Thursday, June 20, 2024

Local Dojo Travels to Asia, Trains and Tests in Silat Martial Art

Part of the Pencak Silat test. (Williamsburg Dojo)

WILLIAMSBURG — Williamsburg Dojo Guru Chris Robinson has just returned with a group of his students from Southeast Asia where they were tested in the art of Pencak silat.

Robinson was teaching at a seminar in Miami when he was first exposed to the art.

“In the world of martial arts, there are a lot of common styles … karate, Judo, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, things like that. About 15 years ago, I stumbled across martial arts from Indonesia. At the time, I had about 15 black belts in different styles and I was completely blown away by this art I was seeing. I said, ‘this is so much better than anything I’ve ever done,’ so I took off my black belt and handed it to this guy and said ‘whatever you just did, I need you to teach me that’,” Robinson recalled.

Pencak silat is a style of martial arts that is practiced in the Indonesia area of southeast Asia. The style is a full-body fighting form that encompasses strikes, grappling, throwing, and weaponry. In Pencak silat, the entire body is used and it is primarily seen as a street fighting art form.

In addition to the fighting aspect, there is also a lot of tradition that goes into the art, and Indonesian dance, as well.

As the group prepared for the test in Silat, it was greeted with gale-force winds, pouring rain, and chilly temperatures. The test took just over five hours to complete and had the students running through rice patties, up and down mountainsides, knee-deep in water, and more.

“When we got there, a monsoon just let loose. I thought that maybe they would delay our test. We were in the higher elevations of Bandung, it was cold, and pouring rain for the five-hour test. They had us hike up the mountain to the testing area, the wind was blowing us sideways, but we weren’t allowed to quit. After all of that, they had us fight. We were put in groups on the side of this mountain, it was slippery, it was raining terrible, and we had to fight,” Richardson said.

Learning from the Indonesians about Pencak silat. (Williamsburg Dojo)

After the five-hour test, every member of the team had passed. It was then that the Indonesians and Americans broke bread and shared a celebratory meal.

When Robinson first began the trips, it was originally about learning from the source.

“For me, I wanted to really understand my art because it’s very important for me, so I decided to go to the source. Silat has been practiced in Southeast Asia for about a thousand years. I wanted to go train with the masters, I didn’t want to learn from YouTube. I decided to make it a pilgrimage for myself at first and then once I made the contacts and met the people, I wanted to go back and bring my students so they could also understand their art,” Robinson said.

While in the area, the group was also able to take in the sights of Southeast Asia, visiting several tourist attractions and sights. Richardson noted the trip as a “National Geographic” experience.

He also sees how the trip affects people on the inside.

“This trip changes lives. I have so many professionals that change the way they approach their work environment, they change the way they have their families, they realize they don’t need to have the latest iPhone or Tesla. They become more generous when they see the generosity of the Indonesians. They come back and I’ve seen people really change. For each person on this trip, it’s something different that clicks with them. It really humbles everyone though, across the board,” Robinson said.

Williamsburg Dojo is the largest school in the U.S. that teaches silat. Robinson and his team are working toward pushing the sport into the next Olympic cycle, and the dojo often competes at the World Championships.

For more information on Williamsburg Dojo or to sign up for a Pencak silat class, visit

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