The Various and Unique Forms of Martial Arts in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a base of martial arts. The differences and similarities of these unique art forms represent each culture. Relatively, the close proximity of each displays a degree of variety from one art to another. Plus, these are all quite pronounced.

Physical differences in style, weapons, etc. are evident in these martial arts. Yet the main reason for variety is due to how these art forms integrate a level of spirituality in them.

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What Type of Martial Arts was the Silat?

One of the martial arts forms of the Malay race is the Silat of Malaysia. This race comes from the southern part of Asia covering the Malay Archipelago.

The term Silat means a type of game or sport consisting of quick attack and defending moves. Yet this is more of self-defense that came from Malaysia. It is mainly rooted in their traditions of Malaysian civilization.

Silat may have left its influence in the civilization of other countries. Yet its link to the Malaysian culture is remarkable and is very much acknowledged. Countries that Silat has influenced include the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia.

What is the Cambodian Bokator?

The classic Khmer martial art called Bokator is Cambodia’s most distinct offering. It means “to kill a lion”, so one can guess its purpose and disposition.

It is a martial art designed for hand to hand combat during battles. Numerous techniques have been nicely integrated to adapt to different animal forms. There are times when the art makes use of spears and staffs made from bamboo.

This martial art form is said to be the earliest Khemer form that has become systematized. Though there are no written notes and records for proof, the term itself may be a possible age indicator.

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The Bando of Myanmar

One of the Burmese martial arts is Bando which involves copying the stances of animals. These include bulls, monkeys, panthers, cobras, and eagles. Based on evading the enemy’s attacks, the practitioner enters at a certain angle. He or she will try to achieve a joint lock or take-down.

There are times when art uses different weapons like knives, spears, sticks, or swords.

Like most martial arts of Asia, Bando schools start by teaching the basics. These include footwork and stances. The introductory stage of traditional training lasts for a couple of months. But today, a number of instructors avoid doing so.

During the second stage of practice, blocking and parrying methods are being taught. The martial arts of Bando focuses on defense over offense. This is so the student can protect themselves with ease whenever the need arises. The defensive approach is also to discourage forms of aggression.

It teaches all the students to use their skills with care. Of course, offensive techniques are still taught. This occurs during the third stage of training.


A lot of the techniques taught in Bando are through Aka or forms. These are first practiced alone before the practitioner moves on to partnered sets. This will be a task performed by two or more partners. The last stage of practice is using all the learned techniques in contests like free sparring.

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Muay Thai

Thailand considers Thai boxing as a combat sport. It makes use of stand up striking and a variety of clinching methods. The discipline is then referred to as The Art of Eight Limbs. It’s defined by the combined use of the shins, knees, elbows, and fists.

The martial arts of Muay Thai became popular all over. This was in the 20th-21st century when westernized practitioners competed in kickboxing. Others included matches under the rules of Muay Thai and mixed rule matches all over the world.

History of the Martial Arts

Muay Thai and its history going all the way back to the mid-18th century. It was in the wars between the Burmese and Siam when the fighter Nai Khanomtom was then captured in 1767.

The Burmese knew of his skills in hand to hand combat, so they gave him the chance to fight for his freedom. Nai was able to knock out 10 consecutive Burmese contenders. His captors were so impressed that they set him free, allowing him to return to Siam.

He was then considered a hero, and his style of fighting became the Siamese Style Boxing. This was soon known as Muay Thai and was soon recognized as a national sport.


Eskrima is the Philippine martial arts that use sticks. Sometimes, impact and bladed / blunt weapons were being used. There were times when improvised tools and even hand to hand techniques were then used. The art is also known as Arnis and Kali.

Arnis was often practiced by the common class or the poor. So, those who trained had very little scholar education to create any written records.

While this can be something that’s said about other martial arts, it’s especially true for Arnis. This is due to the fact that its entire history is almost anecdotal or promotional.

Origins of the Martial Arts of Arnis

This is an art traced all the way back to the native battle techniques. It was during the times of conflicts between pro-Hispanic Filipino kingdoms or tribes. For the current form, it has a Spanish influence from classic fencing. This originated in Spain during the 15th century.

Also, other influences were present, because of traders who traveled the Malay Archipelago. Some included Chinese, Indian, and Arab martial arts. In the area, there are still a few from the population who practice Kuntaw. This is a localized Chinese fighting technique.

What was the Pencak Silat of Indonesia?

Pencak  Silat is the martial arts of Indonesia that involves strikes. Yet sweeps, grappling, and throwing techniques are common too. The art involves using various weapons for a lethal effect. It does not focus on exhibitions like that of Melayu Silat.

The earliest evidence of teaching the Pencak Silat in a structured form was in the 6th century. It was first seen in Riau, then spread to West Sumatra in the Minangkabau capital.

This capital had a feudal government that was clan-based. Their Yam Tuan (king) had Hulubalang who acted as his bodyguards. In general, they were the military officials of the land.

Minang Warriors

They served the elite without pay, and the plunder was all divided among themselves. It was often based on military merit. Because of this, fighters aimed to outdo each other.

Often, they consisted of skilled horsemen that owned domestic horses. There were expert smiths who crafted arms for personal use. Sometimes, they created tools for export to Aceh, an Indonesian province.

The classic Minang society was originally based on the Matrilineal custom. With that, it was common for females to practice Pencak Silat. This martial arts became prevalent in Srivijaya. However, the empire saw defeat from the Tamil Cholas in the 13th century.

Today, the Tamil Stick art of fighting is still popular. It is the most common kind of Indian fighting system in Southeast Asia.

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