Below is an interview with Guru Besar Marce De Thouars, son of the legendary Pendekar (Grandmaster) Paul De Thouars, head of the De Thouars Serak and Bukti Negara systems of Indonesian Pentjak Silat. Guru Marce is the only one of the senior master instructors under Pendekar Paul to teach both systems, Serak and Bukti Negara, as an integrated whole.
The interview was conducted by Manuel F. Nuñez — a student of the martial art and of esotericism — the interview looks at the nature, development, and magical or occult forces of the art — the latter being rarely mentioned in public.
Manuel F. Nuñez: Guru Marce, you are your father’s inheritor of both the family art of Pentjak Silat Serak and the shorter sub-system that was created by your father (Pendekar Paul De Thouars), Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara. There are a few lineages of Silat Serak (or Sera as it was originally spelled) that hail from Java, Indonesia. Although this has been covered in other publications, for the readers of Phalanx, what is your family’s lineage of Pentjak Silat Serak? From where and from whom is it derived?
Guru Marce: The founders were from Surabaya, I believe, in Indonesia. It came from Mas Djut and Bapak Sera, for our system, Pentjak Silat Serak. There were a few teachers in between Bapak Sera and Mas Djut and it went to John DeVries and Ventje DeVries (the uncles of Pendekar Paul). There were a few teachers between Bapak Sera and Mas Djut but it was long before my time.
M.F.N. There were some publications that hinted or outright stated that “Bapak Sera” is a code name for the founder. There are also legendary histories that tell of him being of the Badui tribe.
G.M.: My lineage begins with the DeVries and my father. I don’t know if it is a code name or not and people have written their own legends but all I can tell you is what my father told me. Yes, he was from the Badui tribe. That is correct. There are the White Badui and the Blue Badui. I think the Blue Badui integrate with the outside society. One of the two groups does not socialize with anyone. Bapak Sera came from the inner Badui who did not socialize (with outsiders) but through other students, some of whom were of the outer tribe, the system eventually went to Mas Djut, who was of the outer Badui tribe that socialized with outsiders.
M.F.N.: How would you describe Pentjak Silat Serak or Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara?
G.M.: Typically we are a different system – both Bukti Negara and Serak – we don’t have a lot of wide movements. We’re not flashy but extremely effective and lethal.
The langkahs (foot stepping exercises) are the concrete of the system; the djurus (forms) are the framework of the system and the sambuts (two person drills) put it all together to work a complete synthesis.
M.F.N.: About how long, roughly, would it take the average dedicated student to finish the curriculum for each (Serak, Bukti Negara) if they are taught separately?
G.M.: Bukti Negara would take about 3 years to learn the curriculum but a lifetime to fully understand its depth. Serak takes about 15 years to learn the curriculum but, again, it takes a lifetime to understand its depth. You never finish.
M.F.N.: You teach the systems in an integrated way. Would you say that this speeds up the training while adding more depth to it?
G.M.: Yes. I have evolved it to finish the integrated curriculum of both systems as one integrative system in five years.
M.F.N.: How old were you when you started training with your father, Pendekar Paul De Thouars?
G.M.: Wow, I was probably in fourth or fifth grade; the age of my daughter now, about 9 or 10 years old.
M.F.N.: So at this point you’ve been training for at least 38 years. What was the curriculum back then? Did it evolve over the years and did you learn Bukti Negara together with Serak?
G.M.: No, Bukti Negara was not created by my father until 1980 and we started long before that with Serak.
M.F.N.: So you started with Serak. How did the training in Bukti Negara come about and integrate into what you had been learning?
G.M.: I was already past the first half of the djurus when Bukti Negara was developed. My father began to integrate it into my Serak because I was already so far along in Serak. One main reason my father created Bukti Negara was because Serak was too difficult for most people to understand. Bukti Negara highlighted the essential principles and yet it was much easier but at the same time retained the most lethal and effective aspects within it.
Now, when I work the two together, I see how they are worked best as one cohesive system and complement each other. The shorter sub-system, Bukti Negara, has the roots of Indonesia but the heart of the Western World. It is an American-made system, created in the US for the Western World. It was not created in Indonesia.
M.F.N.: Was your training blended in the sense that you also learned from your uncles?
G.M.: No. I have trained with my Uncle (Guru) Maurice (who died this past year on May 20th) and other family members but my essential training was with my father. I dabbled with each of my uncles later, after I had finished the curriculum under my father. I lived in Europe and trained with Uncle Maurice, for example, but it was much later and I don’t claim to carry that other lineage (of Guru Maurice).
M.F.N.: What did you learn from your Uncle, Guru Maurice? I know his djurus and his langkahs. So they are different.
G.M.: A little, yes. For example, they (Guru Maurice’s students) go by langkah 1, langkah 2, langkah 3, langkah 4, langkah 5. I don’t go by those (names). We don’t list them like that. I go by my father’s way, which would be the tiga (triangle), sliwa (square), etc. That’s how my langkahs go.
M.F.N.: What, for you, was the hardest part of learning both Serak and Bukti Negara?
G.M.: The hardest part about learning the art was trying to understand it in training with my father. He was not an easy teacher to learn from.
M.F.N.: You also worked closely with Guro Dan Inosanto for some time so you have experienced cross – training in other systems, although your focus has always been in the family arts. Tell us a little bit about those years and your experiences, please.
G.M.: I worked at the Inosanto Academy so I was exposed to a lot of other martial arts, although my father would not let us train in other systems because it was considered a disrespect to my father. I was there during the time that Yori (Nakamura) was teaching shootwrestling. I remember Gary Hartsell, Ted LucayLucay and many others that were there…let’s see…Benny the Jet Urquidez, Wally Jay, Francis Fong…Bud Thompson, the people from IMB Academy…Eddie Jaffri, Herman Suwanda…and many others besides them.
M.F.N.: Beside yourself, it is generally acknowledged that the three senior students left by your father were your cousin, Guru Besar Danny Huybrechts, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck and Maha Guru Cliff Stewart. When we see each of them move, we see great similarities in their conceptual attacks, defenses, etc. yet their applications of those concepts are different from teacher to teacher. Could you comment on these differences, please?
G.M.: The truth is that everyone takes the art with his or her own understanding; what they understand and how they understand the art. There are similarities because they all come from the same system. But Guru Cliff does pressure points. Stevan Plinck does things differently. Danny does things his way – with a lot of throws. But they all teach the core principles from the same, original curriculum.
M.F.N.: What would you say would be your own peculiarities to your own approach to Bukti Negara and Serak?
G.M.: I use the langkahs differently than the others. I have my own way of doing close quarter approaches. Once I’m in, I pretty much like to go all over the place…counter for counter. I have tried to break it down in such a way that my students don’t have to take as long to learn the curriculum. Because my father had a very thick accent, he was sometimes difficult to understand and it took longer to
learn these things. I also integrate the systems (Bukti Negara and Serak) into one, so the synthesis helps.
M.F.N.: Despite the fact that acknowledged first generation students (who are all senior instructors of both systems) of your father, like Maha Guru Stevan Plinck, Maha Guru Cliff Stewart, Guru Louis Campos and others all know you, respect you, acknowledge you as a true senior instructor of Serak and Bukti Negara, there have been others who have been swayed by politics to try to question your skills. What would you say to these doubters?
G.M.: That is their right to judge or not as they wish. There are many things that people don’t know. You have to understand that I lived with my father and they did not. My father taught me any time that I wanted. The art was with me every day. I have sat down in his private sessions and I was trained at home, almost every day, by my father.
I went to many classes and private sessions but I did not go to a lot of others. I did not need to go to all of them. My father was constantly teaching me at home. I can put you with people that have known me for years, like Guru George Morrin, and he has seen me and many others know me. I am not here to convince people. They can judge me however they want to. I am here to teach my father’s art as I have studied it, practiced it and learned it.
M.F.N.: I think a lot of people focus on the politics and the division and I’ve noticed that you do your best to stay out of that and focus on teaching and spreading the art as you’ve best understood it. My talks; my experiences with you are that you’re a humble and sincere martial artist and a true instructor of the family system of Serak and the sub-system created by your father, Pendekar Paul, Bukti Negara. How do you stay focused and grounded despite the negativity and the politics that come whenever a Grand Master of a martial art lineage passes away?
G.M.: You have to set a goal and say it to yourself to keep that going. I wanted to do things differently; in a different way, and change what came from the past. I wanted to treat students in a fair way because some were not treated fairly. I wanted to do things differently in the best way; to the best of my ability, because I made an oath to my father to always do right by the art and to share with the world what he had brought to the world.
A lot of praying does it for me because I try to keep myself focused through that. But I do find myself in politics; it comes to me sometimes. I don’t like to focus on politics but if you’re human, it happens. I did not want to come out and teach the art but I knew that it was only right that I had to at least try to teach my father’s legacy. I try to keep a pure light, as much as I can, without the politics, even though politics come in sometimes. As I began to teach the art, I went through growing pains – working with this person or that person – one learns whom one can trust or not but I do my best to focus on what is important.
M.F.N.: You’ve spoken to me at length about people that were burned out by the system because their inner spirituality was not balanced. I think this happens a lot with many martial arts but more especially with those that have a very intense esoteric core. This aspect is found in other systems of silat. It has been explored in – depth by some practitioners and researchers, such as the late Donn Draeger. And, as I commented to you that night that we engaged in that fascinating talk on these deeper mysteries of the system, the only time that I’ve seen a real discussion of the magickal, truly esoteric aspects of the art is in that old 1965 Black Belt Magazine article on your father and on the late Guru Rudy Terlinden, in which Pendekar Paul openly mentioned the psychic abilities of Mas Djut. Could you comment on this, please?
G.M.: There is a dark force within the dimensions of the langkahs – the triangles and the other diagrams that we walk. After midnight you cannot walk these langkahs because you tap into dark side of the spirit world; the darker ancestors. There is a dark side to this art. Guru Louis and I were talking about it. There are other systems that have Sera lineages that know of the inner aspect of the system and they will not touch it for fear of awakening these energies.
M.F.N.: We spoke that night about some very, very deep and little-known aspects of magickal practice within Pentjak Silat Serak. You hinted that at least part of the reason for the sub-system of Bukti Negara’s creation is to protect this aspect from those who would not be ready to handle those living energies. Specifically, you mentioned the long pantjar form as not only a combat training but also a fully – functional magickal ritual to summon the auras or souls of the ancestors. Could you please comment on this?
G.M.: Yes, it is another reason. There is a gateway to the inside of the art. You can only tap inside it once you fully understand it. When you are emotionally tapped into something… mentally and spiritually…you go into a trance and you start to see things and commune with living things that also enter that realm.
M.F.N.: Would you be willing to discuss some of your own visions during that late night pantjar – walking session that you had that we had talked about?
G.M.: I was unable to sleep one night and I went into the garage to train. I put some candles on the pantjar diagram because the electricity had gone out. As I began to move, I started to feel cold coming out of my mouth like frost; the garage suddenly got really cold. It was not a cold night but I had a frosty breath coming out of my mouth. The candles began to slide back and forth. Then an image, a vision of an Indonesian warrior, manifested in the darkness. He came forward, toward me, and then evaporated.
M.F.N.: And, once again, you were stone cold sober.
G.M.: That’s correct. I am not a heavy drinker anyway and I had not been drinking at all that day. I don’t do any drugs, either, and I was not on medication. When I mentioned it to my father the next day, he said, “I told you not to practice it late at night.” He knew.
M.F.N.: Now, you teach both Bukti Negara and the larger family system of Serak so that as one finishes the system of Bukti Negara, one is already an intermediate practitioner of the Serak system as well. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, since Bukti Negara has the shorter, forward lean stance and Serak has the wider, more balanced stance?
G.M.: The forward-leaning stance was created to get the students to press forward to learn the proper force to offset the opponents. That’s why it was created. I don’t see any weaknesses in the art but in the person who tries to understand the art.
My father found weaknesses in the sense that students could not grasp these aspects and he began to make the adjustments (to Serak). The long stance was condensed with a forward lean in Bukti Negara as he felt that there was some weakness in the understanding of Serak (in the students). The real strength is in the langkahs. The pukulan in the art (the striking exercises) all function with the langkahs. It’s very hard for me to find weaknesses in the integrated system.
We do weapons last because open hands and un-armed aspects come first. We cover just about everything that every other art does in terms of weapons – long blades, short blades, short sticks, long staffs, flexible weapons. We can apply everything if the student learns to use the mechanics properly.
M.F.N.: What have been some of the challenges, besides the politics, in helping to spread your father’s art?
G.M.: People. It’s hard to find dedication in many people. Most students want to train multiple systems. They want to be masters of many martial arts. They want to get bits and pieces. They don’t want to do the hard work to learn the longevity of the entire system. They want a crash course; chop suey.
M.F.N.: You have a few key groups here in the states and in other countries. You recently had an article published on you in Chile as well. Tell us a little about that.
G.M.: They were students of Guru Cliff’s who wanted to do an article on me. It’s always good when students of another teacher treat the art with such respect that they want to learn all that there is to know, from every available teacher. They were very respectful and nice.
I have a group in Arkansas with Guru Jim Smothers; another with Renshi Bear Roberts in Viejo, California and one student in Italy, Sifu Antonio Di Salvo, who is teaching silat under me. He is already an accomplished Grand Master of a lineage of Gung Fu.
M.F.N.: What are your upcoming plans or projects regarding the teaching of Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara and Pentjak Silat Serak?
G.M.: I just want to keep moving forward; keep teaching it openly as a blended system to everyone who comes with an open mind and I try to avoid the politics as much as I can.
M.F.N.: What are some of your favorite memories of your father?
G.M.: His Indonesian cooking was always great. His smile was gentle…I miss just being able to talk to him and to ask him a question. I miss the way that he would say “How sweet it is!”
M.F.N.: If someone wishes to contact you to set up a seminar or training camp or they are in the Los Angeles area and wish to come and train with you, what is the easiest way to reach you?
G.M.: My email is marcedethouars[at]gmail.com. That is the easiest and most direct way to reach me. I normally don’t give my personal phone out until I have already established some contact and trust with an individual.
M.F.N.: I wish you well in all of your endeavors, Guru Marce, and I look forward to training with you the next time that I’m in Los Angeles. Thank you so much for your time and sharing this knowledge with us.
G.M.: Thank you. It was a pleasure.