Silat and Kuntao for MMA Project | Part 1

Silat is by many considered a lethal art and by some just another flimsy traditional martial art with low realism. I'm sure both can be true, seeing as Silat is such a broad term, covering hundreds of systems. There are fantastic martial artists among Pesilat for sure, I have personally had the pleasure of training with some of the best and I believe in its fighting applicability. But I'm also a fan of not just believing, I want to know. 

So, a short intro about myself. I started training karate at the age of 12, at the time it was all that was offered where I lived. By pure coincidence I wound up training Imua Shantung KunTao under Tai Sifu Armando in the late 90's. Via him I also came into contact with Bapak Willem deThuars of Kuntao Silat deThuars and attended his annual seminars in Scandinavia since 2000. About 10 years ago I moved to Sweden and started training under Jimmy Boharfa, who was living there at the time. Shortly after I moved there he started introducing me to Buah Pukul, the Malaysian Silat striking arts, specifically Seni Silat Lian Ilham and Jurus Bela Diri Senjata Lapan

I have since gone to Malaysia and trained with the heads of these systems and we have also brought some of these instructors here. I have been the head instructor for a small club in Stockholm for the past 8 years and taught at seminars internationally. Professionally I worked as a bouncer, in law enforcement and in the intensive care psychiatric ward for over 15 years so I have what I perceive as relevant experience to judge weather something works or not. But for me this is not enough. I believe that as martial arts go the best way to test a system is to pressure-test it in the format of MMA

So, enough about me, about the project. I believe that a system either works under the premises of MMA or it doesn’t work. Granted, there will be elements that are not applicable to the MMA context, weapons of course, but also stuff not permitted by rules and stuff that’s really hard to do with gloves on. Still, these things are hardly game-changers. My point is that if the rest of the system isn’t up to par, eye-gouging, trapping and gunting will not change enough of the outcome to make a huge difference. Now it might sound as if I disdain traditional martial arts, nothing could be farther from the truth, I love them and I love Kuntao and Silat

Now, I am not into testing me, I have nothing to prove. I am old and fat and wouldn’t last 3 rounds in an octagon if my life depended on it. I am interested in testing the system. Can I make Silat work in the context of MMA? This interests me. I`ve had this idea a while, but didn’t get around to it, but then I just moved to Gotland, an island in the Baltic sea, and happened to move in next door to the MMA school here. So I went down there and asked if I could attend their sparring classes, provided I played by their rules and regulations, they were quite open and immediately said yes. The school, Gotlands Muay Thai & MMA does as the name implies, Muay Thai and MMA and uses Submission Wrestling for their grappling. I don’t know any grappling, so this is something I have to learn here. 

During sparring they tend to keep it separated between grappling and muay thai sparring, but if both parties agree we can spar combined. So far I have attended two sessions and the sparring has ben kept separated. So, technically what I have been testing so far is my silat agains muay thai, and my lack of grappling skills vs their Submission Wrestling. Needless to say, grappling wise I get my ass handed to me, I don’t come from a Harimau tradition, but I doubt that would change much. But I learn and that’s great. 

The first time I had a touch of the man-flu and didn’t really feel well, but I tried none the less. I sparred 2 people stand-up, one really tall guy who had trained for a few years and one of their instructors. The sparring was friendly. With the taller guy I realized that both having mostly trained at striking range and focusing on self-defense I was a bit open for long range kicks. This I mostly solved by trying not to stay out and just go in (worth noting is that I weigh somewhere around 20kg more than this guy). Gelek (90 degree footwork) and Tiga (45 degree footwork) worked nicely, also the diagonal strikes they were highly unaccustomed to. Since we wear these boxing gloves, we really cant go into trapping and some of the setups that I had hoped to try become obsolete because the gloves are so big, active blocking is basically nonexistent. The more sneaky entries and the Buno Gayang (kill the sway) principles that rely on impact on limbs kind of don’t work right now. I hope to come more into that stuff when we do sparring with grappling gloves. Also they asked us to refrain from elbows as a safety feature for now. Kind of sad since that removes a lot of my tools for clinch, but I have to go by their rules. When we went into clinch, I threw him down, since removing my elbows, throwing and leg-trapping was my main option. I was surprised as to how easy this was to do, but I guess in muay thai there is not so much points to gain from it, and takedowns just leads you to the ground witch might be a good thing I guess. 

I sparred their instructor, he was more my length, so long range kicks weren’t such a case with him, the same legwork and diagonal strikes worked well and in clinch he gave me a good knee or two before I threw him down, something which just stops the sparring a bit since we didn’t do grappling or follow ups in the stand up. Their instructor told me that I was fighting very aggressively and that its hard to keep that up for 3 rounds of 3 minutes. He is right of course, but I'll try to improve my stamina instead. I enjoy fighting aggressively and I see it as a core principle of Silat that I don’t want to loose. 

Just to clarify, I'm analyzing this from my viewpoint, not trying to neither glorify myself or decide who won, because such concepts in sparring is folly in my eyes. Sparring is a tool to learn and test stuff under pressure, as I said earlier I do this to test the system, not me as a person. Of course they all got hits on me and I on them, as the sparring wasn’t life or death and I am completely unconcerned with discerning a winner. In fact, I hope to ask one of the guys at the gym to describe sparring me from his perspective. 

Last Friday we went at it again. I got to spar the tall guy again, he is a really nice guy, I tried one of our counters for low-kicks where we kick under the attacking low-kick, and I misjudged it and placed it on his nuts, I'll have to work on judging the distance I guess! I also got to work with a guy I hadn’t sparred before, and that was good, I still misjudge the long range strikes, as he was a bit taller than me, but I got to test a few new things. I opened him by attacking his attempt to block a low-kick he thought was coming. He was a quick learner so when I used the Gelek footwork on him the second time he started blocking it, that was cool so I shifted to Singkrit (rotating 180 degrees) and that worked well. 

I have to build a grappling base so we can spar all the way, I really look forward to that. With that in mind, I'm going to some pure grappling lessons and in April I'm going to a grappling seminar. One of the guys noticed I had some interesting takedowns and wanted me to show him a few, I did and maybe further on we will do some more of that. This is the progress so far, I will try to go sparring with them every week, and write a short report on the progress and my analysis of how it works.

About the Author:

Björn Eidsvold Rugstad is 38 years old and started his martial arts career in Shotokan Karate at the age of 12. At the time it was the only martial art available in his hometown of Fredrikstad, Norway. 
At the age of 20 he moved to Oslo and met Jimmy Boharfa, and through him Tai Sifu Armando Soto, and started training the Kuntao system of Imua Shantung KunTao in which is holds the rank of Sifu. Through TaiSifu Armando he soon met Bapak Willem deThuars and started attending his anual scandinavian seminars in his system of Kuntao Silat deThuars and have been so for the last 15 years. 
In 2004 he moved to Sweden and continued his training with Jimmy Boharfa who was living there at the time. Through him he was introduced to the Buah Pukul systems of Seni Silat Lian Ilham (in which he is ranked as a Guru Muda) and Jurus Bela Diri Senjata lapan. And in 2010 he went to Malaysia to train with the heads of these systems. One of his Malaysian instructors has also visited Sweden to both teach openly and privately last year. 
Since 2006 Björn has been the head instructor of the local Silat Kuntao school in Stockholm and has taught at seminars both domestically and abroad. 
Professionally Björn is a chiropractor, but has worked over 15 years as a bouncer, in law enforcement and in the psychiatric intensive care unit.

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