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Cabang - The Untold Story

Cabang, Sai, Tekpiby Guru Scott McQuaid

The art known as silat has always been associated with some of the most unique and deadliest combat weapons used on the battlefield. The cradle of silat is within the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay peninsula, there are over a hundred different styles of silat and each system employs bladed weapons.

The cabang is a defensive bladed weapon. Cabang translates to 'branch' in Bahasa Indonesia and it is believed to have come from the island of Java. Scholars say the weapon was developed from the Indian 'trisula', which was a unique three spear mould that sat on the top of a staff as a Hindu-Buddhist religious symbol. The Hindu God Kali is clearly seen holding the trisula. The earliest evidence of Cabang is depicted in Javanese art and eventually the weapon spread across Asian countries such as Thailand, China, Okinawa and Malaysia where it is known as the 'Tekpi'.

The Cabang is a three-pronged truncheon weapon made famous in the 21st century by the animated cartoon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It also became the preferred weapon for Marvel’s comic book assassin character Elektra. Only the version depicted in these comics, cartoons and movies was the Okinawa version known as the 'Sai'. This weapon had long been associated to Japanese fighting arts such as Shotokan Karate, Jiu Jitsu and Ninjutsu. It is said that the Sai was originally a farm tool on the island of Okinawa. Its purpose was to aid in planting seeds. It was placed in the ground to create a deep hole, the longer middle shaft created the hole while the two outer prong shafts help measure out an equal distance for the other seeds in the dirt. So when the seed was planted there were two equidistant marks so the seeds would not be planted too closely. It later became a weapon used by farmers to protect themselves against invaders.

Cabang - The Untold Story

The ancient style of Serak was formulated in the early 1800s in West Java and they used a variant of the cabang referred to as the Siku Siku. This model of the weapon is much closer to the Hindu trisula staff head. The term siku-siku refers to elbows, which relates to the maneuvers of the blade placement that rests downwards across the forearm as well as the strikes that thrust the point out from the elbow.

Kuntao silat teaches four jurus or structured forms using the cabang that resemble movements from the Shaolin Temple weapon forms. This is probably due to the influence of kung fu methods utilized in the Kuntao system. It is worth noting that Shaolin kung fu has a stick fighting art using a fork style staff that also resembles the Indian trisula religious symbol.

The bladed Harimau Berantai Silat system from Central Java also uses the cabang. The Harimau Berantai clan, as they were known in the 18th century, fought the Dutch soldiers during their occupation of the island.

In the Malaysian northern state of Kedah the silat art known today as Silat Kuntau Tekpi was developed in the 19th century. The system’s nucleus is predominately the use of the cabang or tekpi.

Cabang - The Untold Story

The blade is made of iron or steel and the two curved prongs projecting from the handle are used for grabbing and locking your opponent's weapon or weapon hand. The cabang is arguably the most effective weapon against blades and sticks. The weight of the cabang is much heavier than most swords and this is so it can withstand the power of various swords but also because the blade is utilized to strike their enemy with a whipping thud, breaking bones on impact.When the cabang is rotated so that the blade is pointing towards the user's elbow, the solid hilt becomes the focus in a thrusting attack while the blade blocks attacks along the forearm. The cabang fighter can use the punch motion of the heavy hilt to literally knock out their opponent. The weapon basically becomes a hard base for their arm and fist. In the orthodox hand held position, the hilt is also used to strike down on their adversary's weapon hand, thus disarming them. At the very end of the long sleek barrel shaped blade is a very sharp single point. This blade point is used for stabbing into the soft tissue area of your combatant, for example the eyes or the neck but a firm short base jab to the rib cage would certainly cause a devastating effect to your enemy.

The cabang are used as a pair - the practitioner can easily block with one cabang while counter attacking with the other. This makes it difficult to fight a cabang practitioner. When the weapon is not in use, the cabang are hung at the waist of a pesilat (silat player) which makes it easier for the cabang fighter to draw the weapons upon conflict.

Ultimately it does not matter if we call this weapon a cabang, tekpi or sai. What matters is how it is used on the battlefield, for war is not about who is right, it is about who is left.

Cabang - The Untold Story

Indonesian Silat that practice the cabang:

  • Harimau Berantai Silat
  • Serak Silat
  • Kuntao Silat
  • Pencak Silat Reti Ati
  • Silat Paulu Sembilan
  • Pukulan Cimande Pusaka Sanders
  • Mande Muda
  • Bukti Negara

Malaysia Silat that practice the tekpi:

  • Silat Kuntau Tekpi
  • Lian Padukan
  • Seni Gayong Silat
  • Senjata Lapan
  • Silat Melayu Asli Sejati
  • Silat Sendeng


Published in Irish Fighter magazine, 2014.