Silat is a broad term that refers to a form of martial arts commonly practised in Southeast Asia. The origins of silat are unclear, and oral folklores regarding the origins and spread of silat differ from region to region.

Although silat consists of certain sets of key footwork, foot stances and movements, there are varying schools of thought and differing practices across Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago.

The martial art form is said to incorporate martial arts and weapon forms from both India and China. The assimilative nature of the martial art form arose because of the Southeast Asia’s unique position as a region of confluence of traditions and cultures from neighbouring regions.

Geographic Location

Silat is practised in countries in Southeast Asia. The martial art form is referred to as silat melayu in the Riau Islands, and as “pencak silat in Indonesia.

Communities Involved

Practitioners of silat are usually called "persilat”, and the martial arts has been considered to have played a role in the evolution of the social and cultural identity of Malay community in Singapore.

Many of the early members of Malay martial arts groups migrated to Singapore from various parts of Southeast Asia such as Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, the Riau-Lingga islands and the Malay Peninsula in the 19th to 20th centuries. They settled down in Singapore and established the earliest martial arts schools.

The Singapore Silat Federation in Singapore, as well as various silat clubs and associations, actively conducts education and promotion programmes to raise awareness on silat.

Associated Social and Cultural Practices

Silat may be translated as “fighting by techniques of self-defence” involving mental spirit and includes components that cross-cuts across the disciplines of art and culture, self defense and sport.

In Indonesia, “pencak silat” can be accompanied by musical instruments such as kendang (two-headed small barrel drum), gong and tarompet (double-reed aerophone). Sometimes, the musicians will animate the movements of silat with aptly-placed intervals and punctuated slaps. The origins on how music was incorporated into silat are uncertain.

Viability and Future Outlook

Increasingly, silat has been practised as a competitive sport in national, regional and international competitions. In Singapore, it is practised frequently as a sport and there are schools and federations that continue to actively promote this martial art form.


Reference No.: ICH-014

Date of Inclusion: April 2018; Updated March 2019


Mason, Paul H. and Paetzold, Uwe U. The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

Mathews, Mathew. The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic: Many Cultures, One People. Singapore: World Scientific, 2017

Mohamed Effendy, Silat Seni Gayong PASAK Singapura: a historical legacy.

Singapore: Silat Seni Gayong Perkumpolan Anak-Anak Sandiwara Angkata Kesenian (PASAK), 2017.

Osman, Mohamed Shamir Mohamed. “Silat: Host Singapore targets six golds at the World Pencak Silat Championship” The Straits Times, 12 December 2018.

Singapore Silat Foundation (2015) “About Us”,, Accessed 28 December 2017.

Shamsuddin, Sheikh. The Malay Art of Self-Defense: Silat Seni Gayong. North Atlantic Books, 2005.

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