The tribes of the jungles of the Indo-Malay archipelago have produced some of the most devastating systems of combat and self – defense based on hundreds of years of tribal warfare. Collectively known as Silat, these martial arts systems are generally characterized by both armed and un-armed tactics and concepts. Although in modern times some have been watered down into sports, many have kept their edge as forms of combat and self – preservation whose instructors refuse to teach them as sports.
When the term Pencak Silat is used, it refers specifically to the Indonesian systems of Silat. Likewise, the alternative spelling of Pentjak Silat refers to the Dutch-Indonesian lineages of Silat. There are literally dozens of these systems, with hundreds of sub-systems. The term Pencak Silat was first used officially on the 18th of May in 1948 at the foundation of the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association (IPSI – Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia). The term pencak was more common among the Javanese, whereas silat was the common term for martial practice in Sumatra, as well as Borneo.
Although the terminology is fairly recent, the martial practice that became the modern-day systems of pencak silat are generally traced to Riau in the region of Sumatra. These systems are thought to go back as far as the 6th century of the Common Era, although there is an earlier origin found in the legend of Aji Saka, the first Javanese king, who is said to have come from India. The structured methods that were originally developed at Riau were eventually spread and evolved into what are the present day harimau (tiger) systems found among the Minangkabau tribe of Sumatra.
In Java, other systems developed in time. Although the Sumatran systems of pencak silat tended to go to the ground more quickly, the Javanese systems tended to have more upright and crouched fighting applications. Systems such as Cimande, Cikalong and Sera are thought to have common origins. It is from this family that the system of Serak comes, its origins being the Javanese Pencak Silat Sera.
In the 1960’s the pentjak silat systems of Indonesia began to gain some publicity in the United States of America with the arrival of some Dutch Indonesians who were teachers and practitioners of various systems. Some of the more well-known Dutch-Indonesians who spread their fighting arts in our nation include Willy Wetzel, Jim Ingram, Rudy Terlinden and, of course, the De Thouars brothers. The eldest of the De Thouars brothers, the late Paul De Thouars, was the inheritor of the title of “Pendekar.” The title has the connotation of “Spiritual Warrior High Priest” and is generally taken to mean “Grand Master” in most silat systems.
The history of the De Thouars’ family system, Pentjak Silat Serak, before it was passed to their uncles, the De Vries, is hazy. Pendekar Paul learned mostly from his uncles, John and Ventje De Vries, though he dimly remembers the legendary Mas Djut, who is also known as one of the legends of another, more well-known Javanese system, Cimande. The De Thouars have long claimed that Mas Djut and the legendary founder of the system, Bapak Sera, were both of the Badui tribe.
The Badui are well – known for their practices of magick and mysticism in Java. The claim that the system descended from the Badui tribe was met with both skepticism and open derision. The brothers were openly mocked by some scholars because although the tribe is known for its internal mystical and magickal arts and practices, they have publically denounced any form of martial training.
However, in a book, a Ph.D. thesis written for Murdoch University in Perth, Australia entitled The Politics of Inner Power: The Practice of Pencak Silat in West Java by Iain Douglas Wilson, we find the following:
“The martial traditions of Pajajaran were preserved and passed on through the generations. In this account, Kahir, who was from the Cikeusik region of Badui land, was renowned as an expert in ulin Badui (Badui silat). His reputation soon spread outside of Badui territory and several pencak silat experts came to test his skills. His challengers all died in the resulting fights. The spilling of blood on Badui ancestral land was a serious breach of customary law that could not go unpunished, so the tribal elders decided to banish Abah Kahir to the Cimande area west of Bogor. In order to avoid a repetition of such an incident it was agreed that the Badui would adopt a code of silence to outsiders regarding their martial arts, one that is said to stand until the present day.”
It is further interesting to note that footnote 45, added at the end of this paragraph in the thesis, states the following:
“45 Ki Jalceu and Karim, both ethnic Badui, recounted this version to Gending Raspuzi. Interview with Gending Raspuzi, 02/07/99, Bandung.”
So it seems that the story of the De Thouars and De Vries families regarding the origin of their silat among the Badui is not a fable at all.
According to the De Thouars family members, there were two groups of Badui: the “White” Badui and the “Blue” Badui. The White Badui were an inner circle who did not socialize with outsiders, but only with the “Blue” Badui, the outer circle. According to the legendary portion of the history of Pentjak Silat Serak, Bapak Sera, the founder of the system, was a part of the “White” Badui. One of the later students who finished the curriculum, Mas Djut, came from the “Blue” Badui and it was he who taught the De Vries, who were Dutch – Indonesians. No one is sure what the term “Sera” means. Because there are additional languages among minority tribes in Indonesia, there are different theories. Some say that it means “hoarse” because Bapak Sera’s voice was hoarse. Others say that the term is linked to wisdom. No one really knows.
Some have suggested that “Bapak Sera” (and some say that this is a code name) was born in 1780. Others suggest that he was born much later. Some say that he was a student of the legendary Abah (also known as “Embah”) Kahir mentioned above and that the much later Mas Djut was a master of both Pencak Silat Sera (as it is known and spelled among Native Indonesians) and Pencak Silat Cimande, which accounts for the similarities in the djurus (forms) of the two systems when it comes to tactics for parrying or blocking, trapping and passing.
To the scholar, dates and history are very important. To the martial artist, however, what matters most is very simple: does this work? The answer is that Pentjak Silat Serak is both extremely effective and lethal.
Pencak Silat Sera as practiced by the other lineages of Java only carries six djurus (forms). These six forms are essentially the same as the first six djurus of the Pentjak Silat Serak of the De Vries and De Thouars families, a lineage that carries 18 djurus in all. According to Pendekar Paul’s son, Guru Besar Marce De Thouars, there were originally 35 djurus but these were shortened to 18 djurus. Again, the older historical records are not very accurate but what we know for a fact is that Pentjak Silat Serak, as it has been carried by the De Vries and De Thouars lineages, is a more comprehensive system than the others.
Although the older history is unclear, what came after the transmission to the De Vries is much easier to trace.
Paul and his brother Maurice began training in Pentjak Silat Sera (as it was called and spelled originally by their Dutch – Indonesian family) under their uncle, Ernest De Vries, in Thailand (then Siam) after World War 2 ended, in 1948. Paul, who would serve as a Merchant Mariner for the Dutch military a few years later in New Guinea, was thrown into a concentration camp (for 40 days) by Sukarno’s government after the war ended due to his mixed Dutch ancestry. When Paul and Maurice moved to the Netherlands, Paul continued his training under Ernest’s brother, John, the lineage holder of the family system, while Maurice continued to train under uncle Ernest.
In 1965 Paul moved to the United States of America with Victor and Willem, his two younger brothers. Although Willem probably picked up elements of the family art of Serak, his focus was clearly on Kuntao, the Chinese – Indonesian fighting systems, and he excelled in those. Victor’s main teacher in the family system was his older brother, Paul, and Victor finished the curriculum under him. Paul was given the title of lineage holder of Pentjak Silat Sera in 1971 by John De Vries, a year before John passed away. As Pendekar of the system, he added the “k” to distinguish their lineage from other lineages of Pentjak (or Pencak in the Native Indonesian spelling) Silat Sera. Although at one time Victor was the senior master instructor under Paul, the brothers eventually parted ways and Victor formed his own lineage of Pentjak Silat Serak, taking the title of Maha Guru.
Realizing that most of his students had a hard time learning Pentjak Silat Serak, Pendekar Paul created a sub-system in 1980 which he called “Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara.” The term “Bukti Negara” means “witness to a continent” and it was the “witness” to the “continent” of Serak, as well as being Paul’s gift to the United States of America for giving him a place to live. The idea of the sub-system came to him while he was deep in prayer and meditation and he set out to re-work the essentials of Serak into a more streamlined system. The 18 djurus of Pentjak Silat Serak were re-combined into 8 djurus for Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara. The wider, balanced stance was re-worked into a shorter stance with a forward lean.
The principles of Bukti Negara and Serak are the same. Bukti Negara and Serak use all of the ranges of hand-to-hand combat from kicking to grappling range and an advanced practitioner can close the gap with an opponent in literally a second. The practitioner uses tight angles of movement to parry an incoming attack and enters immediately into trapping range, at which point he traps the lower and upper parts of the body simultaneously while quickly hitting and breaking extremities (or the neck), literally ripping each incoming opponent apart in a matter of a few seconds. The series of counters often ends with some sort of vicious sweep, or a sudden corkscrew motion that rips joints and tendons apart, in which the opponent is finished off as he hits the ground. The same principles are worked out with weapons at the more advanced levels.
Elements of Serak and Bukti Negara can be found in Guro Dan Inosanto’s Maphilindo Silat, as well as other lineages that have had close contact with the De Thouars’ Serak or Bukti Negara systems at one point or another. Similar principles and applications are found in other Indonesian lineages of Pencak Silat Sera, although they don’t seem to be as developed as the lineage of Pendekar Paul De Thouars and his top students.
That lineage has been carried on by Guru Besar Danny Huybrechts, Maha Guru Cliff Stewart, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck and Guru Besar Marce De Thouars, the son of the late Pendekar, who passed away on September 11, 2013. Guru Danny focuses on teaching the curriculum of Bukti Negara (which has been re-named “Pentjak Silat Semangat Baru” under his lineage due to a copyright issue), while Maha Guru Cliff and Maha Guru Stevan teach their interpretations of Serak (Maha Guru Stevan’s lineage is known as “Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck” and Maha Guru Cliff’s lineage has been named “L. A. Silat”). Guru Besar Marce De Thouars is the only one that teaches both Bukti Negara and Serak together, as one integrated system, to fully understand how all of the applications work in unison.
Another group has copyrighted the name of Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara and claims to be the “PDT Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara Board of Directors.” They have been uniformly discredited by all of the afore-mentioned top students of Pendekar Paul De Thouars.