The Jakarta Post
His success in playing the role of Mad Dog in the highly acclaimed action movie The Raid has given martial artist and actor Yayan Ruhian a reputation as one tough guy.
As Mad Dog, Yayan was depicted as a die-hard and violent bodyguard who would stop at nothing to protect his master. He has no hesitation having his neck stabbed by a large piece of glass so long as he can break the bones of his opponents.
Following the commercial and critical success of The Raid, Yayan again features in the movie's sequel, playing Prakoso, a much gentler version of Mad Dog but still possessing the same twisted and deranged fighting
And recently, he played Kyoken, an undead samurai-vampire warrior, in Yakuza Apocalypse ' a gory action-comedy flick about the Japanese underworld, directed by Japanese film director Takashi Miike.
Outside his roles, seeing Yayan in real life is no less intimidating.
The 46-year old martial artist has a gaze that is as sharp as a blade. His height is average but he possesses an intimidating stature with his well-built muscles and large chunky knuckles.
However, behind this intimidating appearance is a gentle husband and a father who did not allow his two teenage sons to watch his movies because they were too violent.
'My sons were often ridiculed at school by their friends. They said 'hey, we have watched your father in action, why haven't you?' The situation forced my sons to buy pirated DVDs of my movies and I found out about this,' Yayan said during the interview at his home.
'It made me sad. They are my sons and I cannot allow them to watch my movies due to their age. However, they always tried to do their best to watch me in action.
After a while, I finally agreed to take them to theaters to watch my movies with me supervising them.'
Being an internationally acclaimed action movie star was something that Yayan had never dreamed of.
During his childhood years in Tasikmalaya, West Java, Yayan was only interested in learning the Indonesian traditional martial arts, silat, to become a man who could fight.
'I was probably about 12 or 13 when I first learned silat,' said the man who dreams that someday he will play opposite action-movie stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
As Yayan's learning progressed, he soon learned that the art of silat was more than just about how to fight and he became more and more fascinated by the martial arts form.
'There is something that you call wiraga [physical aspects], wirasa [artistic aspects] and wirama [rhythm aspects] in silat. A silat practitioner must be able to master these aspects and they will eventually be beneficial in their lives,' Yayan said.
In 1987, Yayan moved to Jakarta and became a full-time professional silat instructor to pass down his knowledge and to learn other styles of silat from all over the country at the same time.
Yayan's reputation grew and in 2008, Welsh director Gareth Evans, who is obsessed with silat, contacted him to take part in a documentary that featured the Indonesian traditional art form.
'After the documentary was completed, I told Gareth 'hey, let us do a movie that really showcases the truest form of silat'. He agreed and thus, we worked together for Merantau [Wander] and The Raid series, all of which were action movies that featured silat in its purest technical art,' Yayan said.
Other than playing one of the main characters, Gareth put Yayan in charge of the fight choreography in the movie projects.
Having a deep sense of martial art artistry, Yayan used his knowledge of wiraga, wirasa and wirama to choreograph very fluid and rhythmic fighting scenes that captivated action-movie addicts all over the world.
'I always put the aspects of power, expression and rhythm in all of the fighting scenes,' he said.
Yayan's choreography was so unique and artistic that it inspired numerous Hollywood action film directors to adapt some of its elements in their blockbuster movies.
'It is good to know that Hollywood movies have gained inspiration from the action scenes in The Raid series. However, I cannot take full credit for it because it was the work of a very solid team,' Yayan said humbly.
Many find it difficult to keep their feet on the ground when the glitz and glamor of the movie industry success starts creeping in, often becoming blinded and forgetting their roots.
However, Yayan remains humble despite his rise to stardom as an action movie star.
'Silat has helped me a lot in my career in a way that it keeps my feet on the ground. From learning silat, I find that the more I know, the more I need to learn. It keeps me humble. It also helps me with self-control. I always believe self-defense is important but self-control is far more important,' he said.
'I find that some people have changed their attitude toward me since I became an actor but that will not change me one bit as a person. I am the old Yayan and I will always be that man with a family and a man who is passionate about silat.'
For the future, Yayan said he would continue promoting the art of silat through movies as an actor and through classes as an instructor.
'I am very happy that the success of my movies has helped young Indonesians to learn more about silat. Before The Raid, most young Indonesians had no interest in learning the art form and instead foreigners had shown more passion for silat,' he said.
'It would have been terribly sad for me to see silat being taught and mastered by foreigners in the future, but with the success of The Raid series, I saw a glimmer of light to continue passing this knowledge to the next generation of Indonesians.'
' Photos by JP/Wendra Ajistyatama