The Malay Art of Self-Defence
Silat Seni Gayong

Review by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

Remember what Buzz Aldrin said when he stepped on the moon? No one does, because Armstrong went first [1]. In the same way, the West has rarely accorded its fair share of silat credit, often citing it as an Indonesian martial art, with anything of a Malaysian nature accorded the status of 'variants'.

It is true that although there exist styles such as Cimande, Cikalong, Lintau, Terlak and many others within the borders of Malaysia, but many nationalists are hesitant to call them Malaysian, because of their obvious Indonesian roots.

However, not all silat arts were imported wholesale from Indonesia. There do exist fundamentally and popularly accepted Malaysian Silat that have been flourishing for the past 50 years and more. One of these is the ever present, ever regal, Silat Seni Gayong.

Once looked upon curiously by Indonesian-styled martial artists in the West, Silat Seni Gayong soon became known for its brutal locks and throws, something many Malaysians were already acquainted with.

Several masters who visited or relocated to Western countries eventually became the vanguards of Silat Seni Gayong in that region. Names such as guru Sulaiman Shariff (USA), guru Yeop Ariffin Yeop Mahidin (UK) and guru Sheikh Shamsuddin S. M. Salim (USA) are known for their tireless efforts in promoting Silat Seni Gayong across borders.

Now, guru Shamsuddin has taken it one step further, by writing the first comprehensive book on Silat Seni Gayong for public consumption, to be published anywhere in the world.

Published by North Atlantic Books and available online at Barnes & Noble, the book titled THE MALAY ART OF SELF-DEFENCE: SILAT SENI GAYONG (GAYONG) contains a straightforward primer on silat and its history from a Malaysian perspective and that of Silat Seni Gayong itself.

Sourced from interviews and articles readily available in Bahasa Melayu and tied together with his own knowledge and experience in the art, guru Shamsuddin has created a powerful introduction to Malaysian Silat by way of Silat Seni Gayong.

GAYONG gives a brief explanation to clear away confusions regarding the many different organisations that purport to teach Silat Seni Gayong. He makes it clear to the reader, that there is no enmity between the organisations and all of them accept one unifying fact, that the late Datuk Meor Abdul Rahman Meor Hashim is the Mahaguru of Silat Seni Gayong.

Readers are taken through the various customs and rituals of Silat Seni Gayong, including the famed hot oil bath. Unfortunately, the author barely skims the issue of kebatinan (spirituality) in Silat Seni Gayong, pro-bably due to the level of credibility such topics attain in the West.

However, Malaysians reading GAYONG would be sorely disappointed by his decision because it remains one of Silat Seni Gayong's hallmarks. .

Due to the small size and both performers in the technique series wearing black, there's not much detail to be had if anyone wanted to try them out. Be reminded though, there IS an indemnity disclaimer at the beginning of the book, something the author has probably become recently acquainted with, since in Malaysia I have yet to find a book on Malaysian Silat with such a creature.

 Probably the most valuable addition to the book is a section of questions and answers where the author has collected 34 of the most valid and inane questions ever to be asked by a foreigner (most of them his own students) about Silat and Melayu culture, which he answers satisfactorily.

A section of historical and current Silat Seni Gayong photographs illustrate just how far this Malaysian Silat style has come since it was first taught publicly at Pulau Sudong in 1942.

Guru Shamsuddin is obviously familiar with the difficulties non-natives who study silat have with the Melayu language and the terms used in the course of teaching the art. He includes a glossary of the terms and a basic conversational helper which ensures that anyone can at least ask if he's attractive to someone else (Is it hot?-Panas?).

All in all, GAYONG is an invaluable resource to have for anyone keen on finding out just what is Malaysian Silat?

I recommend it to those who are currently, intend to or are just curious about studying Silat Melayu. Future books on Malaysian Silat will discover that this one is truly a tough act to follow.


Guru Shamsuddin can be contacted at or through the official United States Gayong Federation website

[1] Unabashed dialogue lifting from the ‘First Flight’ (2nd season) episode of STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE.

If you'd like to learn a little more about our Guest Editor and Silat expert Mohd Nadzrin Wahab, check out his CV here. You can also reach him via email.