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Southeast Asian Martial Arts History

Southeast Asia generally encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Important martial arts that take their histories from the region are pentjak silat, arnis/escrima, kali, muay boran, krabi krabong, muay Thai and vovinam.

In the 1400s, two major silat martial arts arose out of Southeast Asia: Indonesia’s pentjak silat (created by Malay female Rama Sukana) and Malaysia’s bersilat. The snake-shaped bladed knife kris was an important weapon in pentjak silat. In A.D. 200, Malaysians introduced the kris to the Philippines, which was adopted by the Moro people. In the 1500s, the Moro people combined their kris skills with Spanish fencing and applied them to rattan sticks to create arnis/escrima. The bladed art of kali was eventually developed from these arts.

The most well-known martial art of the region is probably muay Thai, which began in 1930. It takes its origins from the more lethal muay boran, which in turn came from the stick-and-sword-fighting art of krabi krabong. In 1560, King Nareusan was captured by the Burmese. To obtain his release, he defeated the top Burmese boxers. This was the birth of muay boran. Most major Burmese martial arts—bando, banshei, lethwei, naban— arose between 1200 and 1300.

After the French conquered Vietnam, they outlawed martial arts. In 1912, Nguyen Loc started a martial arts movement that created today’s Vietnamese martial art known as vovinam Viet do dao.

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  1. Martial Arts Books by Antonio Graceffo Bring the Martial History of Cambodia and Other Countries Into Focus

    Martial Arts Books by Antonio Graceffo Bring the Martial History of Cambodia and Other Countries Into Focus

    Southeast Asian martial arts practitioner and Black Belt columnist Antonio Graceffo talks about his travels with the magazine from the Martial Arts History Museum in Los Angeles in this exclusive video!
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  2. Martial Arts Video Columnist Antonio Graceffo Studies Silat Techniques and Learns Silat History in Malaysia

    Martial Arts Video Columnist Antonio Graceffo Studies Silat Techniques and Learns Silat History in Malaysia

    The Warrior Odyssey book author and Destinations columnist for Black Belt magazine learns muay Thai and silat while meeting some of Southeast Asia’s top martial arts masters in this international martial arts adventure video!
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  3. Pentjak Silat’s 9 Deadliest Weapons

    Pentjak Silat’s 9 Deadliest Weapons

    Suryadi “Eddie” Jafri is one of the best-known instructors of the Indonesian martial art pentjak silat (also spelled pencak silat). Pentjak refers to the fighting movements, while silat means a “spiritual way.” Jafri’s style of pentjak silat, pera taki sendo, is a close-combat system using empty-hand techniques as well as
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  4. Southeast Asian Martial Arts in the Philippines With Antonio Graceffo!

    Southeast Asian Martial Arts in the Philippines With Antonio Graceffo!

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the Philippines in this martial arts travel-video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing in Black Belt magazine. Graceffo explores a variety of martial arts styles and gives an overview of the fighting and training scene in this island nation. Included are his experiences training in
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  5. Muay Boran Technique and Accessories Demonstration

    Muay Boran Technique and Accessories Demonstration

    Col. Nattapong Buayam, a former Thai spec-ops hand-to-hand and weapons instructor, trained elite troops in Southeast Asia on the combative essence of krabi krabong (Thai traditional weaponry) and muay Boran (the forefather to muay Thai) for decades. The aggressive footwork and rapid-fire weapon attacks make it a nightmare to defend
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  6. Antonio Graceffo Travels to Thailand (Part 1)

    Antonio Graceffo Travels to Thailand (Part 1)

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 1 of his trip to Thailand, he discusses martial arts training and the variety of styles available to partake in, including muay Thai,
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  7. Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 3)

    Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 3)

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 3 of his trip to Vietnam, he discusses the schools, teachers and language of the martial-arts-rich nation. Graceffo is a freelance writer based
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  8. Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 2)

    Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 2)

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 2 of his trip to Vietnam, he discusses martial arts training, making money and the cost of living. Graceffo is a freelance writer
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  9. Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 1)

    Antonio Graceffo Travels to Vietnam (Part 1)

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 1 of his trip to Vietnam, he discusses the nation’s rich martial arts history. Graceffo is a freelance writer based in Asia.


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  10. Antonio Graceffo Travels to Taiwan (Part 2)

    Antonio Graceffo Travels to Taiwan (Part 2)

    Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 2 of his trip to Taiwan, he discusses MMA, training and surviving as a foreigner in this island nation. Graceffo is a freelance
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