Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals: The Brutal Arts of the Archipelago, undertakes to explain to readers something about the martial arts of the Indonesian archipelago. I approached the book with some apprehension, as I wondered just what benefit someone whose martial art background included no training in Indonesian arts at all, could really obtain from a "how to" book about an unfamiliar martial art. Fortunately for me, and for all others lucky enough to spend some time with Orlando's Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals, the book is decidedly anything but another book on how to perform martial techniques. Quite the contrary, Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals is a treasure chest of martial principles, concepts and philosophy, teaching and training techniques, history and tradition, all with a uniquely Indonesian perspective. It is a book about expanding the reader's martial horizon's, no matter what his or her background.
Orlando identifies two major types of Indonesian martial arts – Pentjak Silat and Chinese Kuntao. Silat (and there are many and diverse types of silat) is the uniquely Indonesian art indigenous to the people of the Archipelago. Chinese kuntao is the name given to the various arts which developed when Chinese immigrants modified their native kung-fu styles to respond to (and take advantage of) the lethal silat arts with which the Chinese people had to deal.
Orlando differentiates the two arts by comparing two contests, each on the top of a 1,000-foot mountain: one involving a silat master, and the other involving a kuntaoer. The silat fighter simply casts his opponent off the side of the mountain, ending the fight. The kuntao fighter also dispatches his opponent over the precipice but does so in a way that he crashes into the side of the mountain every hundred feet or so, all the way to the bottom. Both of these arts are brought together for Orlando by Willem de Thouars, a long time master (and Denver-area resident and teacher) who has combined various silat and kuntao styles into a system called Kun Lun Pai. A key to both the silat and kuntao styles described by Orlando is the uniquely multi-ethnic basis of the styles – brought about by the Dutch-Indonesians who settled in Indonesia centuries ago. Unfortunately, many of the unique fighting systems described in Indonesian Arts have little future outside people such as de Thouars – the Dutch having been expelled from Indonesia, kuntao having been banned in Indonesia as too violent, and even the native silat having been greatly watered down.
The primary focus of Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals is Orlando's elucidation of several types of fighting principles which uniquely characterize Indonesian martial arts as taught by de Thouars. This part of Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals is clearly the most valuable, as these principles are applicable to, or at least valuable to an understanding of many more well known arts, such as karate, judo, and taekwondo. Orlando defines "principle" as "a fundamental, primary, general law or truth from which others are described." In other words, a martial art principle is a basic truth which underpins the techniques of a martial art system. Because the principles are fundamental, they have the capacity to cut across numerous styles and systems. Serious martial artists, especially teachers, will find Orlando's descriptions of five (all illustrated with a variety of Indonesian applications) particularly enjoyable.
For me, the most interesting principles described in Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals are called Adhesion and Seating. Orlando describes adhesion as "the practice of staying so close to your opponent that you appear stuck to him." Close-in grappling, leg-locking, and elbow techniques (plus a unique forearm technique which Orlando refers to as "grinding") are combined to keep the opponent fully occupied and ultimately under control. Seating is described as "a sudden and explosive drop in the fighter's vertical position." Seating generally results in completely breaking the opponent's balance and taking him to the ground. Techniques illustrative of both principles are often utilized together. Orlando's descriptions (and extensive illustrations) of techniques based on these principles are especially interesting in light of the interest which Gracie Jiu-jitsu has reawakened in grappling and ground-fighting techniques – because the Indonesian techniques are executed without the defender significantly bending his or her back. In other words, the defender remains relatively upright, and does not follow his opponent to a position parallel to the ground (and does not actually go to the ground along with his opponent) Techniques based on adhesion or seating principles thus represent a different approach to grappling situations, one which instructors of all arts might wish to consider incorporating into their own systems.
Another principle described and illustrated in this book is called "Gyroscopic Rotation" by Orlando. Gyroscopic rotation involves starting a rotation of a body part (primarily the head and neck) and abruptly changing the direction of the force against the axis of the rotation itself. Gyroscopic rotation as described by Orlando appears to be a sophisticated application of a principle utilized in many martial arts – recognition that a body can resist force in only one direction at a time. Techniques involving pulling an opponent's wrist in one direction, while applying a circular control technique around the direction of the pull are common in many arts, and appear to be a version of the gyroscopic rotation principle. Orlando's applications of the principle are on a grander scale, however.
The final two principles discussed by Orlando likewise have counterparts in many other martial arts. The "Whiplash" principle simply involves forcing an opponent to move in one direction, then abruptly reversing the direction of the movement. The result of the sharp reversal of force (and motion) is disruption of the opponent's limbs or, more commonly, spine or neck – much like the whiplash injuries commonly resulting from "rear-end" automobile accidents. The other principle, "shearing," involves "the application of opposing forces along parallel lines." The two opposing forces, rather than meeting each other (the traditional elbow smash, for example), pass each other in order to further disrupt the target of the attack. A simple example of a shearing technique would be a combination ridge hand strike to the throat, and inner forearm strike to the upper back – each strike moving anatomically related body parts in different directions. Both whiplash and shearing are inherent in any scientific fighting method – whether it involves striking, grappling or joint locking – and Orlando's illustrations of how the principles are applied in Indonesian arts provide insights into scientific fighting which can enhance any fighting art.
The unique thing about Orlando's explanation of Indonesian fighting principles is that he really does try to make good on the book's promise to universalize some key Indonesian fighting theories. A reader would be ill advised to read Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals in order to learn how to practice Indonesian arts – indeed, Orlando warns the reader of this fact early on in the book. The principles which Orlando describes are fighting principles grounded in science. He illustrates the principles by demonstrating how they are employed in Indonesian arts, but clearly invites the reader to consider how these principles are employed (or can or ought to be employed) in other arts.
However, Orlando's explication of Indonesian fighting principles comprises only a part of this book. The reader will also find smatterings of Indonesian history and philosophy, a fairly complete rendering of one of the jurus (forms) taught by de Thouars, and some of Orlando's personal teaching philosophy. Some interesting insights are given into the personality and history of Willem de Thouars, whose martial system dominates the book (and who may be Colorado's least well-known famous martial artist).
Perhaps most interesting is the chapter in which Orlando wrestles with what at times seems to be the unresolvable conflict between the traditions which underlie a particular art, and the need for an art to evolve if it is to remain effective. Orlando favors an approach wherein tradition is revered and honored, but fighting techniques are permitted to develop in response to new knowledge. Orlando notes that the techniques taught today by de Thouars often differ in subtle details from the same techniques taught by de Thouars a decade earlier.
Obviously unafraid of controversy, Orlando draws a fascinating analogy between de Thouars and Bruce Lee, and spices his analysis with direct statements such as the following: "Except for the recent infusion of some practical application (and Hollywood innovation) by Steven Seagal, Aikido is a well-preserved and, in my opinion, dying art." Equally interesting is Orlando's attempt to reconcile the realities of his violent martial art with the strictures of modern society. Orlando favors martial arts training which is unashamedly martial in character over less self-defense-oriented systems.
Overall, Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals is a book for serious martial artists interested in adding to their overall martial knowledge. The book accomplishes a number of objectives which makes it both interesting and valuable. It teaches the uninitiated something about the martial arts of Indonesia – their history, philosophy, people, tactics and techniques. It also provides much knowledge and thought-provoking analysis of the martial arts in general – both the universal scientific principles which form the bulk of the book, and the personal martial theory which Orlando elucidates so well. Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals will be a welcome addition to the library of any martial artist.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1999-2014
All rights reserved.
Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando