hidden behind the forearm in a standing position. The hulu employs the Melayu handle shape (curved) which allows the user to hold the weapon comfortably in his hand.

Any weapon, when held in a reverse grip, will naturally yaw away from the forearm. This forces the wrist to bend downwards to keep it against the forearm. To compensate for this, the hulu is curved away from the hand, while the body of the blade bends towards the upper arm, sometimes in sharp angles, thus reducing the radical weight to nearly zero. This bend is named the Lentik Pelepah Kelapa (Coconut Leaf Bend). Other non-Cekak ladings also use Lentik Pelepah Pisang (Banana Leaf Bend).

The sharp-ended hulu can also be used to strike the ribs, solar plexus or the face.

Cutting edgeThe cutting edge of the Lading doesn't extend along the whole body of the blade. The only sharpened edge sits at the final few centimetres at the blade's tip. This innovation allows the Lading to not only act as a cutting instrument but a leveraging one.

The blunt edge of the Lading can be used to parry incoming arm or leg attacks by meeting the opponent's forearm, upper arm or lower leg. As the blunt metal makes contact, follow through movements apply greater pressure to the parried appendage and slides across it, until the blade comes to the sharpened edge.
What follows is a deepening incision that cuts straight to the bone and exits just as cleanly, by seesawing the hulu. Because of the apparent weaponlessness of the practitioner, opponents are often caught unawares by the solid parry which cuts at the last moment.

Targets for the Lading are often the abdominals, triceps, jugular, ribs and the inner thighs.

MethodThe Lading is used in Silat Cekak as an add-on to their empty hand methods. Thus, since Silat Cekak employs a 99% defensive and 1% attacking policy, the Lading is never used to initiate a strike, rather to counter it.

MaterialThe body of the weapon is made of metals culled from specific backgrounds of former use, similar to the Keris's '7 Pa' of nominal metals: paku, parang, payung, puting, pahat, pedang, pemukul. These secret metals are forged together with other materials to add bisa (poison) to the blade.
The Hulu is made from the horn of a male Balau water buffalo (Kerbau) or a female water buffalo. It is claimed that powder scraped from the hulu can be applied to a Lading wound as first aid to staunch bleeding.

Lading players in history
According to Silat Cekak lore, the famous Panglima (War generals) of Kedah wielded these Ladings into battle. The most well-known among them are Panglima Ismail and Panglima Tok Rashid.
This claim is corroborated by Pak Guru Sani Zainol Abidin of Silat Kuntau Tekpi, who is the direct descendant of Panglima Taib, of the Baling district in Kedah. He says that the Lading is a favoured weapon among the Panglima of the period between 1804 and 1879.

How to get one?
The Lading is granted by the Guru Utama (Principal) only to those who have contributed much within Cekak (currently represented by two organisations, Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Malaysia and Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Ustaz Hanafi Malaysia).

This tradition is said to have been carried over from Kedah, when the Lading Berambu was given to honoured Panglima by the Sultan.

Similar Lading usesAside from Silat Cekak, the Lading also exists as an optional weapon for Silat Kalimah, which according to Pak Guru Zuhdi Mat Yusof (guru utama of Persatuan Seni Silat Kalimah Yahya Said), is used in alternating reverse and forward grips, unheard of in Cekak.

The Lading belonging to Panglima Tok Rashid, a common ancestor in both Silat Cekak and Silat Kalimah lineages is now kept in the safekeeping of the leadership of Silat Kalimah.

The Lading is also part of the arsenal of Silat Kuntau Tekpi which, other than its normalised weapon, the Tekpi, also teaches various common and uncommon traditional weapons such as the Keris, Rantai (chain), Cindai, Tongkat and many more.

Mahaguru of Silat Harimau Bentara Garang, Pak Jaafar also reports that the Lading can be used as a stabbing weapon, using the sharp triangle tip to penetrate straight to the heart.

All pictures are copyright of their respective owners.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Upacara Serah Diri

In an earlier post we examined the protocol from student to Master with regards to being accepted as a disciple under said Master.  Here is another example from the lineage of our esteemed Ustaz Shifu:

Showing proper respect, utmost gratitude and exceptional commitment are essential in qualifying oneself to be accepted as a disciple. For a beginning, pesilat (practitioner) or “anak bongsu” have to prepare 3 out of 5 'syarat' (requirements) items that will be requested according to the Master’s terms and conditions.

The efforts in fulfilling all the 'syarat' symbolize the willingness in being an obedience student. Usually these are among the required items (or equivalent):

1.  Kefir lime/citrus hystrix (limau purut)
2.  A needle or a piece of cloth
3.  RM7 in cash
4.  Incense complete with burning coal
5.  3 complete set of bitter leaves

Most of this 'syarat' items must be obtained individually, but some must be shared among other Pesilat. The Master will give relevant instruction on fulfilling the 'syarat' according to his understanding which is very deep and symbolic. In the old days - the ancient time - our ancestors had to follow so many strict rules in executing all the 'syarat' which is called 'upacara serah diri' which means ceremony in volunteering self to be a true disciple.

A white traditional Malay (Melayu) Silat shirt or “Baju Melayu” with black trousers will be the official apparel for Pesilat. Generally, any suitable apparel can be used, as long as it is appropriate and comfortable. The best is wearing the official apparel which can be symbolically translated as uniformity. Uniformed in apparel with the Master, and uniformed in discipline with the Bongsu style.

There are no specific restrictions in daily life practice whilst learning this style. However, striving to be a good and righteous individual must be practiced at all time. In being a true "righteous" disciple, no doubt that they must always practice and understand the true teachings of Religion. Learning this style must be based on trying to be an exceptional individual with great wisdom.

All requirements, terms or conditions (syarat) are to educate individuals into giving their full focus and commitment. At all times, everyone must develop high discipline and always show respect towards all creation. This art is not only for Malays (Melayu) Muslims. In fact anyone can learn and practice it as long as they can give a sincere commitment.

Before advancing to the next level, one must master the current level. A period of a month and up to a year will be required to finish some of the levels. At least a year or 3 will be the best period of time to becoming a true pesilat. In 'tutup gelanggang' or closing ceremony, a yellow glutinous rice and a roasted whole chicken is to be serve to the master as a sign of honoring him by providing a delicious feast. This will be held after the completion of the first level which is Seni Silat Bongsu.

After the full completion of the next level, an initiation called 'putus silat' or 'Conclusion of Silat' will be held for qualified 'anak bongsu'. A plank of wood with special requirements will be used during this initiation. In more advanced levels, 'jurus keputusan' will be taught at the end of every level, if the pesilat proves worthy of learning it. A keris with an odd number of curves or equivalent type of weapon will be presented to the master during this initiation.

Specialization and maturation is involved in the more advance levels. The right to instruct or teach will only be given with very strict rules and tight regulations. A songkok and serban (turban) is needed during the initiation when being given the right to instruct or teach or 'upacara ijazah'.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silat Kuntau Tekpi in a Nutshell

  • Silat Kuntau Tekpi is a Malaysian martial art that originates in Kedah, a State in northern Malaysia that shares its border with Thailand. 
  • Silat Kuntau Tekpi traces its roots back to 1556 when it was first taught to the Sultan of Kedah.
  • Prior to 2005, Silat Kuntau Tekpi was a closed system that had never been taught outside of Malaysia.  
  • Silat Kuntau Tekpi is actively being practiced by and taught to members of Malaysia’s Special Branch Units (both in the Military and Police) and undercover narcotics agents.
System Overview
  • There are five levels in the Silat Kuntau Tekpi syllabus.
  • Level One and Level Two focus on self-defense (beladiri), where the student stands in a relaxed and neutral stance and is attacked by an opponent.  Beladiri teaches the student how to explosively counterattack and either control or incapacitate their opponent.
  • Levels Three and Four teach the student combat against multiple opponents, ground fighting and weaponry, particularly the use of the Tekpi which is known as the “King of All Weapons” in Kedah.
  • Level Five teaches the student the spiritual system.
System Characteristics (the “Combat Formula of Silat Kuntau Tekpi”)
  • The beladiri (self-defense) phase of training has three components: the counteroffensive entry, the off-balancing throws and finally the locks and/or incapacitating finishing strikes.
  • The entries teach the student how to counterattack while their opponent is still attacking.  This way the force being generated by the opponent is deflected while the student steps in with a counteroffensive strike.  The effect is like two cars in a head-on collision, with only the attacker being injured.
  • The “crash” entry is designed to physically and mentally unbalance the opponent.  The entries lead directly to off-balancing throws.  The Silat Kuntau Tekpi practitioner then proceeds to throw the opponent in such a way that the fall itself disables the opponent so that no further follow up is necessary.  Your body-weight + your opponent's body-weight is combined so that the opponent falls on an intentionally exposed and vulnerable joint, thus immediately incapacitating the opponent upon landing.
  • Finally, the grounded opponent is either locked so he can be apprehended or he is struck since he is positioned in such a way that he cannot prevent the attack.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Group Pic from Kuya Doug's Class

Why is Jones Sad?

We had a FANTASTIC time at the Renaissance Martial Arts Festival in Rochester, NY this weekend.  I will be happy to give a full account of the festivities once I've had a chance to unwind.  Hopefully, you will also be able to see with your own eyes - sooner than later - just why Jones was a bit depressed this afternoon before we left...

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Simplicity and Effectiveness in Silat Melayu

The gentleman pictured above is one of the greatest Teachers of Silat Melayu that you've never heard of.  There are certain rare individuals, in whom the 'Divine Spark' shines so brightly, that your entire outlook on Life as well as the elements of your Faith and Discipline can be shaken, re-aligned, and re-affirmed in a single conversation with them.  Ustaz Saiful Muhammad (yes that's him in the photo) is such a man.  If anyone reading this blog feels that I have helped them in any way, or have influenced their life positively in any aspect through studying with me - then you need to be thankful that I have had the Grace to know 'Ustaz Shifu'.

One thing I know for sure, is that he's not a fan of publicity, and he's not going to be very happy with me for praising him in this way...but what can I say?  I only write what I know.  Below is one of Ustaz's articles on Silat Melayu.  I implore you to print it out, and read it very carefully. I hope you enjoy (and learn). - JD

Having combat experience doesn’t necessarily improve one’s ability in Silat. In fact, sometimes real fighting or combat experience contributes extremely little to the mastering of true Silat Melayu as a whole. One must broaden one's understanding of the word “experience”, this is particularly true in Silat.

Acquisition of knowledge in diverse Silat styles can be used as a tool in improving oneself, by focusing intently on the knowledge acquired. This can be done by finding the key components in every Silat style learned, and trying to gain a deeper understanding of it. Through extensive practice and under proper guidance, one will find the best way to deepen their understanding of Silat. True understanding only comes when proper knowledge and guidance is involved.

During my first few years of training in Rumpun Seni Silat Telapak Nusantara Malaysia, I was instructed by my masters in a variety of very strict methods of physical, mental and spiritual training that were exceptionally difficult, but also required both a deep understanding and great determination to perform to their satisfaction. This began in 1987. I subsequently received permission to teach (known as Ijazah) the first level of Rumpun Seni Silat Telapak Nusantara Malaysia in 1989, almost 3 full years after I completed the first level of Silat in Rumpun Seni Silat Telapak Nusantara Malaysia, which is Seni Silat Bongsu style.

During those 3 long years, I committed myself to learn, master and feel my newly acquired knowledge. This is the key to embracing the pure essence of Silat; learn, master and feel. I was asked by one of my masters, Cikgu Muhammad Khairuddin of Hulu Langat, Selangor, Malaysia, currently the Guru Besar Utama of Seni Silat Bongsu, to make Seni Silat Bongsu literally as if it were the very clothes on my back (“sebagai pakaian”) whilst in practice. In other words, it must become second nature whenever utilizing Silat.

Whilst under the tutelage of my late grandfather, Allahyarham Tuan Haji Ibrahim, the Guru Kaka and Guru Besar of Seni Silat Peninjauan, he forbade me from practicing any physical aspects or techniques of Silat. This was always the case throughout my early years of life and whenever I occasionally trained with him right up until he passed away few years ago at the age of nearly 90 years old. But at the same time, I had to master my Silat, both physically and spiritually. Throughout his 60s and 70s he would always ask me to spar with him, but would never allow me to train myself in the physical techniques of Silat.

During my study-years at “sekolah pondok” (a type of traditional Malay college for Islamic studies), I had the opportunity to learn more about Silat, both physically and spiritually. I met a master that was well known for his expertise and skill, named Ustaz Abang Solihin of Kedah, Malaysia. Even though he was a much respected Silat master and Islamic scholar, his character was remarkable for his utmost humility and simplicity, both spiritually and physically, words and actions. I had the good fortune to study his exceptional and very rare “Ilmu Jurus 17” that was famous of the deadly results achieved from its techniques and feared by many. He taught me for one week and said I had already completed the course. It is so simple but it yet took me many years after that to understand it fully and be appointed as a master of.

There were many other Silat related episodes in my life that shaped the way I look at Silat. All are unique and very precious to me. I was forced to view many different and similar things in very different ways with each following master I studied under. Many of their ways were at that time unacceptable to me, largely due to youth and, of course, ignorance. Their ways often seemed strange or startling, but were also very rewarding experiences and proved so effective in achieving the goal that I was supposed to achieve. These were among the stories of my simple and humble journey through Silat that contributed to my personal Silat evolution.

Evolution and progression (of one’s skill) in Silat can only occur when one truly focuses and reflects upon those lessons learned through the course of their Silat studies. This evolution must always be guided by true masters, both physically and mentally. Evolving in Silat is actually a personal journey for each individual. It will develop in a very unique way, and solely for that individual.

The proper traditional Silat Melayu adab (or manners) has always been not to create new styles but to teach the traditional styles, whilst only sharing the core of one’s own evolution with others. Guiding others in their own development is the traditional way that Silat Melayu has been passed down since time immemorial. Not by creating another different style.

By creating another style, one only dilutes the original Silat knowledge which always guided others towards their own unique journey of Silat anyway. This transformation, which occurs jointly by attaining proper knowledge and understanding of authentic Silat, is a wonder that has been in practice since times of yore in the Silat world. Silat is a survival art that may have a beginning but seems there is no end, with regards personal development. By creating another style, we are in fact contributing to the destruction of each individual’s chance of personal evolution in the ancient and time tested systems.

There is nothing that is not combative in Silat. From the basics (ie, tapak, kelok, buah, langkah, bunga, etc.) until the more advance techniques (e.g. rasa, rapat, sobok, gompo, tinjau and many others) everything is versatile and very effective as a combat technique. The only weakness will be in one’s own understanding and explanation of the deeper secret of Silat, physically and spiritually.

If one has the key of understanding in any martial art, there are no ineffective or useless techniques. The blink of an eye, the sound of breathing or the slightest movement will always have seen and unseen effects. Even not moving at all can be considered as an effective technique.

In our Silat style, we use the techniques of “tepat sipi, sipi lepas” when facing opponent as the fundamental of defense. “Tepat” literally means accurate, which mean assuming the accuracy of opponent strike. “Sipi” means inaccurate, which mean we will make the opponent’s strike inaccurately or missed with techniques. After doing the “sipi” we will do the “lepas” which means escape safely from any kind of current and future threat from the opponent.

In offensive mode, we will adapt the techniques of “umpan, pecah, Silat”. “Umpan” means luring the enemy in static, movements or striking but with such effectiveness that it can even end the fight if it accurately land on the opponent. “Pecah” means breaking (while bridging) the enemy’s defense or plan mentally or if really necessary, physically. This breaking can result from “umpan” or can be done using another techniques followed after “umpan”, which is in “pecah”. “Silat” will be the final result meaning the closing in ending the fight with wisdom.

Result doesn’t necessarily come from kicking, punching or locking. It can also come from just a simple movements or not moving at all but result with severe physical or mental or spiritual effect to the opponent. “Silat” can also mean not fighting at all, just an act of wisdom in gaining victory. In fact the word “pendekar” which mean “pandai akal” literally means intelligent (“pandai”) mind (“akal”) signify a higher level of “pesilat”. The absolute truth is Silat is always about knowledge and wisdom.

Experience doesn’t necessarily mean what we want it to be. It can be just the understanding of knowledge itself, and not its applications. Development can only occur where there is a proper source of knowledge, constant practice whether in reality or training and understanding (that is the fruit of the whole process). Guidance must always be at the core of any kind of journey towards knowledge, guidance that comes from a true master, a true scholar, guidance that is in harmony with the teaching of Islam that is accepted with humility and sincerity by students.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Selecting Students the Malaysian Way

This post is taken from the writings of (my teacher) Cikgu Omar Hakim.  A student asked a question regarding the traditional Malaysian protocol between Master and prospective student:

“What are the basic and , apparently common interview requirements for the silat systems you have applied to? I am interested in how the instructors select who they shall interview and the whole process of bringing a new student in ....or excluding people from the system. How hard do they make it to join?.....Are there common concerns and issues ?....Do all the methods place similar barriers/ hoops in front of the applicant? Do different instructors do it differently? Are some a bit lax and some extremely discerning? 

I am interested in their screening process. I now have a student formally apply and supply me with a background and references......something that experiences have taught me I should do.



I can tell you about three methods that I've had first hand experience with…

The first screening method involves inviting the student to the teacher's home for dinner. A deliberate event may occur during dinner that the student may not even realize is a test. From the student's prospective, everyone enjoyed a polite dinner together. If the prospective student fails the test, the Cikgu will say that he'll consider the prospective student's request to train, and then - after a couple of days - decline to teach the student with no explanation offered… The delay is so that the student won't realize that there was a test that he failed during the dinner.

Another test is to ask a prospective student to write a formal letter explaining why he wants to study Silat and to submit the letter to the Cikgu. The Cikgu will read the letter and then do nothing. If the student approaches the Cikgu and asks for the status of his request, the Cikgu will say that he is still considering the request and will decline to give a time as to when his decision will be made. The Cikgu will then wait again to see if and when the student will contact him again. He will observe the student's demeanor and “akhlak” (manners) during the second conversation. The Cikgu will repeat that he is still considering the application (which is a true statement) and he will decline again to say when the review will be complete. The Cikgu will then wait to see if and when there will be a third contact. If the student remains polite, respectful, patient and persistent during the third contact, the Cikgu will say on the spot that the decision is yes.

The third test that I've observed involves how the student conducts himself during the first meeting. What gifts (if any) did he bring? What questions is he asking? The Cikgu will ask a very simple question: “why do you want to study Silat?” and he will listen very carefully to the answer. A follow up question might be “well, why do you want to study Silat vs. Tae Kwon Do or Muay Thai?” Again, the answer is very carefully studied.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Excuses!

Yeah yeah I know it's been a while since we've posted.  I appreciate the emails and phone calls.  The past few months have been quite kind to us - Thank G-d! - and now I promise (really!) to start posting again. 

Hopefully I'll be able to share some of the excitement around here with my readers.  See you in a bit...


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Guru's Day 2012

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Administrative Assistants’ Day, et al have all come and gone this year.  On this coming July 3rd one very special Day that somehow didn’t make it to the Hallmark schedule will be upon us again: Guru Purnima.  This holiday will be observed in communities throughout Asia and the Diaspora.  Put succinctly:  

“The festival is common to many spiritual traditions in the East, where it is dedicated to the expression of gratitude towards the teacher by his/her disciple. A day of remembrance towards all Teachers, through whom G-d grants the grace of knowledge to the students.”  (Wikipedia)

One of my associates gives the following advice regarding recognizing such a Teacher for those who may be wondering:

“To recognize a true Guru when one sees him (or her) is not easy and there are no rules of thumb. However, certain changes may be expected after the Guru comes into one's life.

If one's mental attitude is being transformed and sense of detachment from ego is increasing, or especially if one's weaknesses are being exposed and one is forced to deal with and overcome them…or if one feels more at peace within oneself…or if one is able to engage in the same actions as previously but with greater detachment from ego, THEN one is likely being influenced by a true Guru.”

I humbly bow in obeisance to the Gurus’, Babas’, Awos’, Syehs’, and Pirs’ who have mercifully guided me and sheltered me with their Knowledge.  May I always be worthy to walk in your shadows.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another Short Demo

I'm sorry I haven't come back with another thrilling narrative in a while, but ever since Jones got his new iPad we've been making these damn videos.  Anyway...

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Short Demo

Kali, in A Spanish Key.  Watch for more videos by Jones...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Journey in African Martial Arts pt 2

Drum,Weapon, Hands

I ended up moving from the suburbs down to the barrio in Southwest Detroit.  By the time I could speak Spanish well enough I wasn’t considered so much of an outsider.  I was going to school during the day, training in Kali and Silat in the evenings, and spending as much time as I could with the man who became sort of a ‘sponsor’ to me.  I’ll call him Tata Palma here.  He owned a small candle and curios shop on West Vernor, and it was a very popular hang-out place in the local community.  He was one of my first friends in the neighborhood.  Over the years, I gave him so much money toward that damn candle store that I became a de-facto partner in the business!  He actually became my Padrino (Godfather).

Can you explain that?

He was originally from the district of Quiebra Hacha in Havana.   Apart from being a terrible businessman, Tata Palma was a Master in several Afro-Cuban religious expressions.  The foundation of his personal practice was Bantu-Kongo.  Now in Africa, lineages like that generally proceed along familial (typically matriarchal) lines.  In the days of slavery that all changed.  In the Cuban Diaspora, the Africans re-organized into social and mutual-aid societies generally called cabildos – which were organized not by family, but by nacion – such as Yoruba, Bantu-Kongo, or Efik (from Cameroon).  Within a particular cabildo you could have several spiritual lineages represented, and new ones were also formed.  The specific Bantu-Kongo ‘houses’ were known as munansos.  Interestingly, the matriarchal paradigm continued for the most part.  It’s usually the women that end up holding everything together.

Formal entry into a munanso requires an initiation.  The Elder that sponsors or conducts your initiation is considered your Godfather.  In 1991 I was formally accepted into Tata Palma’s munanso.

What is the purpose of the initiation?

Well, the best way to describe it…it’s like being accepted to a university.  You’ve met whatever qualifications are required and now you’ve been invited to study on a higher level.  That’s all.  How far you go now is up to you.  A lot of people don’t go very far past that point.  There’s a lot of hard work and study to be done.  If you don’t put the time and effort in, it’s like being accepted to college and then never going to any of the classes. As my old Karate instructor used to say about getting a Black Belt: it doesn’t mean you’ve mastered anything, it means we’re just beginning to take you seriously as a student.

Most importantly, if you do go for the advanced study, initiation gives you your fundamento – that’s your foundation which will follow you, allow you to build for the rest of your life.

Can you describe the initiation itself?

Yes, but I won’t.  Put it this way: any initiation whether it’s from a Native American tradition, Sufism, or whatever, generally consists of some type of ordeal – followed by a symbolic Death-and-Rebirth.  The old Self along with its expectations and parameters dies and a new Self with a new set of expectations and parameters emerges. 

You have a new perspective of your past, as well as your future potential.  Your elders and community (ideally) help you to realize that as you progress.   

to be continued...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

And the Prophet, May G-d's Peace and Blessings be Upon Him said: "Your Heaven is under the feet of your Mother" 
(Ahmad, Nasai)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Journey in African Martial Arts pt. 1

I recently had the distinct pleasure of teaching a very well-received seminar on a little-known West African martial art that I practice.  Many of the students in attendance asked me so many questions afterwards, and a lot of them have followed up with emails after the fact.  Because of time constraints, I unfortunately did not get a chance to chat with everyone as much as I would have liked - and I apologize.  So in the next few posts (I'll keep it as short and to the point as I can!) I'd like to answer some of those questions that were asked either in person or via email.  I hope you find some value in it! - JD

I had no idea there was such a thing as African martial arts?

Well…live and learn! Africa is a large and diverse continent with a deep history and rich cultural legacy that spans many centuries.  Any culture that has had to survive in a dangerous environment developed martial arts. Particularly in West Africa, do some research on the Oyo Empire just for a start and then consider whether or not those soldiers had some type of martial arts training.

On a more elementary level, any time you just get a group of “guys” together – there is going to be some type of combat!

What you will not find if you are researching indigenous African martial arts traditions are formal schools, organized “systems”, uniforms, direct lineages or even written records – all the things that people associate with the martial arts of Asia.  Just like Indonesia and the Philippines, historically we are referring to a local, and largely oral tradition.  Western-style scholarship has not examined the indigenous and/or diasporic expressions of African martial arts the way the martial arts of Southeast Asia have been studied in this century.

Which African martial arts have you studied, Guro Davidson?

I have specifically studied, researched, and trained in several styles from the Kongo, but my specialty is Yoruba martial arts.

How did you get started?

I followed my Head via my ears to Cuba and then Africa.  My segue was actually music. Right about the time I began studying Kali and Silat in the late 1980’s, my direction as a musician was evolving, and I was drawn into the profoundly groovy world of Afro-Latin percussion.  There were a lot of Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in Detroit at the time.  One of my fellow Kali students was an accomplished conga-player and protégé of the legendary Baba Juma Santos (May He Rest in Peace) and that’s when and where my informal training really began.

Salsa and Merengue were really popular at the local dance clubs in those days.  If you were a percussionist and you wanted to pay your rent and eat from time to time, that’s what you played as your bread and butter. In private however, the guys that I hung around and jammed with were also very frequently called to accompany various local ceremonies relating to the Afro-Cuban religious traditions.  The same way you have an organist at a Christian church, you typically have a battery of drums for these particular ceremonies if the host can afford it. 

In an odd way, it was through this “liturgical” style of percussion that I became aware of how closely linked this music was to the martial arts.

Can you explain that?

Two of the major African influences in Cuban percussion are Kongo (Central Africa) and Yoruba (West Africa).  This is true of their popular music, but it really goes back to the Spiritual side.  And from that, you have kind of a yin-and-yang paradigm.  The Yoruba drum rhythms, chants, and songs are considered to be ‘cooling’, balancing, and social.  In contrast, the Kongo-influenced patterns of dance, drumming, and chanting are very ‘hot’ and extremely aggressive.  There are unmistakably clear and direct references to warfare in the physical and metaphysical arenas.  It’s very militant! It is not really surprising since a lot of the African slaves in Cuba that escaped into the jungles and formed bands of armed resistance were Kongolese.

Anyway, there were many chants/songs that refer to taking the head of an opponent or oppressor, and the accompanying dance movements were themselves nothing different than martial arts.  It reminds me of the lore of Kali where fighting techniques were supposedly choreographed into the traditional dances and dramas of the Filipinos during colonialism.  

The folks that I played with were very highly accomplished in this form.

Were they also martial artists?

Yes and no. 

A few of them actually did some formal training in Karate or whatever.  Most of them had been in the Army in Cuba before they came over here so they had that experience.  But remember – we’re talking about musicians.  These were not 9-5 people. These were folks that plied their craft after the sun went down.  More often than not, they were in some way involved with the often dangerous sub-culture of what I call the ‘underside’ of the community.  Being that this was Detroit in the late 80’s/early 90’s you can probably use your imagination to figure out what I mean.

As good as the music was, I also regularly saw some rather spectacular displays of violence from that crowd.  In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to hear that someone you jammed with last weekend “wasn’t around anymore” for one reason or another.  So no, they were not martial artists in the sense that they formally trained in a dojo or anything like that – but they were no strangers to violence and had a lot more streetfighting experience than 90% of the black-belts out there.

Again, just relating it to Philippines, if you listen to my teacher 'Tito' Jun Saludo’s stories of the Barako Batangueno culture, it’s very similar.  It’s interesting to me that in many parts of the world shamans, musicians, gangsters, and martial artists tend to occupy the same strata of society.  

To be continued...            

Monday, April 23, 2012

Coming Home

Guro Davidson,

It’s really great to be back as a returning student.  14 years is way too long to be gone, but we have to go where Life takes us and Life sometimes brings us back to where we need to be.  Amongst all the new faces in class I see a few familiar ones and it’s absolutely amazing to see how much everyone has improved. Wish I could say the same for myself, but on the other hand I’m very excited to have some new goals to shoot for in my martial arts development.

Almost everything about the training is so different, besides the last time I saw you your beard was red and now it’s grey.  Everything from the material, to the way you teach, to the students themselves is on a much higher level than I remember.  The group is so “tight” and so much more supportive than I remember.  What would you say is main factor (if there is one) that pushed everything forward so much since I last had the pleasure of training with you in the 90’s?




Welcome back!  The door always remains open for the right people.  It’s difficult to condense or summarize the past decade other than to say it has been a monumental journey of Introspection, Discovery, and Refinement – you know…those certain “incidentals” that are supposed to be the Foundation of your lifetime development.  One thing that never changes is our desire to grow…to get better…to leave the comfort zone and be challenged.  And to seek out those who can take you there.

If you open this link you will see the Great Ones that have guided us this far.  Each picture is truly worth more than a thousand words to tell the story of how and why we train the way that we do today.  The lessons, the teachings, the responsibility, and the standards are theirs.  The shortcomings are our own.

It’s not an easy Path, and a lot of people can’t understand it.  But then, appealing to the masses has never been a priority with us. So, as I believe I told you 14 years ago: all you have to do is set your sights on your Goal, and then decide how hard you are willing to work to attain It.  We’ll take care of the rest, G-d Willing.