Pencak Silat

Pencak Silat
Pencak silat demonstration in Jakarta.

Pencak silat (Indonesian pronunciation: [ˈpɛntʃaʔ ˈsilat]; also spelled penchak silat and pentjak silat) is an umbrella term for the indigenous martial arts created in Indonesia.[1] The leading organization of pencak silat in Indonesia is IPSI (Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia meaning Organization for Indonesian Pencak Silat). The liaison body for international pencak silat is the International Pencak Silat Association or PERSILAT (Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antara Bangsa).



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. In modern usage, pencak and silat are seen as being two aspects of the same practice. Pencak is the performance aspects of the martial art, while silat is the essence of the fighting and self-defense.


The pencak silat tradition is mostly oral, having been passed down almost entirely by word of mouth. In the absence of written records, much of its history is known only through myth and archaeological evidence. The primary weapons of Indonesia's tribal peoples were the single-edge sword, shield and javelin. The inhabitants of Nias Island had until the 20th century remained largely untouched by the outside world. However, they are culturally similar to the Himalayan Naga tribe. Neighbouring Sumatrans are said to have left the Nias people alone because they were fearless warriors.

Balinese warriors armed with kris in the 1880s

Bas-reliefs in Srivijaya depict warriors wielding such weapons as the jian or Chinese straight sword, which is still used in some styles today.[1] Additionally, Javanese blades are of Indian derivation. It was during this period that silat was first formulised. The earliest evidence of silat being taught in a structured manner comes from the Sumatra-based empire of Srivijaya where 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 created cimande after seeing 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 their prominence in ancient Southeast Asian society.

While Srivijaya dominated the coastal areas, the Sanjaya (or Mataram) and Sailendra kingdoms ruled central 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 Cholas of south India. This was followed by the decline of the Sailendra and Sanjaya kingdoms but it also gave rise to the Majapahit empire. This was the first empire to unite all of Indonesia's major islands.

The influence of silat from the mainland was consolidated by Ninik Dato' Suri Diraja (1097–1198) to create silek or Minangkabau silat in Sumatra.[2]

Pencak silat was later used by Indonesian freedom-fighters against Dutch colonists. During this time the Bugis and Makassar people from south Sulawesi were very well known as expert sailors, navigators and warriors. After Indonesia's independence, pencak silat was brought to Europe by Indo people of Eurasian (mixed Indonesian and European) ancestry, such as the well known Paatje Phefferkorn. The art is now popular in the Netherlands, Spain and France. Schools can also be found in the USA.


Betawi practitioners demonstrating the disarming of a golok
  • 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
  • Samping/Linso: Piece of silk fabric worn around the waist or shoulder, used in locking techniques and for defense against blades.
  • Batang/Galah: Rod or staff made from wood, steel or bamboo.
  • Cindai: Cloth, usually worn as sarong or wrapped as head gear. Traditionally women cover their head with cloth which can be transformed into cindai.
  • Tongkat/Toya: Walking-stick carried by the elderly and travelers.
  • Kipas: Traditional folding fan preferably made of hardwood or iron.
  • Kerambit/Kuku Machan: A blade shaped like a tiger's claw that women could tie in their hair.
  • Sabit/Clurit: 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".
  • Gedak: Mace/ club made of steel.
  • Tombak/Lembing: Spear/ javelin made of bamboo, steel or wood that sometimes has horsehair attached near the blade.
  • Parang/Golok: Machete/ broadsword, commonly used in daily tasks such as cutting through forest brush.
  • Trisula: A trident or 3-pronged spear
  • Chabang/Cabang: Short-handled trident, literally meaning "branch".

International Competitions

The major international competition is Pencak Silat World Championship, organised by PERSILAT.[3] 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

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

See also


  1. ^ a b Donn F. Draeger (1992). Weapons and fighting arts of Indonesia. Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co.. ISBN 9780804817165. 
  2. ^ Thesis: Seni Silat Melayu by Abd Rahman Ismail (USM 2005 matter 188)
  3. ^ "International Pencak Silat Competition Regulations". PERSILAT. 2004. Retrieved 2010-12-21. 

Further reading

  • Quintin Chambers and Donn F. Draeger (1979). Javanese Silat: The Fighting Art of Perisai Diri. ISBN 0870113534. 
  • Sean Stark (2007). Pencak Silat Pertempuran: Vol. 1. Stark Publishing. ISBN 9780615136985. 
  • Sean Stark (2007). Pencak Silat Pertempuran: Vol. 2. Stark Publishing. ISBN 9780615137841. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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