Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Silat for the Whole Family

Bonding over an ancient art

Practical tactics: Prof Dr Azlan Ghanie (right) trains his student Dr Mustafa Bakri and his two sons.
Practical tactics: Prof Dr Azlan Ghanie (right) trains his student Dr Mustafa Bakri and his two sons.

A father wants his family to learn silat because it is not only a form of martial arts, but steeped in the Malay traditions of adab (respect) and adat (customs).

EPIDEMIOLOGIST Dr Mustafa Bakri’s fascination with silat started from watching old Malay films from the 1960s such as Anak Buluh Betong and Dharma Kesuma.
“I was fascinated by how silat invoked the spirit of heroism and justice. But after being introduced to different silat techniques such as silat lintau and silat panji alam in secondary school, I realised martial arts acts in movies were choreographed, be it in Malay, European, Hollywood or Japanese movies.

“Silat teaches the core art of martial arts, minus the fancy moves seen on the big screen. In a real fight, the scenario is entirely different. Silat is thus far one of the best and most practical,” shares Dr Mustafa, 57, who works at the Seremban district health office.

Young exponents: It's good for children to learn silat as it instills discipline in them.
Young exponents: It’s good for children to learn silat as it instils discipline in them. 
The Perak-born doctor attends Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9 lessons which he considers one of the most practical self-defence tactics.

“It is one of the few silat systems where students (beginners included) are encouraged to use the keris in both armed and unarmed combat. Silat exponents can use simple yet effective movements to counter attack the opponent.

“To me, Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9 is the most practical silat by far as it combines skill and rigorous exercise. It requires minimal running, pumping or punching unlike other silat forms that I have seen, making it a perfect martial arts form-cum-exercise for me,” he said.

Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9 is an old system in Silat Melayu that can be traced back to the Malacca Sultanate and it is believed Malay warriors used it to fight Portuguese invaders.
The modern version of this form of martial arts was developed by silat exponent Prof Dr Azlan Ghanie, who had learnt it from his father Abdul Ghanie Abu Bakar, who inherited it from his grandfather Abang Salleh Datu Patinggi Borhassan.

Dr Mustafa, who has been learning silat since 2007, is one of Azlan’s students. He was so enthusiastic about silat that he has persuaded his wife Noraishah Mohamed, 49, and his sons Muhammad Syahridwan, 13 and Muhammad Syahriezlan, 11, to participate in Azlan’s classes.

Silat master Dr Azlan Ghani training his students. RAYMOND OOI / The Star Aug 31, 2013.
Hidden in the palm: Students learn to use anak badik, a weapon used by women in self-defence. 

“Since my wife and sons do not do much physical activities, the classes help to keep them active,” said Dr Mustafa who has six children.

Noraishah, a homemaker, was inspired to join silat classes due to its simplicity and practicality. “We learn self-defense tips for women, be it in public spaces or at home. It is especially useful as I am a housewife and I am home alone most of the time,” said Noraishah, who has been a silat student for two years.

Quick and fast moves: Dr Mustafa Bakri, 57, and wife Noraishah Mohamed, 49, testing their sparring skills during silat class.
Quick and fast moves: Dr Mustafa Bakri and wife Noraishah Mohamed testing their sparring skills during silat class.

Muhammad Syahridwan’s interest was sparked by his father’s enthusiasm. “My parents have been silat enthusiasts and their interest rubbed off on us. I enjoy my silat lessons as they build confidence and discipline. It is also a good form of exercise,” said the secondary school student. Dr Mustafa works in Seremban but travels back to be with his family in Rawang during weekends. Every Saturday, his family travels from Rawang to Setapak, Kuala Lumpur for their silat lessons.

Students start their classes with Senaman Melayu Tua, an ancient form of physical exercise that focuses on breathing techniques, stretches and movements to strengthen the body. After the warming up session, students learn different forms of loks (a Malay term for the curve on the blade of the keris).

Exciting: Audience members were captivated by the martial arts performance by Silat Sendeng Betawi Malaysia.
Exciting: Audience members were captivated by the martial arts performance by Silat Sendeng Betawi Malaysia. 

There are five loks (numbered one, three, five, seven and nine) to be learned to complete the basic syllabus. Learning the loks is the key to the principles of fighting in armed and empty hand combat. The basic syllabus takes two years of regular training to complete.

Dr Mustafa adds that besides an art of self defence, silat also places emphasis on adab (respect) and adat (customs). Traditional Malay values are maintained throughout classes where students are taught how to respect their elders and each other. Students are also taught how to confront danger (with or without weapons) which is useful for different age groups and gender.

“Silat practitioners are taught to respect our opponents and training tools. Before each session, we have to bow a little to shake hands with partners and kiss our weapon as a sign of respect. This traditional martial arts form teach us to avoid trouble and protect ourselves from danger. Being able to handle the keris during practice has helped boost my sons’ self confidence,” explained Dr Mustafa, adding that plastic or wooden knives are also used during sparring sessions.

Traditionally, the keris is regarded more than just a weapon and the adab (manners/ rules of behaviour) surrounding this art is extremely important. The keris is a symbol of the ancient Malay culture and must be respected, and those who own a keris carry heavy responsibilities. Learning the customs and traditions associated with the keris is an integral part of the syllabus.

Another benefit of learning silat is that it is good for health as its practitioners learn how to regulate their breathing. “Some silat students with asthma and shortness of breath are now more aware of proper breathing techniques. Learning how to improve breathing is among the core essentials of silat,” said Azlan, who charges RM50 monthly for his silat classes.

Azlan has also further developed Senaman Tua – a traditional exercise system based on the movements found in Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9. He had turned to this exercise form after he suffering from a stroke at 32, which left him partially paralysed.

“Although I sought all sorts of treatments ranging from modern to traditional, I didn’t show signs of improvement. I eventually started to practise various techniques of Senaman Tua (which I had learnt from my father) and my health gradually improved,” recounted Azlan, who is the founder and editor of Seni Beladiri, a monthly magazine dedicated to the Malaysian martial arts scene.

Dr Mustafa hopes more youngsters will learn silat as it is a self-defense art passed down from the warriors of the olden days. “Sadly, some feel that silat is out of fashion and not a necessity. Hopefully more students will sign up for classes as it is a powerful martial arts form that stresses on team spirit and confidence.”

*For more details on Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9, go to

Monday, September 02, 2013

Second Part of Anting-Anting Article

And you shall be as gods: The culture of the anting-anting (Part 2)

By Dennis Villegas
The Philippine Online Chronicles 
The arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines in the 16th century proselytized the Filipino’s concept of God. To easily conquer the archipelago and introduce the Roman Catholic religion without antagonizing the superstitious and religious beliefs of the Filipinos, the Spanish friar missionaries presented the God of Roman Catholicism to be the same ancient Filipino God Bathala. The synthesis of the Roman Catholic religion and the pre-colonial religious and superstitious beliefs of the early Filipinos created a new kind of religion called Folk Catholicism, the religion of many millenarian groups in Southern Luzon, as well as the religion of anting-anting believers.

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The Trespicio medallion of the Infinito Dios and the Tres Personas

The trinitarian dogma which is the most important of all Catholic doctrines gave way to the mythology that God, a spirit being, is an eye contained in a triangle. The triangle (or in anting-anting parlance, trespico), is the perfect representation of God, as it contained three equal sides or three equal corners, consistent with God’s three equal personalities. The triangular medallion, therefore, becomes one of the most popular of all the anting-anting. It symbolizes the oneness of the Infinito Dios and the Santissima Trinidad. Those who keep and faithfully believe in the trespico anting-anting can achieve oneness with the Infinito Dios and the Santissima Trinidad.

The Trespico medallion, believed by anting-anting faithful as an effective protector against evil because it contains the image and names of God. The symbols in this medallion include the Eye, representing the Infinito Dios, and the initials A.A.A which are the initials of the names of the Santissima Trinidad: Avetillo, Avetemit, Avelator (other names of the Santissima Trinidad are Aram, Ardam, Adradam). The ROMA is the initial of the title and name of God which means Rex Omnipotentem Macmamitam Adonay.
One of the Trespico Seals of the Revolutionary Government of General Emilio Agunaldo in 1899.

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The Trespico as seen in the altar of the religious sect Tres Personas Solo Dios in Mount Banahaw by the author in 2010.

God’s Plan of Salvation
God’s plan for the world is to save it from the clutches of the Devil. For this reason, one of the Santissima Trinidad has been assigned to go down to earth to save humankind. Only through his sacrifice and death can humankind be saved. But since God is immortal and cannot die, he must assume a human form, and before he must be born a human, he should be conceived by a woman.

God being born as a human by a human mother is again one of those concepts that cannot easily be understood, especially among the early Filipinos who have a simple pre-colonial belief in the existence of God who is the first being in the universe. But for God to become human, and for God to be born by a woman, is something complex, especially if Catholicism teaches that the woman is the Mother of God, instead of just a blessed human person assigned by God to bear his human form.

The woman–the Virgin Mary–conceived God in her womb. The official Catholic doctrine on her personality is stated clearly in the official Catholic book Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church published by the Vatican:

Mary is truly “Mother of God” since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God himself.

The image of a Mother God therefore plays an important role in the theogony of the anting- anting. In Filipino society, the mother of the family is viewed as the “ilaw ng tahanan” who provides her children with proper care, upbringing and education. Moreover, the early Filipino society, although strongly patriarchal, viewed women as mediators to God. As proof, the early priests were women called babaylan.

The veneration of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God is therefore consistent with the Filipino view of the important role played by the mother in Filipino family and society. The babaylan priesthood still exists at present in many folk Catholic religions in Southern Tagalog, most especially in the Ciudad Mistica de Dios and the Tres Personas Solo Dios in Mount Banahaw, where the religious leaders and priests are women.

The idea of a Mother God was accepted by the early Filipinos as a given. Thus the Virgin Mary eventually took her place as an important God in the pantheon of the Gods among Filipinos. Monotheistic though the Catholic religion is as claimed by the Vatican, to the simplistic views of the pre-colonial Filipinos, the Infinito Dios, the Santissima Trinidad, and now, the Virgin Mary constitute a polytheistic religion.

In the theogony of the anting-anting, the Virgin Mary must therefore be elevated from her role as a simple bearer of God in her womb to become the Infinita Dios, the female equality and counterpart of the Infinito Dios. The emergence of the Infinita Dios in anting-anting symbols also gave way to the belief that God does not have a sexual gender preference.

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The medallion of the Infinita Dios. Author’s collection.

Thus the emergence of the myth of the Infinita Dios was established:

Before God created the universe, He decided to have someone help him in his task of creation. While thinking, five shining letters sprang forth from His mind that became the five petals of a beautiful flower (mayuming bulaklak). This flower is called the Gumamela Celis which means the Flower of Heaven or Flower of the Earth (Rosa Mundi). The five letters are none other than the beautiful name M-A-R-I-A, which in Syrian language is Miriam, which means the highest. The original name of Maria before God created the universe was Bulaklak.

Maria was thus the first being that emanated from God. In short, Maria was even first to appear than the 16 spirits, the seven Archangels, Luzbel (Lucifer), and the Santissima Trinidad. The Virgin Mary was thus elevated from her former status as bearer of God in the flesh, into a God that first sprang forth from the mind of God.

Then again, one should not be confused. The Infinito Dios, the Santissima Trinidad, and the Virgin Mary all share in the equality of their divinity. No one is more or less than the other. This is quite difficult to understand, so one can imagine how the early Filipinos had a hard time embracing this set of beliefs about God. Clearly, even a child can understand that there are five Gods being spoken here: the Infinito Dios, the Santissima Trinidad that is composed of three persons, and the Virgin Mary.
anting anting mandirigma anting anting mandirigma
The medallion of the coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Santissima Trinidad. (Author’s collection)

Panyo ng Kabalistiko ng Infinita Dios. The sacred words spoken by the Infinita Dios forming her image.

However, to be consistent with the Catholic teaching that God is One even though there are clearly five of them sharing the One divinity, the early Filipinos simplified this complexity by inventing the God called Cinco Vocales: A-E-I-O-U.

A is Bathala/Infinito Dios
E is Mother God (Virgin Mary/Infinita Dios)
I is God the Father
O is Jesus Christ
U is the Holy Spirit.

The Cinco Vocales is the DAEIOUS AEIOU (daeious is pronounced as deus), the final enumeration of the pantheon of Filipino Gods as a result of the synthesis of the complex doctrine of the Roman Catholic religion and the simplistic pre-colonial religion of the Tagalogs. The Cinco Vocales, as all anting-anting faithfuls believe, is the highest God, because it is the complete composition of the five highest Gods.

anting anting 3

Consistorio ng Kadeusan ng Anting-anting
The pantheon of the Gods “DAEIOUS AEIOU” or Cinco Vocales. From left to right: InfinitoDios, Infinita Dios, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. This is believed by many folk Catholic millenarian sects and anting-anting believers as the true enumeration of the One True God, again consistent with the Catholic doctrine that there is only one God.

To this pantheon of Gods, however, we must add a newcomer: Amang Gat Dr. Jose Rizal, whose name among anting-anting believers is Jove Rex al, meaning, God King of All. To many anting-anting believers, Rizal is the second incarnation of God. The first was Jesus Christ. Most, if not all, Rizalistas are also believers in anting-anting. Inversely, many anting-anting believers are also Rizalistas.

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Photo: Medalyon ng Amang Gat Dr. Jose Rizal. Author’s collection.
Taladro ng Kadeusan ng anting anting. The pantheon of Gods among the Rizalist anting anting believers. The pantheon consists of the Infinita Dios, the Infinito Dios, the Santissima trinidad, and Amang Gat Dr. Jose Rizal.