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The Chained Tiger - Origins of Harimau Berantai Silat

The Chained Tiger - Origins of Harimau Berantai Silatby Guru Scott McQuaid


I immigrated to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to study blade fighting with world-renowned blade master Maha Guru Jak Othman. My preferred pencak silat style is Minangkabau Silek Harimau and I wanted to evolve the blade work within the style. Guru Jak accepted me as his student and I began my training in this Javanese system, Harimau Berantai Silat. Over the years I did manage to evolve the Minangkabau Harimau art while still maintaing the styles structure and mindset towards combat. But I also became efficient as a student in Harimau Berantai. This Indonesian art is both old and rare and the knife techniques are very real and extremely deadly. With the blessing of my blade teacher Maha Guru Jak Othman I am opening the doors of this silat style, giving an insight into this closely guarded secret art. Life’s tragedy is that we get old to soon and wise too late.

The style known as Harimau Berantai Silat comes from central Java in Indonesia; its exact whereabouts is unknown. Like many styles of silat this name was not the art's first - in bygone years silat styles were named after the village where the teacher lived or their family name and others were named after an animal that had some influence over the art.

Silat roots date back to the Srivijaya warriors around the 7th century, during which time silat expanded with the Srivijaya kingdom across South East Asia and continued to spread with immigrants of the Majapahit empire. This was the first empire to unite all of Indonesia’s major islands and Javanese silat reached its peak under Majapahit.

Most silat was referred to as Bersilat which is a very basic style that exists in two forms. The first is silat pulot. This is the artistic movement applied that was exhibited for state visits and today it is performed for weddings. The other element is known as silat buah (fruit) which comprises of the actual combative techniques in forms.

The Chained Tiger - Origins of Harimau Berantai Silat

Silat was predominately a weapon based fighting system as the battlefields from the 13th to the 16th century were places of blades and blood. The Harimau Berantai style focuses on the blade, to fight with it and against it. The role of the Srikandi or woman warrior has played a big part in the development of Harimau Berantai silat. In the olden days, the women went to war standing side by side with their male counterparts. The main weapons used by the these women warriors were the belati or dagger, the kerambit which is the popular curved claw shaped knife and the ekor pari which is a stingray tail used as a whip. The women would conceal these weapons with the stingray tail wrapped around their waist beneath their sarong and often hide the small three inch curved kermabit blade in the bun tie in their hair.

There is an old folktale about the ekor pari or stingray tail. The story tells of a woman in Java cooking the stingray fish in her kampung or village. Suddenly a man entered her house and started to attack her. During the struggle the woman grabbed the discarded tail of the stingray and whipped the man to defeat. She shared her discovery of this whipping device with her village and it is then said that the stingray tail was included into the fighting style of silat. The Srikandi (women warriors) were exceptional Harimau Beranati pesilats (silat players) and it is because of this why the system today does not rely on strength, but calculated speed, skill and precession.

The style got its name during the 18th century. Before this time the style was suspected to be under a guru or teacher’s family name. The warrior Pendekar Haji Asraf is said to have been a master of this style and he lead a band of rebels against the Dutch in Indonesia during the 18th century. Pendekar Asraf's ferocity and expertise in battle earned him a title from his adversaries. The Dutch called him ‘macan’ meaning tiger, however due to his status as a pious man being the head of the Islamic religion for his clan, his people changed the title to Harimau Berantai which means ‘chained tiger’. This meant a warrior chained down to earth by his virtue and iman or faith in Islam. The chain signified the degree of self control and religious faith. It has been noted that until today a high degree of self-control is still the main prerequisite for those wishing to study this system of pencak silat. Pendekar Kiyai Haji Asraf later furthered the Harimau Berantai name when he led a rebel group of pesilats to carry out covert operations on Dutch military camps. In time his entire clan would become known as Harimau Berantai and subsequently the silat they practiced.

The Chained Tiger - Origins of Harimau Berantai Silat

Harimau Berantai silat uses all the core traditional Indonesian weapons such as the keris (wavy knife), cindai (sarong garment), kapak kecil (small axe), belati (knife), kerambit (hook blade), tekpi (sai), parang (sword), ekor pari (stingray tail), pancawangan sakti (bladed tonfa) and the tongkat (stick). In the training of Harimau Berantai the student's attacking-strategy is the study of the vulnerable parts of the human anatomy especially those directly related to the applications of the belati or knife. The training in this silat style is based on speed and accuracy and once the student has a firm grasp of the techniques they then have to engage in a blade fight using a rubber blade that is laced with red lip stick, wearing a white T-shirt which will show the red markings of the wounds you have inflicted upon your opponent as well as showing how well you have managed to fend off your attacker's blade strikes. This brings a reality to the training as most blade techniques in martial arts are taught from an almost static standing position whereby the opponent lunches and the student usually steps to the side and carries out their drill. But once both students start to move then the structured application becomes messy, frantic and ultimately adapts to the various changes of movement, making it more authentic. Harimau Berantai blade fighting is very realistic. Traditionally the Harimau Berantai clan worked in small bands taking out their enemy and some assessments in the art today are still practiced this way. The belati fighters would go back to back fending off many bladed attackers making sure they do not cut each other in the process.

The Chained Tiger - Origins of Harimau Berantai Silat

In this style of silat the primary target is to neutralize the main threat which is the weapon-arm of the enemy. There are at least eight different targets on the arm that if cut would make the enemy succumb in 15 to 30 seconds, perhaps quicker if your opponent is continuing to fight as their adrenaline would pump their blood faster. Kill zones such as the neck, torso and major arteries are secondary targets in Harimau Berantai as the emphasis is not so much on the damage that can be done as much as the repair that can be salvaged once an injury has occurred, whether it be on your enemy or one's self. This philosophy within this combative system is the belief that violent circumstances occur, but this does not justify the taking of a life if it can be avoided. This relates to the chained tiger of self control and discipline within the style. A guru of the art is expected to administer first aid measures using both traditional and contemporary techniques. It is said that only after a practitioner of Harimau Berantai Silat is able to effectively master both the killing and the healing aspects, that they can become a true practitioner of the art.


Published in Irish Fighter magazine, 2014.