At first glance, books on silat don’t exactly look like required reading for business or management majors. Better known as the staple of Indonesian action films or comics, ranging from the hit movie “The Raid” and its sequel to TV series like “Si Buta di Gua Hantu” (“The Blind Man in the Haunted Cave”), this image has long overshadowed the philosophical aspects that made this most Indonesian of martial arts endure through the ages.
But now financial adviser and longtime silat practitioner Edwin Abdullah is seeking to give silat its day in the sun through his book “ Keajaiban Silat: Kaidah Ilmu Kehidupan Dalam Gerakan Mematikan, ” or “The Magic of Silat: Deadly Moves for the Rules of Life.”
The tome, which is perhaps Indonesia’s answer to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings,” lives up to its philosophical, yet practical bent.
“The underlying principle behind silat is balance. The martial art teaches that the last man standing is neither the strongest nor the fastest or most agile fighter, but the most balanced individual,” Edwin said during the book’s recent launching at the Gramedia bookstore in Pondok Indah Mall, South Jakarta. “Balanced relationships between the self and others, with ourselves as well as the self with God is what dictates silat. After all, how can we resolve others’ problems when we can’t solve our own or understand ourselves?”
He added that this seemingly peaceful precept could be seen in silat’s martial moves.
“In silat, we have to balance between acting in accordance with our circumstances or moving ahead of the curve. We have to judge the situation well and act accordingly. If we do the former we’re only reacting, but if we do the latter we’re acting rashly, which is unacceptable in silat.”
While Edwin has been practicing silat since his days as a student in Gadjah Mada University, it was his later experience with the martial art that inspired him on the journey that led to the book.
“I first saw how recognized silat principles were overseas when I took my MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. One of the textbooks that I read on leadership and problem solving was based on East Asian principles. One of the precepts that it taught was ‘Open heart, open mind and open will,’ which happens to be among the tenets of silat. It didn’t occur to me until then just how universal silat’s principles were,” he said.
According to Edwin, the underlying principle of all organizations, whether they be government or political institutions like parties or businesses, is their humanity.
Diplomat Sonny Sasongko agreed with Edwin.
“The element of humanity in silat is particularly applicable in diplomacy. What struck me about interacting with people from all over the world is not our differences, but how our humanity makes us have much in common,” said Sonny, a fellow practitioner of silat with Edwin since their days in college.
“As with silat, diplomacy requires us to interact well with our environment and approach those in it with a friendly manner to get the job done. On the other hand, a more aggressive, hostile approach will only complicate our job.”
Eddie Nalapraya, former World Silat Federation president, also highlighted silat’s virtues.
“Silat is a sport and more, as it has elements of aesthetics and spirituality. It also guides the conscience and gives us direction. However, public ignorance of these characteristics lead to social problems like drugs and brawls,” he said. “The government is partly to blame, because they have yet to allocate a budget for the sport and realize its potential. But this is all the more reason to conserve silat.”
While Edwin acknowledged that silat had a long way to go in getting public awareness, he said he was certain that it would not be long in coming.
“In silat, the ultimate, most noble fighter is not just the man who keeps his balance. The ultimate fighter also strives upward to find God even as he keeps his feet on the ground,” he said.The Magic of Silat: Deadly Moves for the Rules of Life By Edwin Abdullah Published by Gramedia 176 pages Indonesian