Thursday, 24 December 2009

Terminology - some explanations (I hope)

A few posts back I mentioned the terms pelampas and sumbrada in passing. In her comment Sue quite rightly asked me to clarify and explain the terms.

I'll be honest and say that I've kind of held off from doing this. Partly because they're a wee bit difficult to explain in text and partly because I don't want to appear as if I'm claiming some kind of authority or expertise in these areas. I was hoping to be able to link to some videos which a former instructor of mine had uploaded to YouTube, but sadly these appear to no longer be publicly accessible.

Basically the terms pelampas and sumbrada originate from the Indonesian art of pencak silat. They refer to flow drills which students use to drill certain core movements. I guess the closest example from say karate or tae kwon do would be one or three step sparring.

These are partner drills with each student taking turns to feed the attack. Pelampas is an empty hand drill and sumbrada is a weapons drill. I've trained sumbrada with both single stick (rattan cane, kali or escrima-style - closest Japanese equivalent probably tonfa) and knife.

- as I have been taught it - allows students to drill empty hand defences against a number of attacks, both straight and angled. Initially however we learnt it as a defence against a straight attack.

To perform the pelampas drill:

  1. Both partners face each other.
  2. Attacker feeds the defender a single straight right punch (jab).
  3. Defender brings their left arm across their body and uses the palm to intercept the attacker's punch just above the wrist.
  4. Defender then brings their right arm up underneath the left, using the back of the right hand to monitor the attacker's arm. The right hand is slighly higher up the attacker's arm.
  5. Defender then uses the palm of their left hand to check the attacker's arm, pressing slightly downward. This time the left hand is higher up again on the attacker's arm.
  6. Defender then becomes the attacker and feeds their partner a straight right punch.

This is referred to variously as a 3 or a 4 count drill, depending on whether you count the last punch.

The movements at 3. and 4. are the core of what I was taught as a defence against a straight attack. Ideally the defender wants to be working to the outside of your attacker, but the same moves will work on the inside - you're just more vulnerable to a follow up attack.

When you bring your left hand across to intercept the punch, I think of it not so much as block but more as a means of taking the punch "offline". It also serves to redirect the energy of the punch away from you and across the attacker's centreline. Also, by taking their arm across their own centreline you are effectively locking up their body structure, making it difficult for them to launch another attack and potentially setting them up for a sweep, throw or takedown.

The move with bringing the right hand up underneath the left is a difficult one to explain in words only! If you can imagine that you have brought your left arm across your body so that the blade of your hand is pointing towards your attacker, your right arm then comes up the way - palm up and hand open, as if you were holding something. This is known as holding the mirror.

In a self defence situation, this right hand can quickly be rotated and slid down the attacker's arm so that you can easily transition into a standing arm bar / back sweep (baset) combination. You can also transition into any number of strikes, throws etc.

Silat tends to work off a number of key principles and concepts which include: adhesion, shearing, gyroscopic rotation etc etc. I was taught that if you understood the principle and / or concept then it didn't matter which technique you applied in a given situation. This certainly allowed us a degree of flexibility in terms of finding techniques appropriate to our skills, preferences, gender, height, body type etc.

Moving on to sumbrada. This is also a flow drill but for weapons. I've seen it done most often with a stick, but you could use most impact or edged weapons. Again students work with a partner and takes turns to feed attacks. The attacks are based on the angles or cuts which that system uses. All of the weapons arts which I have come across so far use systems of either 12 or 24 angles. They all cover the same basic cuts although some might be numbered slightly differently.

Along with heaven and earth and other drills, sumbrada is basically intended to help the student defend various strikes then deliver their own attacks. I am particularly fond of the double stick heaven and earth 6 count drill - it flows really nicely. Sumbrada can also flow v nicely if both students know what they're doing - which is always the challenge!

As I said at the top, by no means do I claim any sort of authority or expertise on any of this material. I am only recounting it as I was taught it and currently understand it.


  1. Wow, very intricate!

    Merry Christmas, Avril!

  2. Hi Bob

    It's easier than it looks on 'paper', honest!

    Merry Xmas