Understanding Kembangan

Discussion in 'Silat' started by Bobster, Aug 22, 2006.

  1. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    I have been wanting to say something about this for some time now. In my past 20 years of doing Silat (I know…I’m a pup compared to some of you crusty old bastards) I have heard the Kembangan of Pencak Silat described in a remarkably wide range, with everything from mystical to impractical. With such a varied point of view, it’s no wonder why even many of the Malay & Indo styles still conflict when it comes to this aspect of the art. So, ignoring the fact that I’m not exactly the highest carving on the Silat totem pole in this forum, I thought I would offer my views on the subject. With any luck, I can start another political war. In fact, I’ll be SORELY disappointed if we all discuss & critique this as rational human beings with a capacity for thought. Don’t let me down, guys!!

    First, I want to say that I focus on rhythm, tempo and flow in my ENTIRE ART, more so than anything else. Yes, you heard that right. I know it’s a fighting art, but I don’t think technique is as important. I can teach technique to a baboon in 20 minutes and it will have at least a good rudimentary concept of how to use it. I know it’s weapons-based, but I don’t think that’s as important, at least not at first. I find that if I can instill the element of relaxation in motion to a rhythm of some sort (I always play music in my classes…My students don’t really know it, but I am trying to subtly convert them into fluid beings) then they will be much more receptive to it later on in the training. So everything I do in the first three years to the student is to promote FLOW.

    This is different than how I was taught, and I do realize it goes against conventional wisdom. I chose this for a reason, though: I am not interested in producing “Black Belts”, I don’t care what others think of me, or if I ever get published in a major martial arts publication and I don’t teach for the money…I’m considered “bargain basement” in my neck o’ the woods! No, what I want is clearly stated in the mission statement of my website: “each student is a uniquely developed individual, usually with skill built around the individual strengths & weaknesses of that person. Any three students in comparison, although they will move well, will move differently from each other and myself.”

    I want my people to MOVE.

    This may appear to be a simple thing, but America is very different than Indonesia, and getting my students to move to a rhythm of ANY kind usually involves threats of violence. First off, white people can't dance. It's a scientifically proven fact. Don't believe me?

    We invented Vanilla Ice. :bang:

    I defy anybody to contradict me on this one.

    All kidding aside, :p what I'm trying to say is that our cultural nuances differ so greatly from Indonesia's that Silat often seems like something from another planet. Let alone the fact that no other martial art calls thier forms a "dance". Except maybe Capoeira.

    So, having said that, to address Kembangan:

    There are a few critical elements you will have to master BEFORE tackling the flower dance. You have to crawl before you can walk. In my school the murid begins with basic langkah, sikap and tengan masukan solo, and then with a partner to understand how the applicative works. Very little training will be done as a “solo exercise” in my school. Very little fighting takes place in the form of just one person. Next come the Badan Dasar, or “Body Base”. This isn’t stancework, it’s a few series of motions from both Jurus and Kembangan strung together in difficult sequences to train the murid to achieve balance while transitioning between sikap at an accelerated rate of speed and not become tense while he does. After that, Juru one and two. After that, section one of Padundun (A Sundanese Kembangan). This much alone usually covers the first two years.

    It’s easy to attain balance in stillness, most martial arts capitalize on this with sinking and rooting being the only options (Wing Chun & Karate come to mind). You see it time and again in the forms of other styles; that kind of “Sink-Root-Step-Repeat” staccato rhythm. Kembangan is called a dance for a reason, it is at once fluid and meticulous in that fluidity. A skilled pesilat has balance in MOTION, as well as rooting and stancework. He can lurch, jump, twist, drop, stand erect, post on one leg & return to a harimau position without once losing his balance. But why is this important? What does it have to do with fighting?

    That’s not something that can be answered in the same two-sentence interrogative that it was asked, there are too many factors to consider to brush it off with a simple answer.

    First of all, kembangan doesn’t teach you how to actually FIGHT, although there are fighting techniques and motions included in the dance. It doesn’t teach you how to enter on a punch, how to read your opponent’s timing, when it’s time to switch from sapu dalam to sapu luar. It doesn’t teach you trapping.

    But what it does teach you is to move fluidly to a rhythm while lurching and jumping from one are to the next gracefully without losing your balance or your tempo. It teaches you FLOW at the basic level. You will finds many of the same techniques in your kembangan that also exist in your Jurus, but with a wider range of motion (bigger circling arms, stances are wider). This is not a mistake, it is there to ingrain certain balance principles in your body’s development. It is also there to help you promote flow. That wide range of motion will serve you well in a fight, allowing you to move comfortably and skillfully at your discretion, and not hindered by a limited motion range, had you only trained the Jurus. You can move at a quarter, half, or the entire range of motion at your disposal, because you already do it in kembangan. The Jurus give you a more precise key to EXACT motion, the Kembangan gives you a key to GENERAL motion. I usually describe it like this:

    1: Jurus give you the TECHNIQUE tool.
    2: Buah (or Sambuts) give you the APPLICATIVE tool.
    3: Kembangan gives you the MOTION tool.

    “Structure” – “Posture” – “Rooting” – “Base” …These terms are bandied about as the all-important aspects of ANY martial art. You know what, they are important, no denying that. But the idea of a structure that promotes rooting in your stance over moving with balance is usually one that says: “In this stance, you will be able to absorb ANYTHING if you can only root deep enough”. It’s like they want you to just stand there & see how much incoming force you can take. Well, to seven hells with that, I wanna get out of the way! But you can see many practitioners searching for that so-elusive secret to tapping into the energy of the earth’s core when they should be looking at their lack of footwork.

    Guru Todd Ellner mention in a previous post that in kembangan >”correct form can be "remembered" and pulled out when it matters most.”<

    I agree with this, but with an addendum: Your first impulse in a fight is to relax & start moving, not “tense up” and freeze in place.

    As I said, the noob is giving a lecture at the Louvre in this post, and I realize that. I am not a native Indonesian, and I have not been training as long as most of you. This is just how I see it. Thanks for listening.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2006
  2. Sgt_Major

    Sgt_Major Ex Global Mod Supporter

    I have to agree that movement is key in Silat. In a real situation if you 'forget' how to punch, kick, trap, or even block .... as long as you can move you stand a good chance of getting away.

    Forget hw to move and your dead.
  3. Rebo Paing

    Rebo Paing Pigs and fishes ...

    Good article.

    Good article Bobster.
    Yes, movement is flow with greget, sawiji lan sengguh nora mingkuh.

  4. Ular Sawa

    Ular Sawa Valued Member

    I think your description is very well put. The movement is something I got out of my practice. It would be an important element that separates Silat from the "sink-root-step" arts. If my poor memory serves, I thought you were looking to explore this further in a video, no?
  5. Wali

    Wali Valued Member

    The Kembagang is also used to develop a deeper connection with the Creator. At the higher levels, it is more than just a set of physical movements.

    Not everyone will agree, but that's cool. Each to their own
  6. fire cobra

    fire cobra Valued Member

    anyone had a "deeper "experience when doing(or non doing)kempangan? if so care to share the experience? :)
  7. Pekir

    Pekir Valued Member


    In our style we don't do any kembangan as probabbly meant in your (quite interesting) post. I can relate to your point of view though. Learning how to move, flow and understanding the essence of it should be the basis of silat as I've learned to understand it.

    We don't use music at all and haven't used it for may generations (including the Indonesian ones), but we stress the relax state over and over again. I also teach my students that speed and force are not a priority when someone starts his training and I keep doing that with every new technique I teach the individual student. Speed and force are useless when the essence is lost.

    When they mistake their training with a cheap martial art B-movie the essence of flow gets lost in favor of a continium of speed and force. One of my senior student i.e. is very explosive, lightning fast and has a good comprehension of his techniques except for the relax state of his body throughout whatever he does. With him this results in freeze, reacting to late and being rooted like an 'Old Oak' in five minutes. And for some reason he has a lot of trouble changing this.

  8. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    Wali, I am having a difficult time trying to reconcile spirituality with kembangan. Could you please explain what you meant by that? The only thing I can see that would fit is if you attached prayer of some sort to your martial art, or infused it with religion. Which is fine, many arts have this as well. But I can't see how kembangan promotes a closer relationship with God, unless you are using it perhaps in the Muslim sense: "All actions stem from God". Just wondering.
  9. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    Also, Pekir: If you don't mind me asking, what style do you train?
  10. Garuda

    Garuda Valued Member

    In our style the kembangan consist of the techniques of our style. Every movement is one or more technique, the techniques are there but they are hidden. So for training kembangan it is of utmost importance that you are not only training the movements and see them as a dance, but it is much more important that you understand the kembangan and the techniques it consists of and how the movements are applied.

    For demonstration purposes it is not necessary to move to the music. If you have a kendang pencak band, the music will follow your movements. Of course you should have certain fluidity in your movements, but if you do not have it by nature, you just have to train a lot.

  11. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    Also, allow me to add to my original post that different styles of Silat will accent different aspects of kembangan, as will the regions it is from. I am a little biased here, because I think the kembangan of the Sundas are second only to that of the Balinese (Who, as far as motion goes, have the market cornered). The Sundanese Ibing is all about heart, and you can spot several West Java styles presented in any one kembangan. The central Javanese kembangan has alot of the IPPSI flavor to it, in my poor opinion. Very uniform technique throughout the styles, little or no variation with some movements clearly drawing from other martial arts from different parts of the world (I saw an entire section of a karate kata called Kanku Dai inserted into an IPPSI performance once. I won't say who it was).

    The Sumateran kembangan are LOOOOOOOONNNNGGG, and I get exhausted watching it. Melayu Silat, depending on who you are watching, tends to be absolutely fluid or absolutely hard & forceful. But again, that's just from my own experience, I am in no sense an expert. But if you give yourself a broad education in Silat, then you will be able to recognize the personal touches and the stylized characteristics added to the dance from region to region.
  12. Khatami

    Khatami Valued Member

    Dear Sir,
    The spiritual component of our tari comes when you have trained in Silat Gerak Diri/Silat Firasa. When you have completed this training then every tari begins with the conscious acknowledgement that all movements originates with the Creator. Performed from this perspective the more we practise the tari the more we express the Divine.
    Our silat is Gayong Fatani originating from Pattani in what is now Thailand, but in our tradition it is simply referred to as Silat Tua.
    Best wishes
    Nigel Sutton
  13. tellner

    tellner Valued Member

    Who's this "Guru Todd Ellner"?

    It's amazing that there's another Silat player out there with my name. Even more that he stuck it out to become a full teacher.
  14. Pekir

    Pekir Valued Member


    Our style is just a very tiny unknown but old symbiose of silat, pukulan betawi and most probably over time some Kuntao. It has been this way for at least five generations of guru besar (Before someone misunderstands I don't consider myself to be one, just to make sure) The grandfather (a dutch-indo) of my teacher was the last student of an old guru besar in Ceribon. We have no known ties to any silat organisation in Indonesia since there are no other students of this guru in Ceribon with senior skills known to us.

    Until the seventies our Paatje never used a name to designate his martial art other than silat or pukulan. Since then his grandson, my teacher, has named the school Silat Barongsai but this has no formal baring with historical ties. When I compare our style to the many styles I know in the Netherlands I've never seen any close enough to assume relationship. During a visit to a guru in Jakarta a few years ago, he is the succesor and former pukulan Betawi student of my own greatgrandfather, this guru saw some resemblance to a pukulan style from kampung Rowo Belong. I can't judge this since I've never seen them.

    My teacher has stopped teaching our group about 7 years ago and since I've taken over, I started out in our style in 1980. He is still around so I gladly consider him to be the last guru besar. I'm just his humble student and will never be something else.

    To date we still are a small school with an average of 12 to 15 students and operate on a non commercial basis trying hard to stick to the original fundamentals as it was in early days.

    Hormat Pekir
  15. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    He is a much-maligned fanboy with a passable sapu. Actually, I meant to say "Guru Stevan Plinck's student, Todd Ellner", but that was so long I decided to shorten it to "Guru Todd Ellner", hoping you could obviously read between the lines. :p

    Sorry Todd, I meant no disrespect with the Guru thing. Personally, I consider you so, but that's just me.

    Yes, I mentioned this earlier as the Muslim perspective.

    Khatami, This sounds more like a mosque and less like a martial art. I have never heard of a fighting art that "expresses the divine". I have never seen such where spirituality wasn't just thrown in for religious purposes, and most martial arts have something like this while simoutaneously teaching a sociopathic love of violence. I still fail to see where the two are reconciled.

    Also, Pekir: Thank you so much for sharing the history of your style. I would be greatly interested in learning more about it if you cared to share such!!!
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2006
  16. Pekir

    Pekir Valued Member


    I would love to share some insights with you when I'm able to come by next year. As long as the food is around too of course :D

  17. Bobster

    Bobster Valued Member

    I'll start cooking NOW!!!!
  18. Narrue

    Narrue Valued Member

    I think Kembangan can be used in a number of ways.

    1: To improve coordination and balance including coordination of breathe with movement. In this way focus can be developed.

    2: To incorporate Silat techniques and in some cases to hide techniques.

    3: Ability to listen and internalise music, trigger appropriate motion through an understanding of music.

    4: Music is linked to motion in Kembangan however that motion can be physical or internal, it can be seen or unseen therefore Kembangan without motion (physical).

    5: To develop the ability to connect and through connection gain knowledge through use of Rasa.

    6: Kembangan as an internal practice where breathing techniques are incorporated with the kembangan movements.

    7: To be used as meditation in motion or to raise consciousness much in the same way a dervish whirls to raise his mind to higher things.

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zABt0Zkiws"]real mevlevi semazens - YouTube[/ame]

    There is probably other uses too but this is my initial thoughts of application.

    ***EDIT: I added one more to make it seven ways to perform Kembangan with seven objectives.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2006
  19. Rebo Paing

    Rebo Paing Pigs and fishes ...

    Teach the neural pathways.

    For me, kembangan is part of the process to teach my body and mind to combine power with flow.
    It has nothing to do with seni ... but can look artistic I guess, however the focus is not on looking good, but to get the neurology aquiring the body knowledge to be effective in the movement, the strike and the tactic.
    It is also an effective method for dissecting complex moves and asking the question ... what is the purpose of the move and can it be reduced?
    When we look at the outcome we want to achieve, do we take the long convoluted route ... or do we understand the essence and take the route easier for the body to internalise and consequently more likely to be effective?
    Beauty for beauty sake is good for the dancer ... but many MA have complex move that doesn't work in reality.

    In a nut-shell, for me I use kembangan not for show, but for teaching my neural pathways to internalise movement into effective instinct.
    It is used for developing the polishing of technique in a call and response situation. It is like Jazz in that it is developing improvised response to a series of what-ifs.
    To do this we start slowly ... like some taiji ... and this is the coaching of the neural pathways technique. We can then do similar at speed (slow in this case helps develop speed) ... to see if the movement, technique and tactic is still congruent.

    Last edited: Oct 14, 2006
  20. Narrue

    Narrue Valued Member

    Practicing something very slowly is the key to the ability to move fast but also if you’re anything like me with a terrible short term memory then it is a necessity to do things very slowly in order to just remember it at all.
    I find that if I do something slowly a few times it is better for me then doing it quickly several times.

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