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Kiai Carita 6th September 2006 05:11 PM

Fighting with keris
Rahayu sedhaya,
Selamat semuanya,

In Jawa I often hear and read that the keris is not for fighting and in Jawa there are no traditional martial arts schools that teach fighting with the keris. The situation is different in Malaysia where the keris is a common weapon in the traditional silat. Would anyone here be able to explain when they think the keris in Jawa ceased to be used in normal fighting?

The way the Malays attach the hilts is very different to the way Jawanese attach them and to my mind the Malay way would be the way to attach the hilt if you were to fight using the keris as it would hold the blade in a position that would readily slip between the ribs of the opponent. It is almost like the Jawanese hilt, in a martial point of view, is twisted to indicate a 'safety-locked', 'peaceful' position.

I would be gratefull to learn the opinions of the experienced and knowledgable posters on this respected forum.

Warm salaams to all,

David 6th September 2006 05:22 PM

Very interesting question Bram, and one i am sure will raise some serious debate. :) I am not with my books right now, but i believe Stone makes reference to learning keris fighting moves from a prince of Jawa. Though some of his keris info is suspect, this reference actually names the prince and i can't see why he would make it up. Early Chinese contact brought back reports of the Javanese using the keris as a weapon back in the 15th century. People have argued these reports because the Chinese also made derogatory remarks about the Javanese as well. I am not sure that those remarks should necessarily negate the substance of the weapon use reports however. It does seem to me that the keris was at least used as a weapon in Jawa at one time. The exact point at which that changed may be very difficult to track. :)

Kiai Carita 6th September 2006 05:42 PM

Originally Posted by David
Very interesting question Bram, and one i am sure will raise some serious debate. :) I am not with my books right now, but i believe Stone makes reference to learning keris fighting moves from a prince of Jawa. Though some of his keris info is suspect, this reference actually names the prince and i can't see why he would make it up. Early Chinese contact brought back reports of the Javanese using the keris as a weapon back in the 15th century. People have argued these reports because the Chinese also made derogatory remarks about the Javanese as well. I am not sure that those remarks should necessarily negate the substance of the weapon use reports however. It does seem to me that the keris was at least used as a weapon in Jawa at one time. The exact point at which that changed may be very difficult to track. :)

Thanks for the response, David...

I have argued that the weapons described by Ma Huan, who also described the indegenous people as 'devils', although could be, should not necessarily be keris. Personally I think that keris in Jawa was never intended to be used for fighting. That is why the Jawa keris is only sharpened once and there is no anual sharpening ceremony. Instead of sharpened, the Jawa keris was ritually examined, bathed in flowers and cleaned, and prayed on, and smoked with incense, and always put higher that the feet...

Some other curiouse facts related to this matter: the Malays wear their keris in the front, ready to draw, while in Jawa wearing it this way (sikep, I believe the position is called) indicates the wearer has left the worldly and is in pursuit of the spiritual. In wayang kulit, several gods wear their keris this sikep way under the folds of their Arabic jubah.

If indeed it did happen, does the keris' 'dissarming' seems to have began sometime during the cumbling of Majapahit and the emerging of Mataram. Does anyone think that this might have anything to do with the work of the Wali in spreading Islam in Jawa? I am truly interested in the opinions of the members of this forum.


A. G. Maisey 7th September 2006 12:31 AM

I find this an intensely interesting subject.

In the Nagakertagama (circa 1365) , canto 54, stanza 2, verse 4:-

"Exterminated were the animals,thrusted, lanced, crissed,dying without a gasp."


"The criss, a token of manfulness has its place at the front"---this was in reference to the progress of the king.

In the Pararaton ( circa 1480-1600) there is a description of an exhibition of keris play as an entertainment.

When Sultan Agung attacked Batavia (1628), his principle weapons were firearms. In fact, although his levies were for the most part pikemen, all his military actions relied heavily on firearms.

By the time of the Kartosuro troubles roughly 100 years later, firearms were common amongst the general populace.

In 1811 Raffles was appointed Governor of Jawa, and I think he took up his post in 1812. In his book "The History of Java" he mentions that the keris in Java at that time occupied the position that the small sword had occupied in Europe 50 years previous.

From the time of Kartosuro, European influence in Jawa, and European manipulation of the Javanese rulers and social system resulted in changes that were reflected in social norms and consciousness. During the Kartosuro period, and continuing through to arguably the Japanese occupation during WWII, Javanese society emphasised some elements of Javanese culture, and de-emphasised other elements, as a compensating measure for loss of power and identity under European domination.

The keris was in early Jawa a weapon, with many of the attributes of culturally significant weapons found in other cultures across the world, for instance, in the Viking sword. With its weapon function reduced by replacement with more effective and efficient weapons, its symbolic and iconic status appears to have increased and this, combined with the social and cultural compensatory trends of the 19th and early 20th centuries , have led to its present cultural position.

It is important that in any commentary on the keris, the conclusions drawn about its nature be placed within a framework related to historical time.

If anybody has any interest in pursuing further reading in this matter, I would be happy to provide a reading list. I have not done so here, because this list would be very lengthy, and I could just be wasting my time in compiling it.

David 7th September 2006 02:12 AM

Well Alan....not a waste of time from my perspective. :)
I think such a list would be considered very helpful by many. :cool:

A. G. Maisey 7th September 2006 02:46 AM

OK, I`ll put it together, but it won`t happen overnight. Maybe next week.

Bear in mind:- this will not be a list of books about keris, but rather about history and social comment, along with some Javanese babads. You`d need to plod through the whole lot and then digest it and form some opinions.It will include English language, Indonesian and Javanese sources.

David 7th September 2006 03:56 AM

Here's the quote from Stone:
"Prince Pakoet Alam at Djockjakarta showed me the old methods of fencing with the kris. He said that if a man had only one kris with him he held the scabbard in his left hand with the straight part extended along his forearm and guarded with it. If he had two krisses, he took his favorite in his right hand and the other in his left to guard with. The left-hand kris was held against his forearm with the edge and point at the top outward.In this position it was not only useful as a guard, but if his opponent tried to catch his arm a slight motion would cut his hand serverely."
This seems too detailed an account too have been a misunderstanding and i don't see what Stone would have to gain from making it up. This information was apparently shared with him in the early 20th century by a member of the royal family who i would think would know something about the cultural uses of the keris in Jawa.
One wonders at what point then, the keris ceased to be seen in a materially martial sense in Jawa. I would also extend this question to Bali. Certainly, from my own observations, the Balinese keris tends to be more of a fighting blade. It is often longer and heavier than it's Javanese brother. Bali also holds claim to the culture of the Mojopahit empire, though one could never say that the culture of, say, 19thC Bali was the same as Mojopahit Jawa, we can at least see it as an evolution of that culture. For instance, it is my understanding that blades were once polished in the Balinese style in Jawa. This tradition continues in Bali, yet it passed out of fashion in later Javanese periods. If the keris was still considered a weapon in 19thC Bali (if???) is it possible that it was also considered so in Mojopahit Jawa? Hard to say.
This passage from Wiener's Visible and Invisible Realms comes from Gusti Ketut Jelantik, Buléléng's chief minister, in response to a proposed Dutch treaty offered up in 1844:
As long as he lived there would be no Dutch sovereignty over his land. Declaring that no mere piece of paper could make anyone master over another he announced dramatically,"Let the keris decide!"
This sounds like an act of war with the keris at it's forefront. I suppose it could have been metaphorical, but it seems not to me.

A. G. Maisey 7th September 2006 04:41 AM

Jawa and Bali are different fish.

No doubt at all that the keris was serious weapon in Bali right through until the puputans.

No doubt at all that the keris was a serious weapon in early Jawa.

No doubt at all that even in the 1950's the keris was being used as weapon in the Peninsula. I once met a British soldier who had served in Malaya during the troubles there; he had been attacked by a keris wielding Malay and stabbed in the thigh. Left a pretty ugly scar.

As to George Cameron's comments, I believe that he was probably given a bit of demo. Bear in mind that young royals at this time were given a "palace" education. The Prince of the Pakualamanan that he mentions would have been given lessons in how to handle a keris in dances. Possibly what Geo. C. saw was a classical representation of keris usage, not the way in which one was actually used. The prince himself may well have believed that he was demonstrating the real thing. What a person believes is actual for that person.

If you study Javanese ---and Malay for that matter--- ethics and combat tactics, it is perfectly obvious that no self respecting Javanese was ever going to engage in formal frontal fencing displays. The dominant characteristics of Javanese combat are surprise and speed. I have had it said to me, by a man for whom I have very great respect in this area of Javanese edged weapon combat, that if a person was correctly attacked with a keris, he should be dead before he ever realised that he has been attacked.

My personal feeling is---and I emphasise "feeling"--- that there never was a formal system of fence attached to the keris. It was not that sort of weapon, rather it was an extension of self.

However, the argument against this is my reference to keris play exhibition in the Pararaton.

If we are going to put "the keris as a weapon" into a time frame frame, I think we`re probably looking at something like pre-Mataram. The period prior to the outcome of a battle depending on firepower, not personal skill with things that cut.In Jawa, in any case. All my comments are being made in a Javanese context. I knew an Australian Federal Policeman who was attacked by a keris (sorry, I prefer keris, even if it is a big one) wielding Moro in the Southern Phillipines in the 1970's.

Bambang Irian 7th September 2006 04:49 AM

In Javanesee concept basically keris is not weapons for fighting, but it is a symbol of live.
Each racikan has a symbol of philosopy.

Bambang Irian

A. G. Maisey 7th September 2006 05:29 AM

Yes, I agree with you Pak Bambang,in Jawa today the keris is not regarded as a weapon, but it is important to realise that this view of the keris is a comparatively recent one, that appears to have developed during possibly only the last 200 years or so, with an increased emphasis during possibly the last 50 years.

If we examine old Javanese literature, and old historical records, we find that the keris was most definitely used as a weapon in times past.

This is the reason that I say that when we consider the keris, we must consider it within a defined period of time.

Pangeran Datu 7th September 2006 07:14 AM

G'day All,
My belief is that to understand something, one has to try and appreciate its environment.
No doubt, in my mind, that the keris was originally designed as a weapon. However, through the belief systems of the time, it developed into a status/ rank/wealth symbol as well as that of mystical power complete with 'pakem' (protocol) etc. Consequently, it became the weapon of last resort, as any respectable male would always have one on him (now merely carried and revered as a symbol/talisman; normally alongside a weapon, such as a wedung). This gave rise to the term 'ngamuk/amuk/amok'; the person not having a 'weapon' to use, is forced to use his keris, as a last resort. However, traditional belief is that a keris, once unsheathed, may not return to its sheath without tasting blood. Thus the person is committed to draw blood. Should he fail, then the keris will turn on him. So 'ngamuk' became synonymous with 'babi-buta' and 'nekad'; loosely tranlates to suicidal blind fury.
As for the martial arts.... penca-silat adopts whatever is at hand to use as a weapon. That is why there is no 'standard' weapon(s) of penca-silat. In the case of the Javanese prince; case in point, he only demonstrated with what he had handy at the time ... a keris ( the same moves would have been just as applicable to the bedog/golok (machete)... much favoured by the West Java penca-silat artists, as that was the most common implement worn on a daily basis).
WRT the Balinese keris... a lot of Javanese fled to Bali under the onslaught of Islamisation, so they could retain their Hindu systems. I think that it was around this period that the Balinese keris developed its own identity, separate to the Javanese; bigger, different ricikan... though some things remained the same (such as pamor?).
Hope I didn't murky the waters.


A. G. Maisey 7th September 2006 08:34 AM

Yes, it is frequently noted in the literature that a keris was a weapon of last resort, however, the wedung is not a weapon, the wedung is a badge of rank , symbolising the willingness of the bearer to cut a way through the jungle for his lord. Its wear is restricted to certain classes of people within the keraton hierarchy.

I know of no "traditional" belief in Jawa either at the present time, or appearing in literary works of the past, that requires a keris to draw blood once removed from its wrongko. I have read this in various popular works written by authors based in western societies, but I do not have any idea where this "traditional belief" may have come from. Nor am I aware of any beliefs of a keris "turning on" its owner because of the owner`s failure to draw blood with it. I find it extremely difficult to believe that these stories originated from any source within the Javanese cultural framework.

Amuck means to attack blindly.
The presence of a keris is not necessary for amuck to occur.

I have witnessed several cases of a person running amuck, in one case the person concerned had a bottle as a weapon. This incident occurred in Kuta, in Bali, and was brought on by insults delivered by a couple of young western tourists. The Indonesian man snapped and attacked everybody in sight with what he had in his hand, which was a soft drink bottle. Other Indonesians caught him and held him down until he came out of his rage, and when he had regained his senses he appeared to have no recollection of what had happened.

In another case the person concerned had no weapon at all.

In all cases that I have witnessed, or that I know of, the people were not really conscious of their actions.

Amuk and the phrase "babi buta", and the word "nekad" are not synonymous with "amuk".

Babi buta, or babi membuta means to rage blindly.

Nekad is a variation of nekat which simply means "determined to accomplish something no matter what"

Medical opinion seems to be that the state of amuk is brought as a semi automatic response to social pressures.

There is another form of amuk, where a person dedicates his life--- or perhaps more correctly his death--- to the destruction of enemies, however, although this does have some similarities to that which we would normally term "amuk" I personally do not like the term amuk applied to this self sacrificial action.

My readings of the biographies of several Javanese princes, and of practices within the Javanese keratons in the late colonial period indicate that Javanese princes were educated in European martial and social skills, and Javanese cultural and social skills. I have not read of a Javanese prince being taught silat, however, they were taught dance, and a number of classical dances require the keris to be used.

Lei Shen Dao 7th September 2006 06:50 PM

Hi guys

From what I know keris was a lot in use as a weapon in the island of Madura.
Maduranese people were mostly poor in the contrary with the Javanese people, so evrything they made (from the material to the spiritual) was very strong and ready for use.

This is the case in many Maduranese keris that I have seen (I speak only for the old ones) and in fact the only Maduranese I have in my possesion (the one in my avatar :) ) indicates exactly this as a fact. It is a little longer from the original Javanese keris, very strong construction, and has a kind of smooth "nerve" all the way the blade something that you never see for example in a Tuban tilam upih. You just know that it was a weapon a long time ago the same time you'll touch it.

Maduranese people were (and in many cases still are) mostly warriors and everything they made was strong and practical. Their keris are in many cases havier and very solid and combact.

Of cource many keris are not weapons (like the one I posted some time ago in the "Raja Gundala thread"), are very delicate, soft and light constracted.

In all I know, the knife is mostly a weapon of surprise attack and it is a stubbing weapon. No nead to cut with it or to be sharp for that reason. Most combat knives all around the world are for stubbing purposes.

The keris in generall seems not to be a weapon for war, but this is not applied to all the blades.

Excuse my bad English (but I am in a harry for now)...

Take care

Pusaka 7th September 2006 11:29 PM

In some systems of silat they learn how to use a keris for fighting. I have also seen Pendekar S Benitez performing a keris fighting jurus but can’t locate the video at the moment. As far as I know his system originates from Java from guru Ma.

Rick 7th September 2006 11:45 PM

Vid #1This looks like Wayang inspired stuff to me .

The second vid looks like standard defense against any edged weapon.
Too much slashing involved with what seems to me a stabbing weapon.

Just my opinion as seen through uneducated Western eyes .

Pusaka 7th September 2006 11:57 PM

I wish I could find Pendekar Steven Benitez keris jurus, he is very skilled with the keris and moves in a completely different manner.

David 8th September 2006 12:15 AM

Pusaka, thanks for finding these videos. I find it odd to see so many slashing moves made with the keris in this footage. They seem counter-productive to the manner in which the blade is designed to work as a stabbing weapon. Frankly it mostly seems to be for show. Most keris are not edge sharp enough to make these moves worthwhile and the tang is not secured to the hilt well enough to allow too much full contact with these slashing moves.

Rick 8th September 2006 12:19 AM

It would be interesting to see Pusaka.

As German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke said ; no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy; or something along those lines. ;)

For instance I observe no use of the scabbard as a main gauche guard even though we are told that is a function.



Lew 8th September 2006 01:18 AM

Hey Guys

I fought with my lastest keris last week :eek: . I took it out of the box and showed it to my wife and you should have been there to see the fight :D


David 8th September 2006 02:13 AM

Originally Posted by LOUIEBLADES
Hey Guys

I fought with my lastest keris last week :eek: . I took it out of the box and showed it to my wife and you should have been there to see the fight :D


Ah Lew, you don't want to be fightin' with the missus. I've talked to her on the phone and she seems like a fine lady. Just box that keris back up and send it over to wife and i are overdue anyway. ;) :D

Battara 8th September 2006 06:35 PM

My wife is wonderful. :D She can defend herself alright.
That is why I collect bladed weaponry (self-defense :p ).

Like the demos - thank you.

Pusaka 8th September 2006 09:52 PM

One thing to remember is that in battle the keris blades were often laced with frog poison so even a small cut would result in death whether it be from a stabbing or slashing movement.

“The dagger, called Cris ('keris') a blade measuring 2 palms in length, is made of fine steel; it bears a deadly poison”

"The blade is like a snake in mid-strike. In the old days, the blade would be dipped in poison to assure certain death with the slightest stab",

David 9th September 2006 12:17 AM

Well, i wll say that i found questionable infomation in both these articles which makes me wonder at the validity of these reports of poison dipped blades.That doesn't necessarily make it not so, but it does make the information suspect in my eyes. Both these writers are operating from a perspective outside the culture which also allows for misunderstandings to take place. Anyway, both these reports seem to be about the supposed customs of the Malay peninsula, when i believe the question at hand is really the customs of Jawa in regards to the keris. I have not heard any stories relating to the use of poison on Javanese keris or Balinese or Madurese keris for that matter, though they may be out there. I would like to hear more about this, but up until now i have always assumed these tales of poison laced Malay keris to be a Western misconception. Does anyone have any more information on this?

BluErf 9th September 2006 12:32 AM

Here in Singapore, some Chinese people that I have spoken to about the keris had the same idea that the keris was a poisoned weapon. One of them was a Chinese-educated middle-aged man who spoke little English. He must have heard it from his other Chinese-speaking friends. He also believed that kerises harboured spirits. He was concerned enough to advise me to stop collecting kerises because it was 'too much to handle' for a young man like me.

Interestingly, I was lightly scratched by a Riau spear in Adni's shop a couple of years back. It was made with similar steel and pamor material as kerises, and was etched with warangan. It was also a little bit dirty and rusty. The scratch drew very little blood, but it festered with pus for 2 weeks before healing, and it left a scar. If someone was stabbed, I'm sure he would be in some serious trouble. I wonder if this sort of observations led to the idea that the keris bore posion.

And for those interested, the spear is still in Adni's shop. I keep my distance from that spear now. :) But come to think of it, it is a beautiful spear. :D

Lew 9th September 2006 08:54 AM

Rust,dirt, arsenic and whatever other nasty microbes that would have been on that spear could cause a nasty infection one must always be mindful when handling sharp pointy weapons :eek:


Boedhi Adhitya 11th September 2006 06:21 AM

Despite what traditional keris 'scholars' in Java said, IMHO, keris is a deadly weapon. From the very start, that is the keris making process, what empu really do is making a fine weapons, and plus, plus, plus some more intentions, of course. But even there are many intentions, it's 'weapon construction' had never changed. It's layering construction is technologicaly the best construction possible, called Jia Gang by Chinese Jian smith or Sanmai by Japanese Katana/Nihonto smith. The 'Wasuh' process, is the purifying process also done by Chinese and Japanese smith. The 'Flaw' categorizing in Javanese keris such as Pegat Waja, Pegat Pamor, broken tang, etc also reflected the weapon assesment (such as Kizu in Katana), which then extended to symbolism and spiritual meaning. It is the Javanese cultural tendency to extend almost anything to symbolism and spiritual realm. IMHO, the development of keris symbolism would be paralel to the development of ricikans, dhapurs, and pamor motifs.

Because of it's relatively small/short blades, it never became main weapon for javanese soldier. As a weapon, keris should be considered as today's bayonet. It is, as already stated, a last resort weapon, before you use the bare hand. As the last resort, it should vanish any enemy you encounter (or they may vanish you :) ). IMHO, Those who use keris as a weapon should 'hide' the blade to 'invite' the enemy to come closer, rather than to exhibit it in a threatening pose. Considering it's relatively small tang, ones shouldn't slash or parry opponent's weapon with (Javanese) keris. Stabbing, or occasionally slicing/cutting opponent's hand, are the prefered ways. To use the warangka as a forearm protection, the elders said, ones should hold the longest wooden section in his palm, and let the gandar/pendok cover the outer forearm through the elbow. Using iron pendok, it is a sufficient, expedient forearm protection one may use to parry opponent's weapon. By using the sharp, protruding part of ladrang style sheath, ones may even use the warangka as an offensive weapon. But unfortunately, no written traditional book on using keris as a weapon ever wrote.

As already stated, no main Javanese Silat school such as Setia Hati Terate, Perisai Diri, Merpati Putih or Tapak Suci has keris jurus, as long as I remember. The Maduras Pamur school, while it use keris as it's school symbol, has it neither. If I were a Javanese soldier in old days, I would bring lance/tombak or firearm, a pedang, and two keris: a sturdy, straight one in front as my last resort, and the old one on my back as my guardian angel :). A good keris then, should fulfill the functional(weapon), aesthetical, and symbolic/spiritual requirements.

There were a murder case in Jogjakarta, where the murderer use his heirloom keris and stabb the victim on the buttock. The victim died after several hours hospitalized. Well, Gentlemen, please use your another 'poisonous keris' when you're fighting with your wife :D :p I shouldn't tell where you should stabb her, should I ? :D

Best Regards,

boedhi adhitya

A. G. Maisey 11th September 2006 08:27 AM

Awas Pak Boedhi. Awas.

99.9% of what you have written is so close to my own position on the keris within Javanese society that were I to address the subject as you have, only form and words would be changed.

Meaning and intent would be unaltered.

David 11th September 2006 01:36 PM

Originally Posted by Boedhi Adhitya
Well, Gentlemen, please use your another 'poisonous keris' when you're fighting with your wife :D :p I shouldn't tell where you should stabb her, should I ? :D

LOL! OK Boedhi, you owe me a new keyboard after making me spite up my morning coffee laughing at this. :D

Would either you or Alan like to make any comments on the validity of these stories of poison used on keris blades?

Mick 11th September 2006 10:04 PM

Check this one out. Not a lot of flash here. Just usable stuff. Ouch!!!

David 11th September 2006 10:40 PM

A bit off-topic, but interesting none the less. :)
The Karambit is indeed a nasty little weapon. :eek:

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