5 QUESTIONS: Teaching and Learning Through Silat

It’s been such an honor to have Guru Robert as a teacher, facilitating my silat journey.  His patience, humility and deep understanding have been as engaging as his skill and I figured it’d be a pleasure to get his take on just 5 Questions about his ideas on teaching his student journey.

Robert Hilliard of Kuno Silat talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper.

I’ve been around martial artists my entire life. I had two brothers that studied Okinawan karate. They where basically my first teachers. When they would see me and my friends imitating martial arts moves, they would came and make corrections. Occasionally they would let us spar with them. This would typically end with me and my friends on our backs, or a bit bruised up. The younger of my two brothers, who was acimg_20190203_054134_770tually a black belt, had a friend who was opening a Kung-Fu school in a local community center. My brother thought that would be good training for me, so he enrolled me and another of my siblings at the school. I trained there until I finished high school. After college, I ran into a friend that was studying Wing Chun. I loved the efficiency of that system and trained for over ten years. After that, I was introduced to silat by a neighborhood friend. I was instantly drawn to it’s effectiveness and completeness.

My experiences have been varied. I try hard not to look at them through the lens of good or bad, but as learning opportunities. I’ve had some teachers that were, what some would consider heavy handed, while others were nurturing and accommodated. Early on, some of my teachers pushed so hard that I got injured during training. When this happened, they would frankly state that it was not the training methods that caused the injuring, but my lack of conditioning, etc. Those were unpleasant experiences, but they taught me to listen to my body. It also taught me that good teachers don’t push their students beyond their physical limitations. I should note that those experiences happened while I was studying others systems. The vast majority of my experience with silat have been incredibly positive.

_MG_3232As an instructor, I try to create a warm and welcoming environment where people can come to class, work hard, and enjoying their progress. I teach my students that success in martial arts, or life for that matter, is not a straight line. It’s okay to struggle and fail as long as you are “failing forward.” As far as my student’s aspirations go, I want everyone to be ambassadors of the art and have confidence in their ability to execute what they’ve learned with confidence in class or in the street, if need be.

I manage my personal practice by making sure that I carve out time during the day to train all aspects of the art. I learned that it’s easier for me to train early in the morning (around 5:00 am). Of course, you can’t train everything in the system in one day, so I focus on certain aspects throughout the week. The jurus (forms), I train everyday. I also try to make sure that my general fitness is good. I’ve also learned to listen to my body, so I don’t train when I’m sick or injured. Instead, I give my body time to heal.

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To make things relevant in my daily life, I use the two basic principles of silat: adat and hormat. Adat is how you conduct yourself. Hormat is respect for all around you. As a instructor, I believe that I should be a mirror for my students outside of class as well as inside.


Robert Hilliard

Robert Hilliard is a student of Senior Guru Tim Anderson and a long time promoter of this Indo-Dutch system of silat as Head Instructor of Kuno NYC.  He additionally has an extensive background in Wing Chun.  Robert brings his classes alive by consistently imbuing them with a community feel while committing his students to a highly technical and detail oriented practice.

Semangat Baru is the name of our specific style of Pukulan Pentjak Silat. It translates to “New Spirit” and reflects our new way of viewing and teaching the ancient art of Silat. We operate free from any kind of “secrets” or “martial politics” that can become attached to coveted knowledge. The style itself focuses overwhelming an opponent with strikes, while finding leverage points to take their balance and ultimately subdue them.

Silat is a collective word used to describe martial arts originating from South East Asia, such as Malaysia and in our case Indonesia. Pukulan is a word that means striking. In this case denoting a silat system that places a heavy emphasis on hitting. Pentjak is generally considered to refer to the movements and performance of forms where “Silat” is an expression of those motions for use in combat. So “Pukulan Pentjak Silat” could be seen to mean something like “Striking form based Indonesian Martial Art”.

*Special “thank you” to Jelena Antanasijevic for the photos.

Engineering Change: Youth Create

By Njoli Brown

One of the most powerful things we can give to our youth is IMG_20171025_140618the realization that they have an actual capacity to effect change.  In my autumn projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx I decided to utilize concepts from civil engineering to develop 

a sense of the importance of design in the nature and timbre of a community.  But even more importantly, the objective was to mature the capacity to critically evaluate our environment to recognize ways in which it could be changed and/or supported.

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The process was collaborative and grounded in the work of establishing leadership skills, common values and collective empathy.   Through discussion, writing, movement and art we dove deep into the most difficult work of putting language to our ideas, debating and, at times, compromising.

We concluded the project by creating an interactive public gallery wherein participants could post questions as a pathway to research and activism.

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Grading Up: Ranks Without Ranking

By Njoli Brown

This present continuous practice is nothing other than just that, just committing oneself to continuous practice for no other reason than to practice continuously.”

Dogen in “Continuous Practice” –
(Translation by Francis Dojun Cook in the book “How To Raise an Ox”)

Most recently MSMB had the opportunity to promote students through the Pekiti Tirsia Kali ranking curriculum in association with PTK Elite.  It has been a pleasure to see their growth as students and to see them undertake and overcome increasing challenges both in training and in life.  Through this process, it had me truly reflecting on the value of rank testing and the importance of doing it well, justly and academically.

24313066_1815938585083611_5796395572561629866_oNow, truth be told, I do hold a lot of more seemingly abstruse elements to be equally as important in the progression of studentship — empathy, mindfulness, dedication, compassion, fortitude, humility, etc.  But here, I’d like to talk about the importance of the skills element of the pedagogy.

This year there was a decision among Elite Family instructors to really drill down and go layer by layer through the rank requirements, specific skills, language, historical knowledge, deemed essential both by our teachers and by us, collectively.  In making these determinations we were looking to do a better job of making sure that , not only were we developing skilled practitioners or doing our part to protect the legacy of our predecessors but that we were giving our students access to mater24302166_10155929671212520_5244908863842982036_oial which, perhaps, none of us have fully deciphered.  Material which could then truly be theirs to explore and investigate.  In the martial practice everyone brings their own personhood and thus unlocks elements only accessible to them, elements revealed through work and diligence.  These are all the spaces between wherein students often teach their instructors.

By utilizing a clear platform for ranking, it also calls on me to continually develop myself and work on my own weaknesses.  It requires me to regularly test myself and delve deeper.  In part because of my own curiosity but, as well, because It would be my greatest fault to leave a student short-changed because of my own incapacity to reconcile with challenges I face in my own study.

Ranking is a funny thing.  It is both objective and subjective simultaneously.  The more esoteric aspects of a teacher’s pedagogy, I’ve put aside for the sake of this exploration but they are easily as essential, particularly if your institution is also concerned with developing teachers, leaders, comrades.  People age, the body becomes ravaged, illness, injuries, we know them all.  But, in this world of martial craft, nothing sabotages the weight of a leader’s presence in the field more then demonstrative ignorance of his/her craft, and nothing empowers a student more than to have strong foundations from which to build investigative inquiry into self and the world.

Questions:

  • How can I judge someone else’s journey?
  • As an instructor, what is the honest status of my “student mind?” 
  • Am I clear about my expectations as an instructor and/or as a student?
  • Do I ask discerning questions for the sake of learning or for proving?
  • How do I evaluate the connection between my internal and external practice?

Earn Your Keep (the follow up…)

By Njoli Brown

Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest.  I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life.  But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep.  I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.

Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach.  Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts.  But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels.  How many of us have seen the result? Too many.

Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc.  Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches.  I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English.  I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.

So, what does that look like.  No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen.  But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort).  Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work.  Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics?  Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique.  Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit.  Local community center… free.  Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.

Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.