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 Nusantara. It is a full-body fighting form incorporating strikes, grappling and throwing in addition to weaponry. Every part of the body is used and subject to attack. Pencak silat was practiced not only for physical defense but also for psychological ends.
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).
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Styles and schools
- 4 Techniques
- 5 Weapons
- 6 International competitions
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
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.
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.
Other terms may be used in particular dialects such as silek, penca, mancak, maen po or main-po.
Dutch East Indian newspapers of the colonial era recorded the terms for martial arts under Dutch spellings. These include silat, pencak (spelled in Dutch as "pentjak"), penca ("pentjah"), mancak ("mentjak"), manca ("mentjah"), and pukulan ("poekoelan"). In 1881 a magazine calls mancak a Batak fencing game "with long swords, daggers or wood (mentjah)" These papers described mancak as Malayan (Maleidsche) suggesting that the word originates in Sumatra. These terms were used separately from silat in the Dutch East Indies. The terms pukulan or main pukulan (spelled "maen poekoelan" in Dutch) referred to the fighting systems of Jakarta but was also used generally for the martial arts of other parts of Indonesia such as Sumatra and Lombok. Believed to be a Betawi term, it derives from the words for play (main) and hit (pukulan).
The oral history of Indonesia 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 Dewata Cengkar 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. The martial arts of Indonesia's Chinese community still exist and are known as kuntao.
The earliest evidence of pencak silat being taught in a structured manner comes from 6th-century 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 fact that this legend attributes silat to a woman is thought to indicate its age, considering the prominence of women in traditional Southeast Asian society.
Evidence shows that pencak silat had been used consistently through Indonesia’s history. From its birthplace in Riau, the art spread to the Minangkabau capital in West Sumatra. The Minangkabau had a feudal government. Military officers called hulubalang acted as bodyguards to the king or yam tuan. Minang warriors served without pay, all skilled horsemen with the native pony. The plunder was divided among them according to military merit, so fighters strove to outdo each other. Stealth and ambush were their preferred war tactics, and the Minangkabau are said to have been among the best assassins in the world when dispatched singly. They were also expert bladesmiths, producing arms both for their own use and for export to Aceh.
Pencak 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 13th century, 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. With his silat-trained warriors, Raden Wijaya then turned on the Mongols so that they fled back to China. The village he founded became the Majapahit empire. This was the first empire to unite all of Indonesia's major islands, and Javanese pencak silat reached its technical zenith during this period. In Majapahit, pencak silat became the specialised property of the nobility and its advanced secrets were hidden from commoners. For example, Merpati Putih is said to have been kept secret in the palaces of Java until the 20th century.
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 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.
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. The Indonesian Pencak Silat Association (IPSI) was founded in 1948 to bring all of Indonesia's pencak silat under a single administration. The world's oldest nationwide 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. Indo-Dutch Eurasians who first began practicing pencak silat in the 20th century spread the art to the west in recent decades.
Today pencak silat is one of the extra-curricular activities taught in Indonesian schools and the Merpati Putih system is the standard unarmed martial art of the Indonesian National Armed Forces. It is included as a combat sport in local, national and international athletic events such as the SEA Games and Indonesia's National Sports Week. Since 2012, the Pencak Malioboro Festival has been held annually and features demonstrations by the biggest silat schools in Indonesia.
Styles and schools
Over 150 styles of pencak silat are recognised in Indonesia, although the actual number of existing systems is well beyond that. Older methods are typically identified with specific ethno-cultural groups or particular regions. After Indonesia's independence, pencak silat adapted itself in the context of modern sport and, in some cases, religion.
The Minangkabau formed the dominant sovereignty in Sumatra and make up the majority of Sumatran pencak silat systems. These styles may be referred to as silat Minangkabau, silat padang (lit. field silat), or silek, the local pronunciation of silat. Very few systems in Indonesia have not been influenced by silek, and its techniques form the core of pencak silat throughout Sumatra. It developed as an extension of the original silat Melayu from Riau. Folklore traces this to five masters, namely Ninik Datuak Suri Dirajo from Padang Panjang, Kambiang Utan ("forest goat") from Cambodia, Harimau Campo ("tiger of Champa") from Vietnam, Kuciang Siam ("Siamese cat") from Thailand and Anjiang Mualim ("teacher dog") from Gujarat. Traditional Minang custom is based around the clan-based matrilineal society, so silek was commonly practiced by women. Silat Minangkabau is characterised by its low stances and reliance on kicks and leg tactics. The low stance is said to have developed to offset the chance of falling on slippery or wet ground. Hand and arm movements are fast, honed through an exercise in which the exponent stands across from a partner tossing sharpened sticks or knives. The exponent must redirect the sticks or knives and send them back at the thrower, using their hands and a minimum of movements with the rest of the body. IPSI recognises Silek Tuo (old silek), Silek Harimau (tiger silek) and Silek Buaya (crocodile silek) as among the oldest pencak silat in existence. Silek Harimau, also known as Silek Kuciang or cat silek, epitomizes the Minang techniques in that it focuses on crouching and kicking from a low position paired with rapid hand attacks. Prominent Minang weapons include the pedang (sword), tombak (spear), kris (dagger), klewang (longsword), sabit (sickle), payung (umbrella), kerambit (claw), and various types of knives.
The Sundanese pencak silat of West Java may be called silat Sunda or silat Bandung. In the Sunda language they are generically referred to as penca (dialect form of pencak), ameng, ulin or maen po (from the word main meaning "play"). Ameng is the more respectful term, while ulin and maen po are of lower speech levels. Sunda systems are easily identified by the prefix ci. Pronounced "chi", it comes from the Sundanese word cai meaning water. IPSI recognises Cimacan (tiger style), Ciular (snake style), and Pamonyet (monkey style) as among the oldest existing pencak silat. Cimacan is said to have been created by a Buddhist monk. The most prominent system of West Java is penca Cimande, founded by Embah Kahir in Cimande village of the Sukabumi area around 1760. Several stories of its origin exist, even tying it to the older Rama Sukana legend of Sumatra. The system itself is said to have origins dating back much further than Embah Kahir, and is believed by many masters to be the original penca of West Java. The town of Cianjur - seen as the heartland of Sunda culture - is associated with a few systems, the most prominent of them being Cikalong or bat style. Borrowing its technical base from Cimande, Cikalong was founded by Raden Jayaperbata after meditating in a cave in the Cikalong Kulon village. Penca instruction was traditionally done through apprenticeship, wherein prospective students offer to work as a servant in the master's house or a labourer in the rice fields. In exchange for working during the day, the master provides the student's meals and trains during the evening.
Pencak silat is also traditionally practiced by Betawi people of Greater Jakarta. Betawi martial art was rooted in Betawi culture of jagoan (lit. "tough guy" or "local hero") that during colonial times often went against colonial authority; despised by the Dutch as thugs and bandits, but highly respected by local pribumis as native's champion. In Betawi dialect, their style of pencak silat is called maen pukulan (lit. playing strike) which related to Sundanese maen po. Notable schools among other are Beksi and Cingkrik. Beksi is one of the most commonly practiced forms of silat in Greater Jakarta, and is distinguishable from other Betawi silat styles by its close-distance combat style and lack of offensive leg action.
The Javanese pencak silat tradition were developed by several perguruan (schools). The notable school among others are Merpati Putih and Inti Ombak from Yogyakarta, and Perisai Diri from Surabaya. PPS Betako Merpati Putih stands for Perguruan Pencak Silat Beladiri Tangan Kosong Merpati Putih or "Empty Handed Pencak Silat Martial Art School of Merpati Putih". Officially established on 2 April 1963 in Yogyakarta, Merpati Putih is rooted in the Javanese beliefs and philosophies based on Javanese keraton (court) tradition, and can trace its origin to the martial art tradition of the 17th century Mataram Sultanate. The name in Indonesian literary means "white dove". Although Merpati Putih literary means "white dove" in Indonesian language, and the bird become the symbol of the school, the name is actually an abbreviation of a Javanese proverb: Mersudi Patitising Tindak Pusakane Titising Hening which means "Always searching for the truth with inner peace". The school also has a motto: Sumbangsihku tak berharga, namun Keikhlasanku nyata, which means "My contribution is humble, but my sincerity is real".
Merpati Putih focused heavily on empty-handed self defense and tenaga dalam ("inner strength") developed through intense breathing technique trainings. Although the style is very much self-defence oriented, its practitioners also participate in modern competitions and have achieved some important victories in many regional, national and international tournaments. Today, the school of Merpati Putih is one of the most widely distributed and has large numbers of practitioner in Indonesia and abroad. The school of Merpati Putih has numbers branches established in schools and universities in Indonesia to attract students to learn pencak silat as an extra curricular activity. The Merpati Putih self-defense system is also adopted and practiced by Indonesian Military. Merpati Putih has established its overseas schools, in United States, Japan and the Netherlands.
Pencak silat tradition is also developed in the Hindu-majority island of Bali. The Bakti Negara school is firmly rooted in the old Balinese Hinduism philosophy of Tri Hita Karana. Bakti Negara was officially established on 31 January 1955 in Banjar Kaliungu Kaja of Denpasar, Bali by four freedom-fighters who were veterans in Indonesia's struggle for independence from the Dutch. They were Anak Agung Rai Tokir, I Bagus Made Rai Keplag, Anak Agung Meranggi and Sri Empu Dwi Tantra. The school teaches four elements: sport (physical), martial (skill), art, also mental and spirituality.
Pencak silat in the Maluku Islands uses a wide variety of weaponry, some of which are indigenous to the area. The particular specialty of Malukan silat is the chabang (forked truncheon), pisau (knife), galah (staff), and the long-bladed pedang (sword). On Haruku Island, particular emphasis is placed on one-legged stances. This tactic is well-suited to fighting in the ankle-deep sands of the island, allowing the exponent to use both kicking and eye-gouging techniques simultaneously.
Generalizations in pencak silat technique are very difficult; styles and movements are as diverse as the Indonesian archipelago itself. Individual disciplines can be offensive, defensive, or somewhere in between. They may focus on strikes (pukulan), kicks (tendangan), locks (kuncian), weapons (senjata), grabs, or even on spiritual development rather than physical fighting techniques. Most styles specialize in one or two of these, but still make use of them all to some degree.
Stances and steps
Students begin by learning basic body stances and steps. Steps or langkah are ways of moving the feet from one point to another during a fight. Pencak silat has several basic steps, known as langkah 8 penjuru or "eight directions of steps". Traditional music is often used as a signal to change body position when practicing langkah.
Langkah are taught in conjunction with preset stances, meant to provide a foundation from which to defend oneself or to launch attacks. The most basic stance is the horse stance (kekuda or kuda-kuda), which provides stability and firm body position by strengthening the quads. Other stances may train the feet, legs, thighs, glutes and back. Other essential stances are the middle stance, the side stance, and the forward stance. The crawling tiger stance, in which the body is kept low in a ground-hugging position, is most common in Minang silek. Stances are essentially a combination of langkah, body posture, and movement. Through their correct application, the practitioner will be able to attack or defend whether standing, crouching, or sitting down, and alternate smoothly from one position to another. When the student has become familiar with stances and langkah, all are combined in forms or jurus.
Jurus or forms are a pre-meditated set of steps and movements used for practicing proper technique, training agility, and conditioning the body. Repetition of jurus also develops muscle memory so the practitioner can act and react correctly within a split-second in any given combative situation without having to think. Either armed or unarmed, jurus may be solo, one against one, one against several, or even two against more than one. Forms involving more than one practitioner are meant to be performed at the speed of an actual fight. Real weapons are used in the case of armed jurus, but are sometimes unsharpened today. The kembang (lit. "flower") aspect of forms consists of fluid movements with the hands and arms resembling traditional Indonesian dance. As with Korean taekkyeon, these movements are preparation for defending or reversing the opponent's attack. Musical accompaniment provides a metronome to indicate the rhythm of motion. For example, the beat of a drum might signify an attack. Those not aware of the combative nature of these moves often mistake the forms for dancing rather than the formalized training of fighting techniques.
Pencak silat uses the whole body for attack. The basic strikes are the punch (pukul) and kick (tendang), with many variations in between. Strikes may be performed with the fists, open palms, shins, feet (kaki), elbows (sikut), knees (dengkul or lutut), shoulders (bahu), or the fingers (jari). Even basic attacks may vary depending on style, lineage, and regional origin. Some systems may favour punching with the clenched fist, while others might prefer slapping with the palm of the hand. Other common tactics include feints (tipuan) or deceptive blows used as distraction, sweeping (sapuan) to knock the opponent down, and the scissors takedown (guntingan) which grips the legs around the opponent.
Defense in pencak silat consists of blocking, dodging, deflecting, and countering. Blocks or tangkisan are the most basic form of defense. Because pencak silat may target any part of the body, blocks can be done with the forearms, hands, shoulders, or shins. Blocking with the elbows may even hurt the attacker. Attacks can also be used defensively, such as kneeing a kicking opponent's leg. Hard blocks, in which force is met with force, are most suitable when fighting opponents of the same strength or lower. Styles that rely on physical power favour this approach, such as Tenaga Dasar. To minimize any damage sustained by the defender when blocking in this way, body conditioning is used such as toughening the forearms by hitting them against hard surfaces. In cases where the opponent is of greater strength, evasion (elakan) or deflections (pesongan) would be used, and are actually preferred in certain styles.
As with most ancient fighting arts, pencak silat historically prioritized weapons over unarmed combat. While this is usually not the case today, all pencak silat schools include weapons to some degree of importance. The following are the most commonly used weapons in pencak silat today.
- 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"
The major international competition is Pencak Silat World Championship, organised by PERSILAT. 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
|1987||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||18|
|1990||Den Haag, Netherlands||18|
|1997||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||20|
|2012||Chiang Rai, Thailand||?|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pencak Silat.|
- Official website of PERSILAT, the Pencak Silat World Federation
- A collection of essays on Pencak Silat by O'ong Maryono.