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Silat, Indonesian traditional martial arts

October 9, 2008

Silat or pencak silat is a dynamic self defense art featuring everything from knife fighting to submission holds and joint locking techniques. It is a martial art with roots based in forms and dances (Lankas and Juru’s). Since these applications are expressed in dances, drills and fighting technicues that emphasize fluidity of movement in a combat application, silat seems very similar to the Indonesian traditional dances, using music as background as gendang penca in West Java and ketepongan in the island of Madura. There are quite a number of variants (“aliran”) of silat such as Cimande, Cikalong, Cingkrik, Cikaret, Timbangan, Serak, Beksi, Kwitang, Bojonegaran, Gusti Harimurti, Silek Tuo, Starlak, Kumango, Lintau , Pauh, Painan, Sungai Patai, Bawean, Podai.  

From literary tradition, epic stories and colonial government reports, pencak silat developed rapidly amidst the communities of Central Java, East Java and Madura during Dutch colonial times. Many poems and folk tales tell highly stylized images of the young master of pencak silat, called jago or pendekar, studying the Al Qur’an, and practicing pencak silat in the monastery as an eager youth. Then, after mastering the skills, the jago rises to the role of opposing the Dutch, by becoming a marauding bandit who steals from the rich and distributes the spoils of this thievery to the poor, sometimes donating it in order to build a village mosque. The legend of these “Robin Hoods of Java” have become well known and their actions are described in Malay and Indonesian literature, some of them in the form of popular comic books. The adventures of Sakera (a hero from Madura), Sarip Tambak Yoso (a jago who won Surabaya), Sawung Galing (a jago from Pasuruan) and Si Pitung (a jago of Batavia) have spread far and wide in the Indonesian archipelago, with many of their stories being passed on orally from generation to generation, and some even being adapted for cinema and television.

It is believed that the development of silat in the Dutch colonial period is closely related to the social-economic situation during the 18th and 19th centuries in Java. At that time, pencak silat spread across Java via mass (trans)migration, which resulted from the development of transportation and infrastructure, as well as from changes in the agricultural economy. In 1808 hundreds of thousands of farmers from the whole northern coast of Java were mobilized as forced laborers (kuli or coolies) to build a highway, known as the “Grote Postweg”, stretching from Anyer (in Java ‘s westernmost point) to Panarukan (on Java ‘s east coast), covering approximately a 1000 km (Koentjaningrat 1994:66).

In the very little spare time they had, the kuli from each region who were involved in the construction, entertained themselves and each other by practicing and showing off their pencak silat-skills. Their expertise in self-defense was, clearly, also useful for them in facing conflicts or robberies, which often arose amongst the different groups of laborers or against their often tyrannical overseers and work-bosses. So it happened that different, regionally based styles of pencak silat, in this case various Javanese branches of pencak silat, became mixed. This eventually resulted in the creation of new pencak silat styles.

The Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (IPSI) or Indonesian Pencak Silat Organization is a national umbrella organization for Indonesian pencak silat schools. The members of IPSI are independent pencak silat perguruans spread all over the country. It is said (but official statistics are lacking) that IPSI counts more than 800 pencak silat perguruans from 26 provinces as its members.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. septyan arc_rilick ...... permalink
    May 23, 2009 9:23 pm

    apaan nie gw kga ngerti . . . . .. . .

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