30 April 2012

The kujang

So often we're reminded of how we've merely skimmed the surface of Indonesian culture.

Saturday's Jakarta Globe featured a stunning photo essay on the Sundanese blade known as a kujang. All expats in Indonesia are familiar with the Javanese kris (or keris), but this West Java variant was unfamiliar to Michael and me. Unfortunately, I can't access the actual newspaper photos, but I can transcribe the caption:

Weapon of the Land

The kujang is an ornate blade that was traditionally carried by the Sundanese people of West Java in battle, but it was also used for less bloody causes such as gardening and farming — which remains its main function today.

It takes about five to six months to make a kujang, which comes in three different shapes and sizes. Before one can even start forging the weapon, a ritual must be held on the night of a full moon. The steel that is needed to make the blades is imported from Japan and Germany and costs between Rp 3.5 million and Rp 7 million ($380 and $765) per kilogram. 

Here are some photos taken from Google Images, plus a detailed article from a martial arts site I came across via one of the images that appeared. "Magick in the blade": easy to believe when gazing at this beautifully wrought metal.

Kujang: The Blade of Sunda (Part 1)

Hello again everyone.
Well I've been threatening you all with it for a long while, but it’s finally here, a full two perhaps three articles on my favourite weapon the Kujang. I would firstly like to dedicate this article to my first Kujang students Max and Matt (This ones for you guys); and to their Main teacher a highly skilled, wise generous man and a good friend. You know who you are!

My aim in this series is to give an informative and illustrative introduction to the kujang sometimes called Kudi (In Javanese) I wont stray into the academic "mine field" which is related to the history and the uses (or not) of the kujang there’s just to many people, with there own opinions, agendas etc to satisfy. I will include at the footer of this article, for those that want to "Go there" a list of links to some great articles relating more to the history and origins of the kujang. I’m not a scholar of classical Indonesian history and will leave that debate to fester on its own it’s done just fine before I was around and will no doubt continue long after I’m gone.

I want to focus on the uses of the kujang in our system of Pukulan Cimande, my expression of that system in Pencak Silat Seni-Sunda, its relevance as explained to me through that lineage, to the Sundanese people, and to its animal links etc. This is a beautiful ancient weapon and very overlooked as I will hope to show you. Article two will look at some drills and buah taken from our "Cutting drills" and Juru-juru.

 A Story :
Here is one old legend of the kujang It starts with King Prabu Siliwangi of  Pajajaran kingdom in the 12th century (Western calendar) and his two sons. The older son was Prince Radan Komondoko. The Younger son's name has been lost in history . The story goes that the elder son was sent into the Jungle to train with a master of ilmu(magick) Pencak Silat and he carried the blade that his father . King Silawngi had created to roughly resemble the shape of the island of Java, or Djawa Dwipa as it was formerly known at that time. Some also belive that the shape resembled the root and bulb of a plant and is a reminder to the farmer orgins of the Sunda people. Some say the name was Prabu Kudo Lalean of the King who invented this shape but I have not heard this from any of the old Masters who always told me the former name. Now back to the story . The elder son met the master in the jungle and this man had young daughter who over time became the adopted sister of Radan Komondoko. Decades later the younger son ventured into the same area and came across the now older daughter of Radan Komondoko's teacher. He became interested in her and was flirting with her when along came his older brother . He did not recognize his younger brother and believed he was disrespectful to his adopted sister so he challenged his own brother to a fight. The younger Brother had also been studying his Pencak Silat and Ilmu very diligently and the fight as legend tells it went on for days . When neither could win they decided to use weapons and each pulled there fathers Kujang . At once they realized they were brothers as these were at that time the only two kujangs in existence given to them by there father,  They were happy to see each other and joined forces with there knowledge together of Pencak Silat Kujang fighting and Ilmu. From that point on their methods became the inheritance of kujang in Some Pencak Silat schools.

This is a quaint story there are many involving the Kujang and its place in Sundanese collective consciousness, a story of lost brothers re-uniting to mirror the plans of any ruler to re-unite various tribes into a strong and unified nation. The kujang are often fashioned with the body of a tiger and or in scabbards resembling the tiger. I was told that the tiger was a symbol of the ancient Sundanese peoples to whom it had totemic significance, although is is probably no longer remembered this is the reason, which is now done this way through tradition , a tradition who’s origin as been forgotten or eroded by Islamification at a later date.

While I made mention that I wouldnt be drawn into history and exact origns of the kujang as there are none at least definitive as yet We know that the kujang originated probably from an agricultual tool used for cutting grass and for tiling the soil a reminder to the Sundapeoples of their agricultural origns and this may give relevance to the notion that the blade originaly was modlled on the root or bulb of a plant. Some stories claim that the blade was forged after a vision of the island of Java and the stories continue.
There are a myrid of different kujang designs, but today they basicly come down to two main types with two distinct historical roots. The original kujangs or Proto-Kujang are found on stone relifs of great antiquity circa 4th-7th centurys AD (Western calenda)  the original "True" kujang where belived to be of Hindu or even Budhist origins, these are sometimes called Pusaka kujang due to their great age, these are distinqued my sutlties in the shapes but mostly by the number of holes found in and around the blade the oldest kujang have three holes which is said to relate to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Latewr Islamic kings Imans etc wanting to spread Islam changed the blades shape made wider to resemble the Abrabic letter "Syin" and they changed the number of holes (sometimes filled with gold) from the Hindu trinity to five to represent , some belive the 5 pillars of Islam. In our system the number five equates to the four animal mannerisms and the fifth being "Raja Naga" the blend of the other four animals.

The Kujang I studied as come to me through my Sut Guru, Guru Besar Liam McDonald. Who studied directly under Pendekar Sanders, Pendekar Sanders in turn learnt his kujang directly from the late Pendekar "Eddie" Jafri and from Pendekar Mama Sukarma. In the system of Pukulan Cimande Combat (Guru Besar Liam McDonalds expression) of Pendekar Sanders style there are two main areas of kujang study. One is the 10 Kujang Jurus, given to Pendekar Sanders from Pendekar Jafri and secondly the Latihan Permangkasan "Cutting excersises / drills." I practiced the  the former for several years and now whilst I do teach beginners the kujang Jurus which contain some wonderful concepts and cleaver techniques I personally prefere the latihan permangkasan. The aim here as with all things is to learn and drill the kujang movements from the juru and then forget the framework and keep the concepts, my rational for prefering the latihan permangkasan is that they have a two man element to them so your working on things like ranging to hit a moving target and working with anothers energy etc and because they are less static, but its horses for courses learn the rules and forget the tools.
Talisman or Tool:
One major debate which as scholars and persilats at each others throats is the view that the kujang is'nt or never was used as a weapon! there is a very hard core group that claim that kujangs are only ever meant to be used in ritual. Its true that there is a powerful cultural link with the Sunda peoples and the kujang and yes it was used in rituals of fertility and as a tool to communicate with our ancestors, there are rituals for cleaning and feeding the kujang and yes it was used in talismanic manner very similar to the Javanese Keris; but it is in my mind and many other much high skilled persilats a weapon.
Thye Sunda where and still are at heart a practical and pragmatic peoples skilled warriors with strong agricultural roots streaching back for thosands of years. So would these people ONLY use items for ritual or would they "multi task" and use a sharp iron or bronze multi blades sharp tool as a weapon too? OF COURSE THEY WOULD AND DID AND DO STILL!

There is an element in Indonesia today that over emphasises the spiritual practices of Pencak Silat and its trappings telling us that kujang and Keris where just for status and ritual. Ok Im a "dumb white guy" trained by other white guys but they where taught by native Indonesians of imense skill many where native Sunda so did they have it wrong too? was Pendekar Jafri, Pendekar Mama Sukarma and even the greatest persilat of the last few decades Pendekar Herman Suwanda all wrong? all lying? "ummmm" proably not. Do people over press the spiiritual aspects of an art because they no longer know how to use the object anymore OH YES.

And yes the kujang is a mystical object In the Kujang there are PusakaTayuhan comprising what is called "isi" or "Tua" or Magick in the blade.  The real Pusaka can take months or even years to create. It is normally constructed with layered metals called Pamor and is filled with "tua" or "isi (magickal power) by the maker using various methods of fasting and mantra repeated over the blade while it is being made. From the occult side, like the keris, another weapon used by the indo-malayan natives, the kujang was often consecrated with magickal power and familiar spirits attached for specific purposes, such as the protection against psychic attack. Because of the inherent power of the kujang in conjunction with the presence of its spirit guardians, the well-informed natives revere them as sacred objects. But they are also weapons! Old pre Islamic relifs depicted the use of Kerises and proto-Kujangs in combat. Also some of the folktales and historical events are clear that both weapons are used as weapons. Saying Keris and Kujang were just Talisman is the same as saying that wearing Katanas and Wakizashis are just symbols of the samurai, both weapons are not weapons but status badges.

Nowadays, the kujang is often decorated in homes as it is believed to bring about luck, protection, honor, etc. They are displayed in pairs on walls with the inner edge facing each other. There is a taboo, however--no one is to be photographed standing in-between them as this would somehow cause the death of that person within a year. Why this occurs is not known for certain, we might shrug it off as superstition, coincidence or synchronicity but behind every phenomenon cosmic laws and intelligences are at work; we just need to discover what those laws are and the mind-set of those metaphysical intelligences directing those laws to know the reason for the anomaly.

So hope you enjoyed the article and next part will cover more practical uses and some clips of kujang buah.
Till then train hard, play safe ;)

29 April 2012

Lookin' good

Many thanks to Hans-Jörg for this photo of Mom and Dad, 87 and 91. May Cheri, Geretha, and I share some of those "well-preserved" genes.

28 April 2012


We don't usually follow up on any of the expensive extravaganzas advertised by the Ritz-Carlton, but when a shiny card appeared inviting us to a five-course wine pairing with food and drink from the Margaret River areaWestern Australia, we decided "what the hell — why not?" was the right response.

Glad we did. While our blowout meal in Barcelona still ranks as the best ever, the cheerful, informal Aussie atmosphere, highly quaffable wine, and amazingly good food for a banquet made this a night to remember. For various reasons we felt we needed a treat and this was exactly that.

Photos from my Lumix are a bit out of focus — turned out a few settings were mysteriously altered on the camera; how did I, who always leave it on "intelligent auto" for the unintelligent, manage this? — but you can still get a sense of atmosphere and what temptations showed up on our plates. Most attendees were part of a group, but because we were on our own, we had table 10 to ourselves — with friendly Australians (and one Philadelphian with a wife from Down Under) stopping by periodically for a chat.
 Celebrity chefs Tony Howell and Dennis Mifsud, flown in from their restaurants in Margaret River to preside over the kitchen.
 The Ritz-Carlton's resident chef, also from Australia, and Karim Tayach, the hotel's German-Tunisian general manager. Just to keep us all humble, I'll note that the latter speaks "Arabic, French, English, Italian, German, and Tagalog" (from the Indonesian Tatler article linked above — he's not the sort of person who would ever mention this himself).
The menu. Although you can get larger images by clicking on photos, I'll still type the relevant description above each dish. Don't strain your eyes here.

"Yabby Tortellini, Silky Creamed Corn Puree, Burnt Truffle Butter." Served with 2011 Ashbrook Estate Semillon.
"Seared Grouper, Ginger Compressed Waltermelon, Green Papaya, Nahn Jim [Thai dipping sauce], Wonton Wafer." Served with 2010 Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.
 "Crispy Boned Braised Duck, Master Stock Consommé, Asian Mushrooms, Cabbage." This was our favorite course. Served with 2008 Edwards Chardonnay.
"Sous Vide Red Wine Poached Beef, Sarladaise Potatoes, Horseradish Cream, Roasted Beef Reduction." Served with 2010 Moss Wood Amy's, a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot.
 "Baked Chocolate Tart, Beetroot Variation, Foam, Glaze, Confit." I'm not convinced that beetroot was the ideal accompanient for these delicous ganache-like chocolate cubes, but it was certainly exotic. Served with 2008 Voyager Estate Shiraz. Michael's personal opinion (I was defeated by the quantity of wine well before the fifth course) was that this Shiraz didn't really go with chocolate.
 "Macadamia Fig Pan Forte," coated in chocolate, served with coffee.
 My date.
The staff who made all this possible.
The distinguished gentleman talking here to Michael is Western Australia's trade representative in Jakarta. He has promised to send MW a bottle of chilled wine if he texts him from the sandy wastes of his June desert expedition. Little does he know that Michael probably will contact him, not that he actually expects any wine to arrive in the middle of nowhere. 

Below is the article published in the Jakarta Globe in anticipation of this week's Ritz-Carlton/Margaret River events.

Australia’s Best Wining And Dining, in Jakarta
Sylviana Hamdani | April 24, 2012

Margaret River is a destination blessed with scenic mountains, good waves, warmhearted people and fertile land. Only a few hours from Perth, the capital of Western Australia, the lush green valley boasts some of the nation’s best produce, from black truffles and olive oil to fine wines.

In celebration of these exquisite offerings, the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place will present some of Margaret River’s best dishes and wines in an event that begins today and runs through Saturday.

“The region has a cold climate that gives you wines that take a much longer time to mature,

and because of that, you get wines that are much finer than the ones produced in a hot climate,” said Patrick Weder, the hotel’s executive assistant manager of food and beverages.

Nearly 60 top wineries in the Margaret River area produce premium Australian sauvignon blanc, semillon, cabernet and merlot. The region is also home to Australia’s best Angus and Wagyu beef.

“We want our guests to experience the best that Margaret River has to offer right here in Jakarta,” Weder said. Celebrity chefs Dennis Mifsud and Tony Howell, both from Margaret River, will be on hand to share their culinary expertise.

Mifsud is the chef and owner of the prominent Wino’s Margaret River, while Howell is the resident executive chef of Cape Lodge, a multi award-winning gourmet restaurant. He was also a finalist of MasterChef Australia last year.

On Wednesday, the duo will share some of their secret recipes in a Masterchef Class at the hotel’s banquet kitchen from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Indonesian food enthusiast and writer Petty Elliott, who has a column in the Jakarta Globe, will be part of the event.

“It’s going to be a casual and intimate event,” Weder said. “Guests are welcome to mingle with the chefs and enjoy the lunch after the class.”

On Thursday evening, Mifsud and Howell will prepare a five-course gala dinner for the guests. The meal will include yabby, a type of crayfish, served over tortellini pasta with a soft, creamy, corn sauce, as well as steak poached in red wine and garnished with sweet potato paste, sour cream and a king oyster mushroom.

A “special dessert” will also be presented, “but I think I’ll keep it a secret for the evening,” Mifsud said.

Each dish will be paired with premium wines from Margaret River.

“We’ll start with the sauvignons and chardonnays and then move on to the cabernets and shiraz of the region,” Mifsud said.

On Friday, the hotel will also host an open-air wine market from 5 to 10 p.m. Guests can sample the offerings and make direct orders from suppliers at special prices.

“Top winery owners and winemakers from Margaret River will be present during the wine market, so the guests can learn about the wines that they produce, how they produce them and what makes them special,” Weder said.

The wine market will offer about 35 top Australian wines, and customers can request home deliveries for special orders.

A second wine tasting on Saturday will also feature owners and winemakers from Margaret River. The formal event will offer another chance to sample some of the world’s finest ingredients, with a range of miniature meat and fish dishes and chili chocolate truffles to go with the wine.