Discipline within martial arts dictates self-restraint. Its popularity has never been based upon the art of hurting and bullying a weaker opponent but on the ability to defend and attack strictly when needed. By and large, serious fighting is reserved for the ring or the mats among equals, and not for the streets.
Such attitudes have earned martial arts – from Kung Fu and Karate to Judo, Ju Jitsu and even cage fighting – a wealth of respect and millions of adherents around the world. Few would entertain the idea that martial arts are anything more than a codified system of traditional combat.
But there are always exceptions to the rule, like the goons in East Timor who took their limited knowledge onto the streets. Twelve deaths and 200 injured from their antics have prompted the government to ban a local form of martial art that evolved in Indonesia and was glorified by East Timorese who fought Jakarta’s occupation of the former Portuguese colony.
"Any martial arts clubs members that violate the government resolution will be dealt with under the law," Armando Monteiro, a senior Indonesian police officer, told the Associated Press. He added there would be zero tolerance for home-spun martial arts activities in East Timor.
He was referring to pencak silat – a popular term that encompasses most forms of martial arts in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Southern Philippines and Thailand.
Such forms are a fusion of Japanese and Chinese martial arts with local characteristics. Pencak silat has remained popular across the region, but in East Timor has led to increased violence, prompting Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to warn two months ago that clubs practicing the fighting arts would be banned.
Gusmao also told police and members of the military who belong to pecak silat clubs that they had to leave or risked being fired. Other forms of martial arts like karate, kung fu, taekwondo and judo have somehow evaded the ban.
Street violence has plagued East Timor and its capital Dili since independence in 2002 and has become a constant source of irritation for Gusmao who added that he had lost patience with gang violence and would not permit it anymore.
Outbreaks of violence have also tarnished the tiny country’s reputation. Additionally, internal security has been seen as a major obstacle to East Timor joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a cherished dream for East Timorese governments hoping to find solutions to the country’s massive economic problems.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.