Silat, sometimes also called Pencak silat, panchak, or montjak, generally refers to Martial Arts styles that originate from the Malay. These people can be found spread throughout Southeastern Asia, more specifically around Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Silat isn't just one style but is used to describe anywhere on up to a hundred different styles, or what they call alirans, and schools.
As with many Martial Arts styles, learning silat is not just about fighting. While learning Silat, one learns the mental or spiritual aspects of life, self-defense, the fighting techniques, and the culture of the people the art originated from. For more traditional schools, this includes having a uniform that is based off the Malaysia culture, rather than the Japanese or Chinese one that most people see in Martial Arts. In addition, the schools will have their own "dance", which is composed of movements from their particular style. It is a way to distinguish one style of silat from another.
Silat has a strong influence of learning from the environment. Many of the movements will reflect animals that you will find in nature moreso than some of the other Martial Arts. One of the most important animals to them was the tiger, being seen by the culture as a symbol of importance. Thus, one will find the movements in Silat to be explosive and aggressive bursts of attacks.
In ancient times, Silat was as much a part of their lives as any other form of education and prepared young men for adulthood. Because of this, there is a strong emphasis in this art on self-defense. This emphasis is what has made Silat spread through Europe and now the United States.
When watching a Silat practioner, one will notice that the artist starts at a much lower stance than most other Martial Arts. In many forms, the practioner will actually go down on one or both knees to gain the advantage. Each step will not only move the fighter but also turn the angle of their body, thus constantly changing and protecting different zones from their attacker.
Silat's growing popularity has brought forward several forms within the Western world based on this system. The more known and unique examples of these emphasis the use of small knives, which is one of many weapons seen in a silat arsenal.