Everybody is in the tatami, chatting or warming up. Then the master arrives. He’s not very tall but strapping and he’s wearing a big shorts and a black t-shirt. Under that, he’s wearing tight clothes covering his arms until the wrist and his knees, as he use to. He goes over all the room greeting one by one to all people. He always do it. Maul Mornie is friendly and close, and he has an excellent sense of humour. But this kind image change when he starts to demonstrate his Silat Suffian Bela Diri techniques. Then his speed and his power make him devastating. The fluency of his movements makes that everything seems easy, natural. This is his third seminar in Seville by the hand of Eliakim Silva, his representative in Spain.
After two days of intensive practice, all participants, that had come from different point odf Spain and Europe, pick up their thing and start to say goodbye. The I can sit down in a corner of the tatami with master Maul and do this interview as a talk between friends.
Q. You are proud of your country, but Brunei and its martial arts are not very well knowns. What can you tell us about them?
A. Brunei is basically situated in Borneo in the middle of southeast Asia. It is arounded by Malaysia, The Philippines, Indonesia. China is in top of us. Thailand, Singapore… All the countries are known for their martial arts. The Philippines are known for the eskrima and arnis, Indonesia for the Penjat Silat, Malaysia is known for its Silat, Thailand for the Muay Thai, chinese for the Kung Fu, Karate in Japan. In different countries, the characteristics of martial arts depend of their situation. In the Philippines for example, they are more arms because the spanish were there, in Indonesia the typical Silat is empty hands nowadays because they wanted for train. In other days there were also weapons, but because the beauty or the empty hands they want to preserve it as a sport, so that´s why the government put more in the empty hands art than in the weapons art. Something like in Malaysia. In Brunei economy is very strong six hundred years ago because we were in the middle of south of Asia traders route for all the countries and because the Sultanate is very rich in naturally sources even now and in all traditional context. So that’s why you’ll never see bruneian outside of brunei, but you will see indonesians, malaysians.. in Asia, America, in Holland… That’s why they promote more the martial arts, because they live in the country and outside of the own country. When I moved to the UK, I moved because I was continuing my high education. So i was in the University, and then i met my wife in the University, we got married after ten years and since then I have been travelling all around the world to promote the bruneian martial arts, to promote my culture, but in a positive way.
I read that they are telling people that we are weapons based art, we want to kill people… no, it’s not that. I am trying to introduce people in a traditional way of how the bruneian in the olden days fought. So I am not teaching you to kill people with the knife, but i am showing you the main mentality of the people in the olden days. I don’t fight you because it’s for my ego, no.. I fight you because I have my family to protect. If you come to me it is not my responsibillity to see if you are safety in the fight. My responsibility is I safe, I don’t break anything, tomorrow i can go to work and feed my family. So basically that is what the art is.
Q. Did you learn in Brunei from your grandfather?
A. Yes, I learned from my great grandfather and my grandfather when I was younger, since I was 12 years old basically. During my great grandfather lifetime Silat Suffian was not involved, it was cleaned up: during the war. It was the Japanese War, after that there have been a small revolution… so during my great grandfather’s time there were weapons, because that how you fight with invaders but then after the revolution we couldn’t carry weapons so my grandfather trained more of empty hands. But the mindset was the same that as if he had weapons. If you imagine you have a weapon you create a significant difference in your posture, in your emotion, in your psychology and in your confidence. I trained weapons with my great grandfather, I trained empty hands with my grandfather. I live in a peaceful period so I don’t need to know to fight, but I had to learn to protect myself. They were using the martial arts like a self preservation art but for me is more as a martial art because I am trying to preserve our knowledge and the experiences. So that’s why every movement that I do I know the story behind the movement.
Q. What sort of weapons do you use in Silat Suffian Bela Diri?
A. Traditionally, if you are not of a military family background or a warrior background the your weapons are what people work in the fields like the machete, a knife… they take a bamboo, cut it in an angle and it become like a spear. The major part of our movements come from the machete and the knife and also the spear and the staff. You use your condition, your body and you then know how to move and good coordination and you condition your fingers, your shoulders, elbows.. so you move the linenment, so when you hit you keep the balance there. Well, other weapons like the sickle, that we call «sabit», the «sesandang»,which is the shoulder scarf, the karembit, which is the hook knife… these are not weapons for us, they are for helping you understand how your body moves so you use the principles and concepts of the training to translate it to the weapons.]
Q. So they are for training, not for the real fight…
A. You can if you understand what´s going on. A karembit is sharp if you bring it to a fight you still cut somebody. If you put a stone in the middle of a shoulder scarf and if you hit somebody you will hurt or injury. When you understand one movement then you could translate it to a different weapon or a different situation and it becomes an effective weapon.
Q. If you know how to move, everything can be a weapon.A
A. Exactly, but you have to keep in mind you have to understand not to go beyond the border of fantasy so keep in the reality movement. When you are training you want to learn options , follow ups… but in reality you have to understand that the first three movements should finish the fight. The first three seconds should finish the fight. A
Q. Have you practiced any other martial arts?
A. When I am first moved to the UK, the UK was like a buffet for me. They´d got traditional jujitsu, they had got wing chun, shorinji kenpo, ninjitsu and karate. I was living in a University city so they´d got different classes of martial arts for the students. I went to ninjitsu but I didn’t like it. I don’t want to criticize this art, but this was the teacher at the time.. And then when I went to wing chun. When I was there he was not doing anything for six weeks, basically we were doing the same movement. I do understand that you have to repeat your movements if you say then do this and do this at all next week I test you the he goes the next, then I understand but no 5 pound for two hours… I didn´t come back.
An then I went to shorinji kenpo, it was great, but they put the classes a bit late so there were not train to get me to my home. So I was only one class. Jujitsu taught how to teach sitat because they learn to throw safely, you learn to fall safely and you learn how to understand the limit of somebody´s balance. So I am actually instructor of traditional jujitsu and actually 4th Dan.
Q. Do you divide silat and jujutsu?
A. Yes, yes… you have to, because the mindset of two arts are different. You may find similarities, but the thing is I took from jujitsu is to learn to teach and to learn to train without injuring your partner. In traditional silat there is no break falls: you throw, you throw. This is why traditional silat is not really highly regarded.If you go to karate, your children got a black belt in 9 months, and then they win trophies, they win medals… but in silat you go to one class you get a black eye, you get a bad shoulder, you get a bad elbow… because some of the teachers have been trained as fighters but they are not trained to be teachers. In Brunei it is different. If you are good at silat, it doesn’t mean you know how to teach. I don’t know to teach people for being a fighters, I don’t know to be a fighter, I don’t want to be known as a fighter. I want to be a person who people know that is aim to preserve the bruneian martial arts. This is my goal.And to promote Brunei because nobody knows it. I fight to take the flag of Brunei and introduce it to the whole world and it makes me proud to see the flag behind my people.
Q. That’s the reason I suppose why you decided to teach. What was the situation that did that you decided to teach?
A. In 2006 when youtube was come out I didn’t know youtube was going to be a big deal, I recorded a training with a partner and I wanted to give him the video. At this time I was a student, I couldn’t buy a DVD, you know, to expensive… I said «I found this website (youtube). I will put it on the website and nobody will know, it’s only for you». And then, somehow, people said k¡liking it, I got 2000 likes in it. nd suddenly I got emails people asking me about, you know, would you like to come here, to come there… The nearest was Carlo Andreas “would you like to come to Italy?» I went there and then Carlo said if I would like to come back in two months. I said «Why no?». And then from there guys from Holland, from Germany… invited me from here, from there… so basically I had to choose: I cpuld stay in the UK teaching martial arts or I could go home and to work as an engineer. I said “why not try this for a year?” so i said to do the martial arts for one year. And then from there it was a snowball, from a snowball it became bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger… so everything came to me automatically.
Q. Do you travel to Brunei for practicing with the masters?
A. Nowadays because I have not a lot of time , I try to come back to Brunei but, when I go to Brunei is all about spending time with my family at home but if I do have free time I try to go to at the silat teachers and try to talk to them that they will have an open mind to be more open in teaching. They use the traditional «this only for me, for my family». In you only have one disciple and he decided not to teach, everything is lost. There are a lot of good martial arts which are lost, specially in Brunei. If you teach somebody you can think » I don’t want to lose». This is when your ego come in.So then is not about preserving the art, it’s not about preserving the knowledge the teachers before you and teachers before him but more about you don’t want to lose. I know for example 10 level, but I teach only 9, so I only give 10 level to my best student, but when I give the 10 level I only give him when I am about to die. But martial art is practice. If I train martial arts and I can give the secrets of my martial art in two seconds with my mouth, what does it say about the martial art? It’s not good. For me, if I’ve got 10 level of knowledge I would give the 10 level of knowledge, but it doesn’t mean everybody I give is going to understand the 10 levels of knowledge.
If my not favorite student he keeps on training, training, training, training even if he doesn’t know that secret knowledge, that stupid secret knowledge doesn’t contribute too much to a thousand times of practice. And a thousand times of practice will always defeat that secret technique which you do it at once. It doesn’t make sense. That’s why I want to open the mindset of all the bruneians .
Q. Have you had any problem with masters for teaching silat in the way you do it?
A. Problems… not much actually, because they know that what I am trying to do here is to promote the art. Even you are from Indonesia and Malaysia there are some young teachers who talk negatively , but they talk no because I am doing wrong, just talking because they are jelousy. the other teachers I am doing it not for me, I am not only doing it for Brunei, I am doing if for our culture. Basically bruneian culture is similar to Indonesia, Malaysia… Promoting the art internationally I am helping everybody as well.
Q. What do you think about martial arts in the way they are practiced in the world today?
A. All depends of the target of why you do martial arts and the target of the teacher. So if a guy is selling the martial art he can earn a lot of money. For example if I start to sell dvd’s. People see what I do, people like what I do in youtube, and then I tell them “would you like to be my representative? but you have to buy my ten dvd’s and I give you my representative status and I’ll give you a belt status”. And this no problem, I can get a lot of money but then all that benefit is for me, not for the art, not for my country, not for the people, I will have good friends, I will have lots of good friends because I give you black belt. And I will have lots of money because you want the black belt. But people like recognition. But there are people who are not selling the martial arts. This is the people who I respect a lot because they have had to fight to be who are them and they continue the integrity. In the martial arts that is the thing, you have to have integrity because without integrity why you would be a martial arts teacher? Then , if you want to make money then just be a fat lazy man use a white gi and different taps in the black belt and say «I am 20th Dan in my system». Karate, Judo, Brazilian Jiujitsu… the martial arts that you know ar practical, they don’t sell the belts. For example Judo: I cannot say I sell you the DVD you become black belt in Judo. If you are a black belt without training you are not good in Judo, same thing like in silat.
Q. You travel all around the world and you see in your seminars different martial artist. How do you think is the level of martial arts in the world?
A. That’s a beautiful thing. For me I am very honest and I’m very humble about the skill martial artist that come to support my seminars. I don’t think that they come to learn anything to me because if you look them how they move, their better coordination, better techniques, better main set, better distance control… there is nothing I can teach them. You are like “Wow, why are they here? I don’t know what they want” . I see people with a high level I cannot insult them teaching thing that I assume is reality, what I assume is what I need to learn, because I am not looking for students. I am here to promote the bruneian culture, I am here to promote the bruneian martial arts. So I am honoured when they come and they are so humble they come to train with us and they put that they know on the side and they want to learn something new and this is amazing for me. I learn from them more than they learn from me.they are experts in their own art so I have no negative thing to say about them and their humble and humility. And it doesn’t matter high level, intermediate or new, they became good friends because the other day I don’t teach to my students, I teach to my friends.
Q. And what about practitioners here in Spain?
A. Well, to be honest, level of martial artist in Spain or Italy or Holland or England, it depends of your goal. For example I live in the UK, they are more into what is reality base. In Italy they like to look deeper in the martial arts. When you go to Holland, if it doesn’t hurt it is not martial art. In Germany they’re more strict so I want to be traditional, they think in tradition. Whatever I say is not to criticize, it’s just my experience. I adapt. Principles and moves are the same, if you look my youtube videos is the same, you adapt to the mindset. In Spain I’ve only been here for three times and I am still trying to find my way in sing that what people are thinking. But thegoal is to become a martial artist not a military… for example, if some guy tell me “could you teach me something for the police?” then this is not the seminar for that it should be specials courses. If you are military then this is not your seminar, the seminar specialized for military.
Q. What projects have you got for Suffian Bela Diri in the future?
A. To be honest, I am trying to take the day as it comes. I will left to have all the training groups to be at the best level, a good level if possible, because the another day I want to be proud of the art, I want them to carry the Brunei flag with them, I want them to carry the art in your hearts so even if you practice any other martial arts it doesn’t matter. For example, if you train Bjj and you train Karate or Muay Thai you can be good at both but as you know you can’t mix bjj with Muay Thai. Same thing in bruneian martial arts: if you understand the mindset behind SSBD or bruneian martial arts you know you cannot mix it with other arts. It is not a one on one fighter, it is not there for your ego, you learn bruneian martial arts because to protect yourself and your family but in the process you learn to preserve the art as a whole. You learn the whole art and you can adapt. For example you have 26 letters in the alphabet. For example, there are 26 letters in the alphabet. May be the a, i or u is the most used, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want lo learn x, I don’t want to learn v, I don’t want to learn z… You cannot say the only useful and the other is not useful. How do you know it is not useful? It could not be useful for me but it could be useful for you. If you are doing self defense or self preservation just for your own self defense then obviously that you have your own favorite techniques. But for me may be your letters are not useful for me, so I give you everything. If you use all the alphabet you don’t need new letters.
I want to thank very much Master Maul Mornie for accepting this interview and for been so kind. You can find more videos of Master Maul Mornie and Silat Suffian Bela Diri in his youtube channel.
Juan Antonio García Ruiz