The Majapahit Martial Arts

Photo from Kali Majapahit

I’ve done quite extensive research into the Asian Martial Arts. When I first began to research the Filipino and Indonesian Martial Arts I was perplexed at how many similarities there were between the various systems of the two countries. One of my good friends and students was also a senior instructor in the Filipino Martial Arts. He had a huge collection of Filipino and Indonesian Martial Arts videos, which he happily lent to me. It was fascinating to me how many of the empty hand techniques of Filipino Kali, Escrima and Arnis de Mano looked like the empty hand techniques of Indonesian Pentjak Silat and Kuntao. Along those same lines, the stick and knife fighting methods of Indonesia bear a striking resemblance to many of the weaponry methods of the Philippine Islands. When I began to deepen my research I discovered that that centuries ago the islands that make up the present day countries of the Philippines and Indonesia were part of a vast empire known as the Majapahit.

Majapahit was a vast archipelagic empire based on the island of Java from 1293 to around 1500. Majapahit was an empire of 98 tributaries, stretching from Sumatra to New Guinea, consisting of present day Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand, the Philippines, and East Timor, although the true nature of Majapahit sphere of influence is still the subject of studies among historians.

Having traders in contact with Thailand and the Philippines might also explain where the Thai Martial Art of KRABI KRABONG, the forerunner of the modern day Kick Boxing ring art of Muay Thai, got it’s FMA like Sinawali double sword weaving pattern from. Like all of Asia, the Majapahit Empire was also very heavily influenced by China. The Indonesian Martial Art of Kuntao is a blend of the hand techniques of Southern Kung Fu and the footwork of Silat.

In weaponry, the Majapahit expansion is believed to be responsible for the widespread use of the KRIS wavy dagger/​sword in Southeast Asia; from Java, Bali, Sumatra, Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Thailand, to the Philippines. Although it has been suggested that the Kris, and native edged weapons similar to it, predate Majapahit, nevertheless the empire expansion contributed to its popularity and diffusion in the region.

The Majapahit Martial Arts are a fascinating area of study, both for the practitioner and the scholar/​researcher.

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