Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review of Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia by Donn F. Draeger

In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book by the publisher for review purposes

Title: Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia
Written by : Donn F. Draeger
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing

Format: pdf (not currently published)
Page Count: 256
Cover Price: ??

    I've recently started learning a new martial art.  I started taking lessons in a form of Pencak Silat after listening to a interview with Author Steve Perry on Karate CafĂ©.  Because Silat comes from Indonesia, and I have almost no knowledge of Indonesian culture, language, or the martial arts, I asked my instructor if there were any books to help me with more academic parts of learning a new martial art.  His immediate answer was Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia.  So as quickly as I could, I got a copy of this book.  The book is out of print so I took the unusual path of getting a digital version of the book.  In fact this is the first book I've read cover to cover (can we say that with pdf's?) in digital format.

EDIT: This book is available in digital format (i.e. Kindle) through Amazon


    In order to get an idea of how Indonesian martial arts developed, you have to have at least a basic understanding of the history of the Indonesian archipelago.  Mr. Draeger uses the first chapter to talk about the different cultural conquerors who influenced what became Indonesian culture.  He specifically describes how their fighting arts influenced what became the Indonesian fighting arts.  The author includes both of the major systems of Indonesia which are the more native Pencak Silat and the more Chinese influenced Kuntao. 
    Part of the problem with talking about Indonesian martial arts is that each little village has their own particular take on the martial arts, as well as some specialized weapons used only by practitioners of that particular region.  Because of that, he breaks down the martial arts geographically and takes you on a tour through the islands martial arts that way, taking extra long stops in Java and Bali.  Each cultural area has a section of the book that describes the trends of their arts, how they evolved, and what weapons they tend to use.  Mr. Draeger spent time learning and documenting these arts, so there are lots of interesting pictures demonstrating the ideas and stances presented, and because some of the blades are very unusual, he has many drawings showing the shapes of blades used by the different branches of the silat martial arts.


    This book is a great beginning for someone interested in Indonesian martial arts.  It's basically the standard.  The author does a thorough explanation of the various arts, and why they are different, as well as why they are the same.  Mr. Draeger is great at showing the arts from an overall cultural and historical perspective, which is why he's one of my personal heroes.  He really started the idea of treating martial arts like an academic subject in an overall context of a society.  He was a large proponent of the hopological approach to studying martial arts.


    Being that there is a very academic take on the subject, the way it is written is more stuffy tone than I would prefer.  But being that it is the starting point of most Indonesian martial arts research, having it feel like a textbook isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    Also, the book is a little dated, having been originally published in 1972.  The spellings of the terms have changed a little.  For example, the modern word "Cimande," where the "c" is pronounced more like a "ch" is spelled Tjimande.  It took me a minute to realize that they were the same thing. 
    My biggest complaint is that this book isn't being published right now.  Sure, you can still find older used copies on eBay, or, or even sellers on Amazon, but this is a piece of martial arts history, as are most writings by Draeger, that should be preserved.


    If you have an interest in Indonesian martial arts or, as I did, Pencak Silat in particular, there is no better place to start than this book.  Even if you just want to expand your martial arts horizon and look at martial arts from a completely different perspective, this is a great place to start.  It is a little dry, but hey, it's not an adventure novel.  It fulfills its role brilliantly as an introductory text to a regional martial arts that most people only know through name alone, and sometimes, not even that.  All that being said, I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 ninja stars.  It is a little dated, and dry, but it takes an esoteric martial arts and deals with it on its own academic merits.

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