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The Making of "Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art of War"

The Making of Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art of War

by Guru Scott McQuaid

This demonstration film was always a part of my initial intention to spread the word of harimau silat and secure its legacy. I first wanted to document the historical aspects of our art with the ‘Dark Gift’ documentary and then start production on ‘Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art Of War’ as a follow-up film. The Dark Gift took seven years to produce and as I was coming to a final cut on that feature I immediately started to shoot this demo film.

I wanted to make the film as honest as I could and not sell out by having some tacky backdrop of Indonesia in a studio and shoot the entire project within a weekend. I decided to shoot it outside in a clearing of the woods because that's the natural environment where this art came from. All the demonstration scenes were filmed outside in South East Asia; most of the shoot was shot on location in Malaysia but there were sections that I shot in Indonesia such as the kembangan and kuda scenes as well as some of the langkah footage.

However due to the extreme heat and humidity in Indonesia and Malaysia we would have to shoot our scenes early in the morning before sunrise. Now anybody who practices the art of silek harimau will surely vouch for me when I say that your body really doesn’t want to be doing harimau first thing in the morning, so that was a challenge. I would usually film one section per shoot, meaning I would shoot maybe ground attacks and that would be all we would film for the day. Then for the next shooting schedule we would film maybe elbow attacks and so on. This was because of the heat and the demanding toll that harimau takes on your body. For the most part I would rarely plan any technique, I would just let my student attack and counter, but sometimes there were certain movements that I wanted to show and break down. I felt if I kept the attacks random and unplanned as we generally do in the classroom, the reality of the action will look that bit more authentic on film. Just as I documented the historical factors in the Dark Gift, I was trying to document the unique movement within the art without it looking superficial. I believe the film captures this.

The Making of Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art of War - Title Screen

Although this is a demonstration film, I still wanted it to be entertaining to somebody who perhaps has never seen any pencak silat or martial arts in general. So I added more theatrics to this film compared to the Dark Gift documentary. I wanted to engage the audience from the very beginning, so that’s why we shot this slow motion jungle gladiatorial scene. But once again I still wanted to maintain a real combative look so although the opening scene is all window dressed with slow motion and blood splatters, the actual content of movements are grounded in reality.

Generally the pesilat attacks and I take them out with one to two moves that are extremely brutal and to the point. In fact, that was the only choreographed scene throughout the production and still I made contact with the silat players which is why it looks authentic, because the poor randai performers were getting hit. I tried hard to pull my punches like they do in the movies, but I guess I’m not cut out to be an action star, as all my years of training has been about connecting on your opponent and following through to take them out. Both my students and I were always limping back from a day’s shoot covered in bruises and carrying sprains.

The Making of Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art of War - On Set

A lot of demonstration films like to go crazy with camera angles but I didn’t want to do that. I would generally set the camera on a master shot generically known as a wide shot so that the viewer can see both fighters' entire bodies and how they move in accordance to the fight. Then I may cut to a mid-shot showing the movement slightly closer from the waist up but I believe in keeping the camera static and let your silat do the talking. If the content is good enough there’s no need to be creative with the camera work.

The ‘Senjata’ or weapons section was a challenge because your dealing with blades and distance and sometimes we would have to tailor the movement of silek harimau to stand on your mark so that the camera can see what is actually happening in combat. This proved a challenge as the art moves you oppose to you moving it, so I could sometimes perform a combination of cuts and once finished realize I am completely off camera.

A lot of martial art demo films will have the opponent feeding the attack as a kind of dead entity, meaning they move in with the first attack with no intention of doing anything else as they know they will then be countered and bashed up. I wanted to keep the fight alive and would always tell my students to feed the attack and if I haven’t taken you out then follow up your with a kick or punch or whatever, don’t just be a sitting duck. This kept the action alive and once again that bit closer to reality. So when it came to the blades, I countered with multiple stabbings, targeting the kill zones to cancel out any follow up attacks.

I remember when we were doing the keris fighting section, my student stabbed low lunching for my leg thigh and I moved but his keris went straight through the middle of my baggy silat pants below the groin. I instantly twisted my body into a move called ‘diwi kuda’ and the keris stabbed through my baggy pants. So there were some scenes that were really close to the mark. I never wanted to fake it and recreate anything like that; if it happened, then great and if I had a big budget then I would set cameras around us in a 360 setup capturing everything. But these projects are self-funded so I work with what I got, and I think I managed to capture many true elements of and sometimes some unexpected combative actions that I had not intended, so we did get lucky with some shots. 

The Making of Silek Harimau: The Minangkabau Art of War - Kerambit

On the DVD my student suggested I do some special features, like a short bio on myself and my silat and martial arts history. So we shot that as well as a behind the scenes interview with myself talking about the making of the demo film and some of the ideas behind the shoot. It also features an episode of a Chinese travel program where the host comes to Malaysia and learns silat with me. I always want to give as much as I can for the viewer and try to think what it is I wanted to know when I was first setting out in my journey in martial arts. I hope the viewer learns something they can use from this DVD or at the very least be entertained.

Published exclusively for Black Triangle Silat, 2013.