Thursday, 28 February 2013 12:17
by Guru Scott McQuaid
I have been training in the Minangkabau Silek Harimau style for over two decades and in that time I have been fortunate enough to cross train in many pencak silat systems. While training with my blade teacher Maha Guru Jak Othman in the Harimau Berantai Silat art, I was privileged to be introduced to the rare Malaysian style of Tomoi Silat. Guru Jak is one of a very few that was taught the original form of Tomoi during his years in Kelantan. He produced a demonstration film on the art in 2010 with his senior student Guru Ed Chards and myself. Late last year Guru Jak held a weekend workshop on Pangkor island in Tomoi Silat. It was here that Guru Jak to his silat students or Kru Jak to his Muay Boran kick boxing group trained his class on the beach in this art that bridged the two combative styles together benefiting both martial teams. Since that time I have furthered my studies of Tomoi both physically and historically. I have documented my research to date in this article. So hear what is said, retain what is important, speak what is worthy and attach to nothing.
--Foreword by Guru Scott McQuaid
The Indonesian fighting art of pencak silat is believed to have spread throughout South East Asia during the 16th century. Firstly into its neighboring island Malaysia across its peninsula up to the Northern border into Thailand and eventually over seas into the Philippines. This combat style continued to change its shape creating the many various systems of pencak silat we have today. However one prominent key focus of attack which remained through its evolution was the the artful use of elbows.
If you trace the oldest forms of pencak silat such as Cimande or Silek Harimau, you will notice a strong emphasis on elbow strikes in their techniques. The Javanese Cimande style keeps their elbows tucked in like a boxer and counter attacks their enemy with a short based hook side motion strike to disarm a bladed hand or for a hit to the head. In the Sumatran Minangkabau Silek Harimau system the elbows are spread out at an angle in defense and they will commonly strike using an upward angle from a low crouched position rising up to the groin, ribs, chin or head. The blade based Harimau Berantai Silat style from central Java uses the techniques of elbow striking while holding the sao which is an Indonesian version of Japan’s sai. Each pencak silat art utilizes the elbow differently but almost all martial arts have elbow striking techniques.
As pencak silat spread across Malaysia it eventually created a system that focused on hard elbow strikes and this style became to be known as Tomoi Silat. Tomoi was practiced mainly in the northern states of Kedah, Trengganu, and particularly in Kelantan that borders Thailand.
The word Tomoi relates to the similar Thai term ‘dhoi muay’ which refers to pugilism. This was the original name for the old skool bare-knuckle fighting. During the beginning of the 1980’s, Malaysia’s Islamic revival came into political power and the Kelantan government banned several Malay cultural traditions for their "un-Islamic elements”.
Tomoi Silat was outlawed in 1990; however by 2006 the ban was abolished and Tomoi was again allowed to be practiced under the new name of Moi Kelate which means Kelantan boxing in the local dialect. Nevertheless, most Malaysians still call it Tomoi.
The techniques used by a petomoi (Tomoi practitioner) incorporate the standard kicks and punches seen in all the various martial art styles but the knees and mainly elbow strikes are their greatest asset. The petomoi considered punches to be the weakest form of attack so they opted for elbow strikes that inflicted more damage.
Originally the punches in Tomoi Silat consisted of the straight-armed attack much like a simple jab but the influence of British boxing during Malay colonial period helped develop their punch angles, bringing in uppercuts and hooks. Like most original forms of pencak silat the Tomoi style incorporated weapons into their system, strapping small kerambit blades onto their elbows to use in close quarter combat. The elbows were used not only to strike but also to parry attacks, block and defend. Tomoi also incorporated the parang (sword) into their combative style and various blade types.
Eventually Tomoi crossed the Malay boarder into Thailand and from there it evolved into Muay Boran meaning ancient boxing. Muay boran still maintained sword and knife techniques but these acted as sub-systems as the martial art started to become more of gladiatorial un-armed sport. Thai fighters would wrap their fists in hemp rope and fight in an open area surrounded by spectators. If the crowd was satisfied when the match was over, the victor would be rewarded with food and money which helped supplement the income of poor families.
It was the British colonists that would introduce modern rules in the 1930's reflecting the Queens-berry boxing playbook with gloves and a boxing ring and rebrand the style naming it Muay Thai meaning ancient Thai. All weapons were taken out and only a headbutt was added into its existing arsenal. The last transition to date came in the 1950’s when Muay Thai would once again transform into today’s kick-boxing.
The Muay Thai art was blended with Karate into a competition sport by a Japanese man named Tatsuo Yamada. Most of the deadly moves such as headbutts, knee strikes and elbow attacks were taken out and by the 1970's and 1980's the sport had expanded beyond Japan and had reached North America and Europe. It was during this time that many of the most prominent governing bodies were formed.
Like all martial art systems practiced today there are many influences from other countries that helped to create that particular style. Pencak Silat has deep roots in martial styles from South East Asia with ties to Myanmar’s Myanma Yuya Louvi style, Cambodia’s Bokador, Muay Lao from Laos, the Lethwei system from Burma, the Yaw-Yan and Kali styles of the Philippines. The influence even reached across the shores into France with there national martial art Savate.
Pencak Silat’s history spreads across the farthest corners of the earth changing its form for survival and fighting extinction. The evolution of this art shows that nothing comes from one singular source.
Exclusively published for Black Triangle Silat website © 2013.