Silat is a collective word for a class of indigenous martial arts from a geo-cultural area of Southeast Asia encompassing most of the Nusantara, the Malay Archipelago, and the entirety of the Malay Peninsula. Originally developed in what are now Indonesia, peninsular Malaysia, south Thailand, and Singapore, it is also traditionally practised in Brunei and central Vietnam. There are hundreds of different styles (aliran) and schools (perguruan) but they tend to focus either on strikes, joint manipulation, weaponry, or some combination thereof. Silat is one of the sports included in the Southeast Asian Games and other region-wide competitions. Training halls are overseen by separate national organisations in each of the main countries the art is practised. These are Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (IPSI) from Indonesia, Persekutuan Silat Kebangsaan Malaysia (PESAKA) from Malaysia, Persekutuan Silat Brunei Darussalam (PERSIB) from Brunei and Persekutuan Silat Singapura (PERSISI) from Singapore. Practitioners are called pesilat.
While the word silat is used by Malay-speakers throughout Southeast Asia, the art is officially called pencak silat in Indonesia. Primarily a Javanese term, it has been adopted worldwide in reference to professional competitive silat for sport, similar to the Chinese word wushu. Regional dialect names include penca (West Java), dika or padik (Thailand), silek (the Minangkabau pronunciation of silat), main-po or maen po (in the lower speech of Sundanese), and gayong or gayung (used in parts of Malaysia and Sumatra). The clear distinction between Indonesian and Peninsular silat is a relatively recent one based mainly on post-independence patriotic sentiments. The term silat Melayu ("Malay silat") was originally used in reference to Riau but is today commonly used for referring to systems created on the Southeast Asian mainland. Generally speaking, silat Melayu is often associated with fixed hand positions, low stances, and slow dance-like movements. While this generalisation does not necessarily reflect the reality of silat techniques, it has had a notable influence on the stereotypical way the art is portrayed in Malaysia, Singapore, and to some extent Brunei.
The origin of the word silat is uncertain. It is almost certainly related to silambam, the Tamil martial art which has been recorded as being practiced in Malaysia since at least the 15th century in Melaka. The preset forms of silambam are known as silatguvarisai. The most popular theory in Malaysia is that it derives from sekilat meaning "as (fast as) lightning." Other theories derive silat from the Sanskritsīla meaning morality or principle, or the Southern Chinesesaula which means to push or perform with the hands. The Sanskrit theory is particularly popular in Thailand, as sila is an alternate form of the word silat in that country. Other similar-sounding words have been proposed, but are generally not considered by etymologists. One example is si elat which means someone who confuses, deceives or bluffs. A similar term, ilat, means an accident, misfortune or a calamity. Yet another similar-sounding word is silap meaning wrong or error. Some styles contain a set of techniques called Langkah Silap designed to lead the opponent into making a mistake.
In its proper usage in the languages of its origin, silat is often a general term for any fighting style. This is still common in Indonesia where in some regions both silat and kuntao are traditionally interchangeable.