by Jak Othman

Part 1 – Kapak kecil ( small axe)

Salam persilatan. Welcome to my world of REAL SILAT.

While the world is still amazed by the effectiveness of the kerambit, there are many more silat weapons still unknown to the rest of the world. This series of articles are created for you readers to take a closer look at world of silat weapons. Reading articles written by silat authority from the land of the art’s origin will naturally bring you closer to source of real silat.

All the weapons selected to be included in this series are taught to me by my Mahagurus and Tok Gurus in Malaysia, southern Thailand and Indonesia. The combat philosophies, strategies and techniques of each weapon fighting art are kept pure and original as I learned it first hand from the elderly. I teach the same stuff at my studios in Selangor, Malaysia and in my seminars and camps around the world.

If you are interested in exploring real silat direct from the source, you are welcome to read, share and learn the art via my website. You are welcome to join my classes at my studios. I will also do seminars throughout the year for those who are staying very far away to come and do compact courses with me here in Selangor, Malaysia. For those living beyond Malaysian shores, I will have compact courses for you during winter and summer holidays. Come to Malaysia, the home of silat and trained not only with me but also with my Mahagurus and Guru friends.

To kick off the new silat series of articles ( 2010), I would like to introduce you to a cute little tool, but deadly in the hands of a silat expert. This little one is called kapak kecil, kapak literally means axe and kecil is small or mini.

The kapak story…….

The axe has been a tool of farming and combat for thousands of years. Since man knew how to put wood and stone together the axe was born. The early Malay models are called `beliung’. Anywhere around the world, the axe started as farming tool. Later it gets bigger, heavier and sharper as it progress towards becoming a weapon of destruction. The art of the axe fighting progressed and evolved along the evolution of its shape and size of becoming a feared long and mid range weapon. Certainly, a choice for big and strong warriors, they were the axe men that terrorized the world in many battles through out the centuries before the arrival of firearms.

In the Malay world, the most famous battle using a kapak was when a young warrior Hang Tuah saved innocent village people from becoming victims of killers running amok in the market. To you readers who are not familiar with Hang Tuah, he was a 13th century Hulubalang (knight) of the ancient Malay empire of Malacca. He was the best of the best in his era. To many silat warriors past and present ( I am one of them), he is still the greatest silat warrior of all time. During the incident Hang Tuah was helping his father cutting fire wood when he saw the blood thirsty warriors going crazy killing everyone that crossed their path in the market place. The young hero stepped into the fight to defend the innocent villagers in the market place. According to the hikayat or legend, he fought and killed 3 running amok warriors armed with the Keris. He knew the farming tool is not a great attacking weapon. It was heavy and slightly better then a hammer, more a hacking tool rather then a cutting one. His opponents were armed with `keris panjang’, a long keris which was perfect for amok! He challenged them to a fight! He provoked them with just words which made them angrily furious! Making them start the fight.

On the defense he took them out with the striking handle and cutting blade of the kapak! He hacked them to death with a rather heavy but not so sharp kapak blade. This was the great victory that opens doors for him and his famous 4 friends ( Hang Jebat, Hang kasturi , Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu) to become the hulubalang( knights) of the Malacca Sultan.

Keris vs. kapak : The analysis……

In reality the farming kapak is no match against the keris, but Hang Tuah knew his limitations in the situation. He knew attacking with the kapak was useless against the keris. The plan was to defend. Making the opponent charge in to attack! He started by provoking the killers with words that piss them off! Driving them mad and instantly attacked him at once. Making the bodies of his opponent as a shield, he lined them up forcing them to attack one at a time. This is where the kapak become super effective! Fighting in mid and close range, Tuah used the handle to strike and trap, following through with hacking and punching with the blade! He used langkah (footwork) and kelekan (body angling) to escape the attack before punishing his opponents at point blank range with his kapak and empty hand combos. Choosing the most effective targets the floating ribs, stomach, chest ,neck and head as the main ones and secondary targets like the attacking hands and both knees to weaken and stop the attackers. Tuah killed them all with his kapak . As a defense weapon the kapak is acceptable , but attacking with it is not recommended.

The most dangerous kapak….

Among the most feared weapon of the Malay world is the kapak. It is not the normal farming tool but a special version for mid and close range application. Small in size between 3 cm to 15cm, these babies are effective killing machines. Through out the years of practice and exploring in real killing scenarios, the small axe becomes popular among various Malay assassin groups. In this article I will be writing about the group in Kelantan, north east the Malay peninsula (also known in the ancient world as 'Suvarna-bumi' or today's West Malaysia) and the other from Java of Indonesia.

Kapak from Kelantan

The first version is kapak bungkus or axe wrapped in piece of cloth made famous by the Malay assassin of Kelantan. This ancient weapon belongs to the Malays who live in Pattani district southern Thailand. The kapak bungkus varies in sizes and design through the region, but the shape remain as an axe. It could be as small enough to be hidden in a matchbox and as big as the normal farming tool but made equal strong with lighter materials.

As a weapon , the kapak bungkus was not common in a man to man duel. Basically, it is not a favorite weapon for combat. As a matter of fact, it is a killing tool used on the victim when he or she is not aware of it. It is a weapon of surprise.

Once the victim was identified, the assassin will study the victim’s daily activities before drawing the plan to strike. He or she will also understand the need of hurting this victim. Is the victim to be taught a lesson and allowed to live? Or that particular day will be the last day of his/her life! Now the assassin will decide when and where to do the job.

The most popular sites of assassination were crowded places; approaching the victim from the side or behind, he will strike at point blank range to the targets for his desired result. To kill, he will strike the side of the neck aiming at the main artery. To give the victim a reminder , he will strike at the back of the head, neck or the ear. The victim will dropped immediately, loosing blood fast and passed out within seconds.

Another popular version of Kelantanese killing kapak is known as the Kapak terbang the flying kapak. The user of this version is not just a kapak assassin, he/she must be a specialist. It is a projectile weapon using only the blade of the kapak as the weapon. It is normally thrown from an elevated position downwards striking the target from the top. In crowded places, he would use only the kapak's blade. If the victim is alone or not so crowed place, he will use it with a piece of string tied to the blade. This will allow him to recover his killing machine after striking the opponent down.

Kapak from Java.

Exploring, learning and practicing the Kelantanese versions under several sources have been a great supplementary to my family kapak fighting arts. In the Harimau Berantai clan, the kapak kecil is an arsenal of the Srikandi the lady warrior. But the pendekar (the guys) carry them too as last in the line weapon, the last resort.

Originally a tool for cutting fruits and other food stuff, the kapak kecil is always kept extremely sharp. In order to be safe from any accidental cut, this version is normally sheathed. Like the kerambit, the kapak of the Srikandi is also an ornament of beauty. It is normally knotted in her hair bun, she will carry the weapon her always. Sometime the kapak is kept hidden in her bengkung ( sash) or strapped to the side of her leg.

During the war of independence against the Dutch in Indonesia, in an assassination mission the Srikandi slipped through enemy lines and entered the chamber of the commanding office and practically killed him in point blank range. It is best to get the job done by hacking the neck veins from behind or the side, but killing from a frontal close range with a kapak is not a problem to a Harimau Berantai Srikandi.

There are various methods of holding the kapak kecil in Harimau Berantai silat. They are the classic blade up, blade down and punching/slashing methods between fingers. To understand the effectiveness of the kapak lets study the anatomy of the tool. It is divided into two parts the mata (blade) and the batang (handle).

In ancient times the mata was generally made of at least 3 layers of metals. However, today the spring iron has become a perfect replacement. The destroyer parts of the mata consists the kepala or the hammer head for striking and kekapak which is the pointed and sharp end of the kapak for tearing, slashing and hacking.

The batang was naturally made of several species of tropical hard wood, but the most popular is ‘kayu nibung’. Nibung is easily obtained at most muddy beaches of West Malaysia. This wood is not only extremely hard but also possesses natural poison, making it potentially lethal when it enters the blood stream. Naturally the batang is used to trap and stab the opponent.

To give you readers a better idea how the kapak kecil is use in combat situation, I will highlight two BUAH* (attack & defense combos) taking from the Harimau berantai kapak syllabus.

Buah 1 * ( kapak vs parang )

1) Square off

2 & 3) block the parang and punch with the kapak into the wrist joint

4&5) stab the arm with the handle

6) push armed hand to opponent’s face and

7) punch the kapak into the joint rendering arm useless

8) stab the neck with the handle

9) punch the kapak into the neck

10) dropping the opponent to the floor.

Buah 2* ( kapak vs pisau)

1) square off

2/3) deflect the attacking hand with a kapak slash

4/5) Trap the attacking arrm and punch the opponent’s elbow joint

6) deflect the incoming punch using your right arm and

7/8) stab the nose and slash it.

9) stab the neck

10) dropping opponent to the floor

That’s for this time. I hope you all enjoyed the article. We will meet again soon. I will be writing about another unique and unknown silat weapon the ekor pari ~ the tail of the stingray.

Salam sejahtera. Jumpa lagi. See you later alligators!

Jak Othman.

( * the writer the article and owner of this site/blog is not responsible on any injuries or death as a result of traininng or learning these techniques not under our supervision.)