July 10, 2017 Martial Arts Studies

Trans-regional Continuities of Fighting Techniques in Martial Ritual Initiations of the Malay World


This article explores continuities in fighting techniques of martial ritual initiations found across the Malay world (Dunia Melayu). Comparison with other neighboring Asian and Southeast Asian regions shows that these techniques follow patterns and principles that can be considered as ‘properly Malay’. I argue that ‘Malayness’ is socially and politically consolidated through these initiations, not least because the techniques mobilize local cosmologies and notions of the ‘person’. These cosmologies and notions are mainly articulated through conceptions of space and time, an aspect that is underlined by the transmission processes themselves. Transmission steps show parallels with life processes such as maturation, growing and purification. The correspondences between these processes are also expressed through a specific material culture. The structures of the technical fighting systems are oriented towards principles based on religion and morality, cosmology and philosophy. All of this suggests that the efficacy of techniques should be analyzed in conjunction with larger questions of the efficacy of rituals.


DOI 10.18573/j.2017.10186


Facal, Gabriel. 2017. ‘Trans- regional Continuities of Fighting Techniques in Martial Ritual Initiations of the Malay World’, Martial Arts Studies 4, 46-69.


After obtaining a Master of Social Anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (2009), Gabriel Facal completed his doctoral thesis (2012) at Aix-Marseille University as a member of the Institut de recherches Asiatiques (IrAsia, Marseille) under the supervision of Professor Jean-Marc de Grave. He carried out a dozen fieldwork expeditions for a total duration of thirty-seven months in Southeast Asia. His research initially focused on ritual initiation groups and their links with religious organizations and political institutions in the West of Java and the South of Sumatra (Indonesia). Since 2013, he has completed several additional trips in different regions of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam to establish a comparative perspective.

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