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Divergent Stripes

Silek Harimau Minangkabauby Guru Scott McQuaid

The historical study of martial arts is complex. Written evidence mostly does not exist and the teachings of the art is handed down from teacher to student by word of mouth.

The combat system of Pencak Silat originated from the Indonesian archipelago and then spread to the Malaysian Peninsular across into Thailand and onto the islands of the Philippines. Evidence of silat in Indonesia dates back to the sixth century, from the two kingdoms of Srivijaya in Sumatra and the Majapahit in Java.

The earliest forms of silat taught in its present configuration is found on the island of Sumatra. This beginning of the martial art was called Silek which is the generic term for fighting arts within the Minangkabau region. It is said that during the 11th century B.C. the clan leader of the Minangkabau tribe, Datuk Suri, created silek in his village at the foot of Mount Marapi. Datuk Suri is believed to have come from Pariangan in West Sumatra’s Minangkabau subdistrict. It is the conjecture that silek then spread across the Minang province and was advanced and developed by the nomads throughout Southeast Asia.

One of the oldest Minangkabau silat styles is 'Silek Harimau', (tiger silat). There are various interpretations of the tiger systems within the Minang community. The basis of the Minangkabau Silek Harimau system was inspired by the Sumatran tiger’s low attacks and body mechanics. This combat art was designed to fight from low postures and from the ground. This was due to the slippery marshland left behind from the rainforest making it hard to find firm footing in an orthodox upright position.

Silek Harimau Minangkabau

As the art was passed down to the next generation, variations of the art began to spread - such as 'Silek Harimau Pasaman'. Pasaman is a place located in the northeast of West Sumatra; the majority of the tribe in West Sumatra are Minangkabau but in Pasaman there is another tribe called Mandailing from North Sumatra. Pasaman means 'equality' between the two tribes. So Silek Harimau Pasaman is believed to have developed between the two tribes. The art uses the usual punch and kicking strikes seen in most martial arts but also incorporates a lot of loose locks.

Silek Harimau Pasisia comes from the Ujuang Bukit Pungasan area, in the southern coast region of West Sumatra. The word 'pasisia' relates to the phrase coastal. The art consists of stamping foot strikes and low moving positions. Legend has it that a Minangkabau guru from  Padang on the western coast of Sumatra said that he learned a version of Silek Harimau from a traveling coach-man from the south coastal district. This could have been Silek Harimau Pasisia which then was adapted and later it travelled to the village of Lintau in the Bukittinggi vicinity and Silek Lintau was developed out of this style. Although this is only speculation.

The meaning of the style of 'Silek Harimau Sikabu Rimbo Bunian' breaks down to the place of its origin, which is Sikabu in Padang and then the name Rimbo is another name for jungle and Bunian means invisible or hidden. So this silat's name refers to the invisible jungle tiger of Sikabu.

The art of Silek Harimau Koto Anau comes from the village of Koto Anau in the city of Solok meaning 'valley' in West Sumatra. This style has lots of ground attacks like most Minang tiger systems but it also has claw like hand strikes within its techniques. Another style of tiger silat is the infamous Silek Harimau Tambun Tulang, which roughly translates to Tiger Fat Bone Silat. This style had lots of ilmu (magic) involved. The practitioners of this style would put themselves into a trance state and then take their fighting stance known as fulcrum terkam. This posture greeted its opponent, almost inviting them in to attack, but in their stance they were able to pivot stalking their opponent like a tiger stalks its prey. This style is believed to be extinct now.

There are even Harimau Silek styles created especially for men and women, such as Silek Harimau Jantan for the male and Silek Harimau Batino for the female. A lot of other Sumatran silek systems have heavy influence from Minangkabau Silek Harimau such as Silek Sitaralak, Ulu Ambek and Silek Alang (eagle style).

Silek Harimau Minangkabau

The tiger has inspired other silat systems such as the Sundanese tribes in West Java, where they incorporated the tiger style again taken from Minangkabau Silek Harimau into their own Cimande Pencak Silat.

In central Java a silat weapon based clan became known as Harimau Berantai Silat which translates to 'chained tiger silat'. This was due to the clan's pendekar (warrior leader) who was said to be a ferocious exponent in battle but he was controlled in his actions and grounded in humility, hence the chain reference.

On the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi, the Bugis tribe formed the style of Silat Sendi Harimau that literally means 'tiger joint silat'. The system utilizes the tiger claw technique to lock opponents joints. The prince of Bugis tribe brought the style to the Malay Peninsula in the 1800s. Once it became integrated into Malaysia, it was re-branded and is now called Silat Seni Gayong.

On the Malay Island of Penang, Silat Gayong Harimau emerged which was designed around the mechanics of the keris blade. The title of harimau or tiger was added to the name for symbolic reasons.

The tiger has influenced Chinese Kung Fu as well, being included in the five animal styles of Shaolin known as hu chuan. Then like silat, kung fu had northern and southern Chinese interpretations of each specific kung fu and as a result the style Heihuquan, meaning black tiger fist, emerged from the North in the Shandong Province.

The tiger is arguably the most prominent and influential animal within martial arts. The panthera tigris is feared and therefore respected, and so should your practice of Silek Harimau be.

Published in Irish Fighter magazine 2015.