Pencak Silat

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Pencak silat demonstration in Jakarta

Pencak silat (Indonesian pronunciation: [ˈpɛntʃaʔ ˈsilat]; sometimes spelled penchak silat or pentjak silat in Western writings) is an umbrella term for a class of related martial arts originating in the Indonesian archipelago.[1] It is a full-body fighting form incorporating strikes, grappling and throwing in addition to weaponry. Every part of the body is subject to be attacked and used to attack. Pencak silat was practiced not only for physical defense but also for attainment of higher psychological ends.[2]

The leading organization of pencak silat in Indonesia is IPSI (Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia, meaning Pencak Silat Association of Indonesia). The liaison body for international pencak silat is the International Pencak Silat Association or PERSILAT (Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antara Bangsa).


Although the word silat is widely known through much of South East Asia, the term pencak silat is used mainly in Indonesia. Pencak silat was chosen in 1948 as a unifying term for the Indonesian fighting styles. It was a compound of the two most commonly used words for martial arts in Indonesia. Pencak was the term used in central and east Java, while silat was used in Sumatra and Borneo. In modern usage, pencak and silat are seen as being two aspects of the same practice. Pencak is the essence of training, the outward aspect of the art which a casual observer is permitted to witness as performance. Silat is the essence of combat and self-defense, the true fighting application of the techniques which are kept secret from outsiders and not divulged to students until the guru deems them ready. It is often said by practitioners that silat cannot exist without pencak, on the other hand pencak without silat skills is purposeless.[3]

The origin of the words pencak and silat have not been proven. Some believe that pencak comes from the Sanskrit word pancha meaning five, or from the Chinese pencha meaning to avert or deflect.[4]
During the colonial era Dutch East Indian newspapers used the terms Mentjak, Mentjah, Pentjah, Pentja, Pentjak ore Silat[5] but not Pentjak Silat.
In 1881 a magazine describes Mentjak as a Batak fencing game with long swords, daggers or wood (mentjah)[6]
Jakartan martial arts where called Poekoelan ore Main Poekoelan, this term was also used as a general term for Indonesian martial arts. In the Betawi language maen ore main means to play and poekoelan ore pukulan to hit.


The archipelagic chain that is today Indonesia was the scene of warfare for much of its long history, and the people of the region naturally developed effective methods of combat and self-defense.[2] The earliest weapons found in Indonesia were spears, single-edge swords, shields, and axes. Proto-Malay farmers migrated into Sumatra from the north and mixed with the local tribes. Whole communities from China were transferred to Indonesia, bringing their weapons and weapon-making technology with them. Similarities have been observed between southeastern Chinese boat communities and the Indonesian sea-nomads (orang laut), such as the long-boat culture, war fleets, tattoos, familiarity with plant poisons, and bladed weaponry. Whether the Baiyue and Tanka people first originated in China or Southeast Asia is debated, but it was the Baiyue introduction of metallurgy that lead to the prominence pencak silat gives to blades.

Ancient kingdoms[edit]

Bas-relief of a battle scene at Prambanan Temple depicting weapons of the time such as the sword, shield, club, bow, and a kris-like dagger

India and China were the first civilizations from outside Southeast Asia with whom Indonesia made contact and both countries influenced the local culture, religion and martial arts.[1] The oral history of Indonesia (Java in particular) begins with the arrival of Aji Saka (lit. primordial king) from India to Java. At the request of the local people, he successfully killed the ogre king of Medang Kamulan in battle and took his place as ruler. This story traditionally marks the rise of Java and the dawn of its Dharmic civilisation. The tale also illustrates the influence India had on Indonesian and Southeast Asian culture in general. Aji Saka is shown to be a fighter and swordsman, while his servants are also depicted as fighting with daggers. Ancient Indonesian art from this period also depicts warriors mounted on elephants wielding Chinese weapons such as the jian or straight double-edge sword, which is still used in some styles today.[1] The martial arts of Indonesia's Chinese community still exist and are known as kuntao.

The earliest evidence of silat being taught in a structured manner comes from Riau, Sumatra. Sumatran folklore tells that it was created by a woman named Rama Sukana who witnessed a fight between a tiger and a large bird. By using the animals' movements, she was able to fend off a group of drunken men that attacked her. She then taught the techniques to her husband Rama Isruna from whom they were formally passed down. There are several variations of this story depending on the region where it is told. On the island of Boyan (Bawean), Rama Sukana is believed to have watched monkeys fighting each other while the Sundanese of West Java believe that she saw a monkey battle a tiger. The accuracy of this legend cannot be substantiated but the fact that silat is attributed to a woman is thought to indicate its age, considering the prominence of women in traditional Southeast Asian society. Archaeological findings revealed that the origins of Pencak Silat dates back to the sixth century, to the times of the Srivijaya empire on Sumatra and also the 13th century Majapahit empire in East Java. Artifacts showed that this unique combat system had been used consistently through Indonesia’s history.[7]

In Pariaman, the influence of silat from Riau was consolidated by Ninik Dato' Suri Diraja (1097–1198) to create silek or Minangkabau silat in Sumatra.[8] Silat further spread to Srivijaya which dominated the coastal areas, while the Sailendra and Medang Kingdoms ruled central Java where the fighting arts developed in three geographical regions: West Java, Central Java, and East Java. Pencak silat especially flourished in Java which is now home to more different styles than any other Indonesian islands. In the 13th century, Srivijaya was defeated by the Tamil Cholas of south India. The Tamil stick fighting art of silambam is still the most common Indian fighting system in Southeast Asia today.

During the 1200s the warrior-king Kertanegara of Singhasari conquered the Melayu Kingdom, Maluku Islands, Bali, and other neighbouring areas. From 1280-1289, Kublai Khan sent envoys demanding that Singhasari submit to the Khan as Jambi and Melayu had already done, but Kertanegara responded defiantly by scarring the last envoy's face. Kublai Khan retaliated by sending a punitive expedition of 1000 junks to Java, but Kertanegara had already been killed by a vassal in Kediri before the Yuan force arrived. His son-in-law Raden Wijaya replaced Kertanegara as leader and allied himself with the arriving Mongol army. With their help Raden Wijaya was able to defeat the Kediri forces, and then betrayed the Mongols so that they fled back to China. The village founded by Raden Wijaya became the Majapahit empire. This was the first empire to unite all of Indonesia's major islands, and Javanese silat reached its technical zenith under Majapahit.

Balinese warriors armed with kris in the 1880s

Colonial era[edit]

The lucrative spice trade eventually brought colonists from Europe, first the Portuguese followed by the Dutch and British. The Dutch East India Company became the dominant power and established full colonial rule in Indonesia. Local revolts and uprisings were common, but all were suppressed by the Dutch armed with guns and cannons. The Arabs and Europeans of this time, as with the ancient Chinese before them, wrote of fierce warriors armed with an aresenal of weapons who would attack passing boats. The Bugis and Makassar people were particularly notorious for this, and were feared even by the colonists. The Dutch brought in even more Chinese workers to Indonesia, which brought a greater variety of local kuntao systems. But while the Europeans could effectively overtake and hold the cities, they found that it impossible to control the smaller villages and roads connecting them. Indonesians took advantage of this, fighting an underground war through guerilla tactics. Local weapons were recorded as being used against the Dutch, particularly knives and edged weapons such as the golok, parang, kris and klewang.

During the Dutch colonial era of the 18th and 19th century, the exploitative social and economic condition of the colony created the culture of the jago or local people's champion regarded as thugs and bandits by the colonial administration. Parallels can be seen in the jawara of Priangan, jagoan of Betawi, warok in the Ponorogo region of East Java, and the carok duelling tradition of Madura. The most infamous band of jagoan was the 19th century Si Pitung and Si Jampang, experts in Silat Betawi. Traditionally depicted as Robin Hood-like figures, they upheld justice for the common man by robbing from the rich who acquired power and status by collaborating with the colonists. The jago were despised by the Dutch authorities as criminals and thieves but were highly respected by the native Indonesians and local Chinese.

The words Mentjak (also Mentjah, Pentjah, Pentja ore Pentjak[5]) and Silat were used separately in the Dutch East Indies.[9] Dutch East Indian newspapers described Mentjak as Maleidsche (Malayan) swordsmanship suggesting that the origin of, ore at least, the word should be sought in the direction of Sumatra.[10] Dutch East Indian newspapers often used the Betawi term Poekoelan when describing Javanese martial arts, but also kuntoa and Sumatran and Lombok martial arts.[5] Nowadays the terms Poekoelan, Main Pukulan and Maen Pukulan are still being used in Jakarta and The Netherlands. In the twentieth century Pencak Silat was very populair among Indo-Dutch youth on the fringes of European society in the Dutch East Indies.[5] After Indonesian independence Indo-Dutch introduce Pencak Silat in The Netherlands.

Modern Indonesia[edit]

Conflict with the European rulers provided an impetus for the proliferation of new styles of pencak silat, now founded on the platform of nationalism and the desire for freedom from colonisation. After Indonesia's independence, pencak silat adapted itself in the context of modern sport and, in some cases, religion.[11] The Indonesian Pencak Silat Association (IPSI) was founded in 1947 to bring all of Indonesia's pencak silat under a single administration. The world's oldest nation-wide silat organisation, its basis is that all pencak silat is built on a common source, and that less functional styles must give way to the technically superior. IPSI has avoided the tendency of modern martial arts that gravitate towards sport. The resistance to sport has lessened over time, however, and sparring in particular has become less combative. While nominally an Indonesian organisation, many of the rules and regulations outlined by IPSI have become the de facto standard for silat competitions worldwide. In more recent decades, pencak silat was brought to the west by Indo people of Eurasian (mixed Indonesian and European) ancestry, such as Paatje Phefferkorn.

Today, Pencak Silat is one of a popular extra curricular activities among Indonesian school students, along with other martial arts such as karate and taekwondo. Pencak Silat is one of the combative sporting number held in local, national and international sporting events, such as in Pekan Olahraga Nasional and SEA Games. This Indonesian native martial art is also one of the combat skills adopted and practiced by the soldiers of Tentara Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian Military).[12]

Styles and schools[edit]

Further information: Styles of silat
The randai performance of Sumatra incorporates movements from Minang silek

In Indonesia, several cultural regions has developed their own style of Pencak Silat. This Pencak Silat culture might be distinguished according to ethnic boundaries and practiced as integral part of their traditional culture. The most notable Pencak Silat traditions are Minang Silek practiced by Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, and Maenpo or Pencak Silat Sunda, practiced by Sundanese people of West Java.

The silek harimau (tiger silat) from Minangkabau is one of the oldest and a well-preserved martial art tradition in Sumatra. The fighting style of silek harimau demonstrates a vast variety of kicks, strikes, locks, counters, ground fighting, as well as the use of various weapons such as kerambit that resembles tiger claw. One main characteristic of silek harimau is the open hand technique that mimics the paw and claws of a tiger in fight.[7] In Java, one of the oldest Pencak Silat school is the Pencak Silat Cimande, based on Sundanese traditional martial art, from Cimande village, Bogor Regency, West Java. It was developed by Pak Kahir, a respected pendekar (silat fighter) around 1760.[13]

Other than traditional cultural-related Pencak Silat, the martial art also possess numbers of perguruan or schools. They are among others; Balinese Bakti Negara, Javanese Merpati Putih practiced by Indonesian Military,[12] Inti Ombak Pencak Silat, Perisai Diri, Gadjah Putih Jati Wisesa, and Catholic Tunggal Hati Seminari.


The Pencak Silat practitioner demonstrates a technique to disarm opponent's golok.

Pencak silat styles and movements are as diverse as the Indonesian archipelago itself; each schools and disciplines might uses distinct styles and movements. Pencak silat employ wide ranges of movements, either as strikes (serangan) by punching (pukulan) or kicking (tendangan), to block the attack (tangkisan),[14] or as feigned attack (tipuan). Compared to other Asian martial arts, Pencak Silat seems to emphasize more on hands movements of kuncian (lit. "locking") and grappling.

Stances and steps[edit]

In Pencak Silat term, martial art stances is called kuda-kuda which relates to horse stance position, commonly found in most of Asian martial arts. Kuda-kuda is the basic stance of Pencak Silat, it was meant to provides stability and firm body position, from which the practitioner might embark on an assault or defense movement. The muscles trained to have a firm stances are feet, legs, thigh, glutes and back. Most common stance position is horse stance, while tiger stance, held the body quite low almost in crawling position. The low tiger stance is most common in Minang silek.

The stances is trained in par with steps or langkah. There are many forms of stances and steps according to its style and discipline. The basic stances such as the 8 directions steps.[15] The steps or langkah is usually trained as jurus (form) which is pre-meditated steps and movements.


Jurus or forms are pre-meditated set of steps and movements that corresponds to martial art disciplines, either as an assault or as a defense. Jurus is corresponds to kata in classical Karate. By training the langkah and jurus, the Pencak Silat practitioner is expected to develop the agility as well as the reflexes or "body memory" of the movement, hence they could act and react correctly in any given combative situation just in a split-second. Practitioners of Pencak Silat techniques use their jurus to develop reflexes and condition their bodies for combat.[2]

The jurus is also contributed to the aesthetic aspect of Pencak Silat. The kembang (lit. "flower") is a certain hands movements performed in slow and in such graceful way that somehow resembles traditional dance. Those not aware of the combative nature of these moves, however, might think the forms were Indonesian dancing rather than the formalized conditioning for Pencak Silat techniques.[2]


In Pencak Silat, there are various punch techniques that depend on Pencak silat's origin, style and discipline.[14] The basic strikes of Pencak Silat are punch (pukulan) and kick (tendangan), and many variations in between. The punch might be performed in clasping fist or open palm, in penetrating punch or slapping strike. The sikut strikes uses elbow, while lutut or dengkul strikes uses knee. The guntingan (lit. "scissors") is a grapling method using legs grip to disable or immobile the opponent, while sapuan (lit. "sweeping") is a foot assault movement to pull down the opponent's stances and overthrown the opponent.


Block or tangkisan is also a basic movement in Pencak Silat.[14] They might named differently according to each schools and disciplines. The blocks usually uses forearms and hands, or sometimes shoulders.


Main article: Weapons of silat

Despite many Pencak Silat styles and movements seems to be a weaponless hands-based martial art, some schools might uses simple to elaborate set of weapons. Some weapons that might be used in Pencak Silat combat are:

  • Kris: A dagger, often with a wavy blade made by folding different types of metal together and then washing it in acid.
  • Kujang: Sundanese blade roughly shaped like a deer's antler.
  • Samping/Linso: Piece of silk fabric worn around the waist or shoulder, used in locking techniques and for defense against blades.
  • Toya: Rod or staff made from wood, steel or bamboo.
  • Kipas: Traditional folding fan preferably made of hardwood or iron.
  • Kerambit/Kuku Macan: A blade shaped like a tiger's claw
  • Sabit/Celurit: A sickle, commonly used in farming, cultivation and harvesting of crops.
  • Sundang: A double edge Bugis sword, often wavy-bladed
  • Rencong/Tumbuk Lada: Slightly curved Minang dagger, literally meaning "pepper crusher".
  • Tombak/Lembing: Spear or javelin made of bamboo, steel or wood that sometimes has horsehair attached near the blade.
  • Parang/Golok: Machete or broadsword, commonly used in daily tasks such as cutting through forest brush.
  • Trisula: A trident or 3-pronged spear
  • Cabang: Short-handled trident, literally meaning "branch"

International competitions[edit]

Indonesia vs. Malaysia in the Pencak Silat women's final match at the 2011 Southeast Asian Games.

The major international competition is Pencak Silat World Championship, organised by PERSILAT.[16] This competition takes place every 2 or 3 years period. More than 30 national teams competed in the latest tournament in Jakarta, 12–17 December 2010.

List of Pencak Silat World Championships[edit]

Championship Year Host Nations Events
I 1982 Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia 7
II 1984 Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia 9
III 1986 Austria Vienna, Austria 14
IV 1987 Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 18
V 1988 Singapore Singapore 18
VI 1990 Netherlands Den Haag, Netherlands 18
VII 1992 Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia 20
VIII 1994 Thailand Hatyai, Thailand 19
IX 1997 Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 20
X 2000 Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia 20
XI 2002 Malaysia Penang, Malaysia 19
XII 2004 Singapore Singapore 20
XIII 2007 Malaysia Pahang, Malaysia 26
XIV 2010 Indonesia Jakarta, Indonesia 32 23
XV 2012 Thailand Chiang Rai, Thailand  ?
XVI 2015 Thailand Phuket, Thailand 37 37

All-medal table[edit]

 Rank  Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Indonesia 12 7 16 35
2  Malaysia 9 4 8 21
3  Thailand 7 4 14 23
4  Singapore 8 3 9 20
5  Iran 4 8 5 17
6  Vietnam 3 7 7 17
7  France 3 4 6 13
8  China 2 5 9 16
9  Netherlands 2 6 11 19
10  Hong Kong 2 1 4 7
11  South Africa 1 2 4 7
12  Canada 0 4 4 8
13  United Kingdom 0 4 1 5
14  Israel 0 3 2 5
15  Brazil 0 2 1 3
Total 53 65 92 212

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Donn F. Draeger (1992). Weapons and fighting arts of Indonesia. Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 978-0-8048-1716-5. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Pencak Silat: Techniques and History of the Indonesian Martial Arts". Black Belt Magazine. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Howard Alexander, Quintin Chambers, Donn F. Draeger (1979). Pentjak Silat: The Indonesian Fighting Art. Tokyo, Japan : Kodansha International Ltd. 
  4. ^ Sheikh Shamsuddin (2005). The Malay Art Of Self-defense: Silat Seni Gayong. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-562-2. 
  5. ^ a b c d Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indië 20-02-19
  7. ^ a b "Silek Harimau Minangkabau: the True Martial Art of West Sumatra". Wonderful Indonesia. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Thesis: Seni Silat Melayu by Abd Rahman Ismail (USM 2005 matter 188)
  9. ^ Bataviaasch nieuwsblad 24-04-1928
  10. ^ Sumatra-courant : nieuws- en advertentieblad 23-11-1872
  11. ^ Uwe Patzold (2011). Self-Defense and Music in Muslim Context in West Java in Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia. Oxford, UK : Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-538541-0. 
  12. ^ a b "KOARMATIM Siap Tarung" (in Indonesian). Tentara Nasional Indonesia. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  13. ^ "Cimande". Cimande France. Retrieved 8 July 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c "Pencak Silat Punch and Blocking Techniques". Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Pencak Silat Body Basics". Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "International Pencak Silat Competition Regulations". PERSILAT. 2004. Retrieved 2010-12-21. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Quintin Chambers and Donn F. Draeger (1979). Javanese Silat: The Fighting Art of Perisai Diri. ISBN 0-87011-353-4. 
  • Sean Stark (2007). Pencak Silat Pertempuran: Vol. 1. Stark Publishing. ISBN 978-0-615-13968-5. 
  • Sean Stark (2007). Pencak Silat Pertempuran: Vol. 2. Stark Publishing. ISBN 978-0-615-13784-1. 
  • O'ong Maryono (2002). Pencak Silat in the Indonesian Archipelago. ISBN 9799341604. 
  • Suwanda, Herman (2006). Pencak Silat Through my eyes. Los Angeles: Empire Books. p. 97. ISBN 9781933901039. 
  • Mason, P.H. (2012) "A Barometer of Modernity: Village performances in the highlands of West Sumatra," ACCESS: Critical Perspectives on Communication, Cultural & Policy Studies, 31(2), 79-90.

External links[edit]