I first saw Maul Mornie on YouTube several years ago and was immediately impressed. Maul comes from Brunei and teaches the art of Silat Suffian Bela Diri. Maul has a simple and precise body movement and what looks like genuine power (feels like too – I now know). This weekend the opportunity to train with him fell into my lap, so I took it. Maul’s movement is a pleasure to watch – so enjoy the links!
Maul also comes across as someone who has a healthy perspective on martial arts – by which I mean he does not stand on ceremony, but is grateful for the opportunities he has, and for all the scariness of his technique he is neither overbearing, superior or aggressive.
The seminar was five hours dedicated to kerambit and knife. I have never used a kerambit before and I have very little knife technique experience. I do have a lot of knives at home but once my adolescent air slashing stage ended my knives have been chosen for their facility to cut cheese, vegetables, or for bushcraft.
Maul explained that originally the kerambit was a concealed weapon, used for sneaky attacks and assassination. Modern kerambits are often bigger due to an American ‘bigger is better influence’, but the original idea was that the opponent (victim) should never know you have a kerambit.
One reason that I rarely train with knives is because pretty much any idiot can kill a person with a knife. Add some anatomical knowledge and body use and it gets a lot easier. However, I recognise that each tool has peculiarities that only experience reveals and it’s always interesting to see these revealed. During this seminar some of the peculiarities of the kerambit that Maul revealed were often about how not to kill people.
Like many teachers Maul likes to draw attention to principles via techniques. Weapons training uses the same principles of distance and angle as empty handed training, you can understand the principles of one via the practice of another.
An advantage of knife training for Maul is that you can convince yourself that you can take a punch, but a cut or stab is definitely something to be avoided. Knife work thus encourages footwork to stay at correct distance. Throughout the seminar Maul showed how the knife or kerambit techniques could also be applied almost identically with empty hands.
The first part of the seminar was dedicated basics. This meant a series of attacks and defenses with correct distance and timing, the defenses coming from inside, outside and across. Each movement, whether attack or defense was accompanied by a chambers get of the opposite side. The chambering was exaggerated so that each partner could learn to see the body mechanics involved and so learn to move appropriately.
The alternating of chamber and strike/block is also an important component of Maul’s speed and power.
During these drills each movement was given a reference, a target that would allow safe but increasingly fast practice while keeping a distance that would allow a simultaneous attack and defense.
Once we had learned the drills we went on to flows of techniques. There were too many for me to remember today, and even on the day sometimes after watching the demos I was not quite sure where to begin. Fortunately there were lots of demos, and once I had begun the techniques followed on one from another in a logical fashion.
Maul repeatedly drew our attention to the idea that these flows of techniques are for learning purposes. They allow bodies to familiarize themselves with opportunities (and dangers). In a genuine fight the goal is to finish very quickly. In a seminar the goal is to prolong the fight and thus practise time.
So during the technique flows Maul would show the moments when he could finish the fight. This often involved baiting the opponent, taking positions that either tempted or provoked a predictable reaction that Maul would take advantage of. The idea is to create, not wait for openings. This is very similar to how Luo creates openings, but subtly different in ways that I’m going to have to think about for longer.
The ability to create and use these openings is very much dependent on correct relative positioning of the partners, but also the ability to keep the body well organised, constantly rechambering.
When the angles are correct the techniques themselves require very little strength to apply. Maul threw me down a few times (after I asked) and I felt very little pressure as he did so. This also applies to his sweeps, which are a joy to watch, they seem to appear out of nowhere, but a little attention shows that they he sets them up carefully and seamlessly in coordination with his hands.
I’m glad I went to the seminar, I will need to reflect on what I learned and how best to investigate, develop and integrate it into my practice. I suspect that further seminars would have a similar structure and much of the material would overlap, however there is a richness to the system and the possibility of better understanding the principles through exposure to a wider range of examples. Like any good learning experience I came away with some answers, some clues and of course many more questions.
I’m also glad to have met Maul, and will be happy to spend more time with him.
Thanks to Omar Ali Grant for organising the day and Nabil for being my training partner. I also thought about Alan often during the seminar. I showed him Maul’s videos and he told me he’d like to learn with him one day.