The Malays from Yunnan, China, first appeared in Borneo circa 3000 B.C. and had established dynasties in Indonesia and Malaysia by A.D. 100 to 200. Persia opened trade routes with the Malays in A.D. 226. Soon, visiting Indian religious priests arrived from Kerala, India. China’s Sui and Tang dynasties (A.D. 581-907) traded with Sumatra. Silat is a collective term to describe martial arts evolved in the Malay Archipelago, the word perhaps originating from Indian settlers from Kerala who practiced the stick-fighting art called silimbam. Thus, the silats of Malaysia and Indonesia are influenced by Indian and Chinese martial arts with religious influences from Hindu, Islam and Buddhism.
At the core, bersilat is a Malaysian form of Indonesia’s pentjak silat. There are several major Malaysian silats: lintan, unarmed combat; medan, weapons used in combat; and terelak, special breathing skills (perhaps a form of Chinese chi kung).
Bersilat schools are split into two branches: silat pulat (a dancelike art that is performed at weddings and festivals) and silat buah,which is a combative form that focuses on either armed or unarmed combat. Bersilat students are prohibited from disclosing the art’s secrets. Training is passed on from family to family.