Hapkido and Silat, Two Soft Styles?

A Silat tournament in Singapore A Silat tournament in Singapore
A Silat tournament in Singapore

A Silat tournament in Singapore

The core of my martial arts practice and teaching is Hapkido, but I also practice Silat daily. Silat is the native martial art of the Malay people, found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Singapore.

Silat is a true battle art, with no wasted movement, only highly efficient and direct attacks. It is characterized by the use of elbow and knee strikes, twisting the head, whiplash techniques, hacksaw-like forearm strikes, trapping the feet, sweeps and reaps, devastating takedowns, joint breaks, and attacks that use rapid level changes from low to high, or high to low.

It’s a model of brutal efficiency, perfect for the dangerous urban streets of today.

I’m really loving my practice of Silat lately. I’ve been watching videos obsessively, reviewing my old notes and seeing them in a new light, and working out some of the techniques with my Jujitsu & Kenpo instructors, as there is no local Silat instructor. I’ve contacted a teacher who is four hours away and we’ve discussed the possibility of me driving up once a month for an intensive session, and I may end up doing that.

When I first studied Kali (a cousin to Silat) back in 2004 or so it was a mystery to me and I found the movements strange and difficult to grasp. When I started Silat in Panama, some of it felt awkward while other elements were very similar to Hapkido. With time and practice, the art has opened up to me and it has become like my practice of Hapkido, where I can watch a video and almost instantly understand what they are doing and see ways to use it. It’s a nice feeling. I think about the movements all the time and practice them while watching TV, at the park with my daughter, and even in the car when I’m stopped at a light. I’m really in love with it.

That’s not to say that I think any less of Hapkido. Hapkido is my core art and it’s far more comprehensive than Silat. Hapkido is more precise and scientific with its joint locks and simply takes a different approach. Both arts have combat applications, but Hapkido offers more alternatives for law enforcement or compassionate self-defense. But more and more I see how well the two arts merge. For example, the basic one-two block that we do in our Silat drills opens up many possibilities for Hapkido-style locks, such as the inside-lift shoulder lock that my group worked on recently. Though a lot of the movements of the two arts look different on the surface, in reality they are very close. The puter kapala is a rotary throw. The Silat arm destruction using the elbow is just a more violent arm bar. The hand-to-the-ear block that we use in Silat is also used in Hapkido’s one-handed defense.

They are both soft and circular arts. It may seem strange to say that of Silat but it’s true. Silat is a close-range, violently oriented, “soft” art, and blends with Hapkido like vanilla with cocoa.

I continue to teach Hapkido and Silat classes twice a week in Fresno. New students are welcome at any time. See the Schedule and Location page for class times.


  1. Your research and information is very helpful and well written. I especially like the specific comparisons between Hapkido and Silat, because I’ve been researching these styles as well as other forms of Kung Fu and it is difficult to differentiate. My intentions are to become proficient at self-defense, agility, and effective deflection; however, I’m not interested in the standard karate-style rehearsed movements that I usually find locally. That is why your blog caught my eye. I would love more information about your program and find out your opinion on where you think I should begin my training in martial arts.

    • Hannah, what city are you in? I would recommend one of the following styles for you: Hapkido, Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, Silat, Judo, or boxing.


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