Brief History of Pencak Silat
What is the definition of Pencak Silat?
The official name used to indicate more than 800 martial arts schools and styles spread across more than 13,000 islands in Indonesia is called “pencak silat”. However, this is actually a compound name consisting of two terms used in different regions. The word “pencak” and its dialectic derivatives such as “penca” (West Java) and “mancak” (Madura and Bali) is commonly used in Java, Madura and Bali, whereas the term “silat” or “silek” is used in Sumatra.
The ambition to unify all these different cultural expressions in a common terminology as part of declaring Indonesia’s unity and independence from colonial power, was first expressed in 1948 with the establishment of the Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (Indonesian Pencak Silat Association, IPSI). However, it could only be realized in 1973 when representatives from different schools and styles finally formally agreed to the use of “pencak silat” in official discourse, albeit original terms are still widely used at the local level.
What are the origins of Pencak Silat?
It is not easy tracing the history of pencak silat because written documentation was limited and oral information was handed down from the gurus or masters. Each region in the archipelago has its own version of its origin which is largely based on oral tradition. Malay myths concur that pencak silat was originally developed by tribal groups in the archipelago through the observation of animal movements and other natural phenomena, in an effort to defend themselves from wild creatures and other environmental dangers. In the course of time, pencak silat eventually become instrumental in attaining social status when fighting among tribal groups, clans, communities and later kingdoms. Because of his/her skills a person could be feared and respected by the surrounding society, and secure prestige and political power.
Pencak silat as self-defense has always existed since human beings had to fight with each other and with wild animals in order to survive. At that time, people who were strong and skilled in fighting could attain a privileged position in society, and could become heads of clans or army commanders. In the long run, fighting techniques started to be regulated, so that a comprehensive martial art form was developed which was eventually called pencak silat. (Asikin 1975:9-10)
Subjugation happened because groups of people started to fight each other to gain control of power. In an effort to expand the conquered areas, kingdoms were created. To maintain and expand the power of these kingdoms, self-defense, with or without arms, was developed. (Liem, 1960:38-40)
When, where and how this process of systematization started nobody knows. What can be gathered from the scant information available is that pencak silat developed from the acculturation of various self-defense styles, which had developed locally under different names and with different characteristics.
Pencak Silat’s Role in History
Pencak silat plays an important role in Indonesia’s history. Since the age of ancient Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms like Srivijaya, Majapahit, and Kingdom of Sunda, these kingdoms used pencak silat to train their soldiers and warriors.
Archaeological evidence reveals that by the sixth century A.D. formalized combative systems were being practiced in the area of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula. Two kingdoms, the Srivijaya in Sumatra from the 7th to the 14th century and the Majapahit in Java from the 13th to 16th centuries made good use of these fighting skills and were able to extend their rule across much of what is now Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
According to tradition of Minangkabau, their Silek (Minangkabau pencak silat) can be traced to the fore father of ancient Minangkabau people, Datuk Suri Dirajo. It is said that according to old Javanese poetry, Kidung Sunda, the sentinels of the Prabu Maharaja Sunda exhibited great skill in the art of pencak silat when they escorted Princess Dyah Pitaloka to Majapahit as a potential bride for King Hayam Wuruk, and faced indignities that greatly affronted their honour. In a battle that ensued at the Bubat field (1346), the Sundanese forces fought to the last drop of blood, using special pencak silat moves and various weapons. Albeit the pencak silat styles employed in combat were different, we can still draw the conclusion that in Javanese kingdoms throughout the archipelago, pencak silat served the same function: to defend, maintain or expand territory.
Different styles of Pencak Silat
There is no overall standard for Pencak Silat. Each style has its own particular movement patterns, specially designed techniques and tactical rationale. The richness of terms reflects a wide diversity in styles and techniques across the regions due to the fact that pencak silat has been developed by different masters who have created their own style according to their preferences and to the physical environment and social-cultural context in which they live. For example, West Java, Central Java and West Sumatra.
West Java is inhabited by a specific ethnic group with specific cultural and social norms. For them, pencak silat is part of their way of life or as they say, “the blood in their body”. In their language they say “penca” or “menpo” (from “maen poho’, which literally means play with trickery) to indicate their main four styles Cimande, Cikalong, Timbangan, and Cikaret and all the schools and techniques which have derived from them. The Sundanese people have always utilized penca/menpo for self-defense and recreation, and only recently have started to use it as a sport in national and regional competitions.
The bela-diri (self-defense) aspect of penca can be very dangerous. Therefore it was kept secret, especially its mystical aspect where only selected students were taught in phases. Penca as an art (penca ibing) has been a source of inspiration for traditional Sundanese dances such as Jaepongan, Ketu’tilu’, Dombret, and Cikeruhan and actually it resembles dance in its use of music instruments. These instruments, called “pencak drummers” (gendang penca), are devoted exclusively to penca performances and consist of two sets of drummers (gendang anak dan kulantir), a trumpet (tetet) and a gong. Pencak performances also use standard music rhythms such as tepak dua, tepak tilu, tepak dungdung, golempang and paleredan. Penca as art is not considered dangerous and can be openly shown to everyone. From generation to generation until today, penca performances animate wedding parties, rituals of circumcision, celebrations of the rice harvest and all kind of national festivities.
* Asikin. Pelajaran Pencak Silat. 1975
* Central Board of The Indonesian Pencak Silat Association. An Introduction to Pencak Silat.
* Draeger, Don F. The Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia. Japan: Tuttle Company. 1972.
* Liem, Yoe Kiong. Rahasia ilmu pedang. 1960
* O’ong Maryono. Pencak Silat in the Indonesian Archipelago. http://www.kpsnusantara.com/rapid/rapid-list.htm. 25 May 2005
* Steele, David E. A History of the Indonesian Martial Arts.