Different Types of Martial Arts
Tomoi and Bersilat: Fighting with Elbows and Knees
Meaning “elbows and knees,” tomoi is the Malaysian version of muay Thai. It is also found in Cambodia, where it is called pradel serey, and in Myanmar, where it goes by the name of lethwei. A fighting art and sport based on Indian, Chinese, and Thai martial arts, it is most commonly practiced in northern Malaysia, along the Thai border. It was banned in 1990 along with many other Malay traditions by the government of Kelantan state. As a result, many practitioners began referring to tomoi as muay Thai. However, following the lifting of the ban in 2006, the art has enjoyed greater freedom and most practitioners have reverted back to using the original name for the art.
It is not known exactly how old the art is; experts believe tomoi arrived in Malaysia in approximately 1800, probably as a result of immigration from Thailand, with ethnic Thais introducing their fighting traditions and culture.
An empty-hand martial art derived from pencak silat, bersilat has also drawn influences from a number of Indian arts. It features a dancelike art called “silat pulat.” There are several major schools, such as the “lintan,” “medan,” and “silat buah.” The art stresses self-restraint and teaches that it should be used only in self-defense. Teachers are often of high moral standing in their communities.
Before training, students commonly swear an oath that forbids them from divulging the secrets of the art. Training typically includes a number of punches, throws, holds, locks, and chokes. The system features a range of nerve strikes and the curriculum often includes the study of 12 critical nerve centers of the body that are vulnerable to pain when struck by the hand. Such tactics are generally employed when fighting larger opponents who rely on brute strength. It is said that the confidence displayed by a bersilat practitioner is often enough to intimidate a potential attacker into a hasty retreat.
The Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports in Malaysia describes bersilat as follows: “As a stance it develops an aesthetic feeling of cultural nature. As a form of physical training it promotes good health, and as a form of spiritual
education it develops such qualities as calmness, tolerance, observance, mental efficiency, courage, and self-confidence.”
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