Pencak Silat (Pentjak Silat, Puncak Silat)
Described as one of the deadliest martial arts of Indonesia, Pencak Silat focuses on self defence against multiple opponents.
Pentjak Silat is a traditional Indonesian martial art that was originally an armed style of combat. Traditionally pentjak was a secretive method of self-defence and was not meant to be used for competitive combats shown in public. It was also a path to spiritual enlightment and in some parts of Java also a component of community celebrations. Although it has been described as one of the deadliest martial arts of the Indonesian archipelago, it is not considered an art of war, but rather an art of stopping the war.
Today it is a non-aggressive martial arts that is practiced by men and women of any age, and is accessible to children and complete beginners in martial arts.
Silat is the essence of the fighting and self-defense, the application of these movements in a fight. In this sense Silat and Pencak represent the esoteric and exoteric aspects of the same fighting style.
The origin of the words pencak and silat are still unclear. Some believe that Silat comes from silap, 'meaning making a mistake', in the sense that the opponent's strength is used against him. However, the most prominent origin theory of the word silat is that it derives from sekilat which means "as (fast as) lightning". This may have been used to describe a warrior's movements before eventually being shortened to silat. Some believe it may come from the word elat which means to fool or trick. Pencak is thought to come from the Sanskrit word pancha meaning five, or from the Chinese pencha meaning avert or deflect.
Another interpretation is that Pencak has the meaning of "method of educating" whereas "Silat" means "friendship", in which case Pencak Silat would stand for "to be educated in how to live harmoniously with others".
Pentjak Silat systems are generally named after a geographical area, city, district, person, animal, physical action, or a spiritual or combative principle. For example, Undukayam Silat takes its name from the actions of a hen scratching the ground. The Seitia Hati, 'faithful heart', system gets its name from a spiritual principle. Mustika Kwitang is named after the Kwitang district in Jakarta. Menangkabau Silat derives its name from the Menankebau people.
The focus in all Pentjak Silat systems is on defence against multiple opponents. Basic training involves defence against a minimum of three attackers and students eventually progress to exercises involving five to seven assailants. Traditional Silat is all about protecting your life at all costs and doing whatever is necessary to survive, reason why many traditionalists oppose competitive Silat (combat Silat) where, they feel, the essence of Silat would be negated.
Pentjak Silat students are also taught the importance of extricating themselves from one opponent to face another when fighting multiple assailants. The Silat practitioner should never engage in a fight to one attacker to such a degree that he cannot make an immediate escape to face a secondary attacker.
Silat practitioners never disregard a fallen opponent and always assume a ready stance in anticipation of further attacks either from the opponent they just dealt with, or from other attackers. Such caution and awareness are typical of South-East Asian self-defense systems. It is not uncommon for a Silat stylist to deliver repeated follow-up strikes even after an assailant has been taken down.
Similarly to the ninjutsu techniques Tenmon (meteorology) and Chimon (geography), Silat practitioners are taught to consider the climate, time of day and the terrain upon which they are fighting to determine the proper tactics to employ. Other factors such as the opponent's clothing can help ascertain the emotional atmosphere of the fight.
All Silat methods include a belief system, often based on the instructor's religious background, but the spiritual aspect does not have the same importance in all Silat styles. The belief system serves as a philosophical foundation for the student's fighting techniques and results in courage, confidence, and the will to fight in the side of truth and justice. Much of the physical aspect of traditional Silat has mental and spiritual equivalents.
History and Origins
Pencak Silat is believed to have originated in Peninsular Malaysia in the fifteenth century. Several legends exist concerning the origin of Silat. Some of these involve a woman, accounting for the graceful and feminine look of Silat.
Traditional Pentjak Silat is highly secretive. Teachers are very selective and usually keep to themselves. The only way to find an instructor is through introduction by a family member or friend of the teacher. The acceptance process is often very difficult and prospective students face a strict probation period. During that probation period the instructor pays particular attention to a student's character, specifically his temperament, judgment, demeanor, morality and ethics. The probation period enables the teacher to observe the student's behavior and determine his sincerity. The instructor will reject anyone whose attitude or personality is deemed unworthy. Discipline is harsh and violations often result in the student's dismissal. Consequently, the number of people who train is usually very small, but then, Pentjak Silat is not meant for everyone.
Pentjak Silat is a combination of the variant styles of silat from Indonesia, incorporating Hindu, Islamic and Chinese weapons and fighting methods and Indian grappling techniques. The result is and all-round fighting style including kicking and striking techniques mixed with a variety of weapons (see further).
Striking techniques are used to 'tenderize' and soften up the opponent prior to evolving to Pentjak silat's intricate grappling techniques. Silat practitioners must be flexible and adaptable to the ever-changing nature of combat, no matter what situation they face.
The opponent's pressure points can be struck, pinched or squeezed with virtually equal effect. Such attacks are especially useful against large assailants, putting you on equal terms with them and pressure-point techniques are also beneficial for escaping an opponent's hold or lock.
The unifying principles of Silat are based on physics and economy, meaning that practitioners should fight in the most efficient and economical manner possible. Students learn that there are endless variations to the empty hand techniques and that all their body parts can be used for locking, joint-breaking or striking techniques. A skilled Silat stylist can substitute a shoulder for an elbow and effect the same type of joint lock.
Because hands and feet alone are not enough to solve all combat situations, classical Pentjak Silat includes the study of traditional weapons such as knives, sticks, staff, swords and rope. The same principles and technical rationale used in silat's hand and foot movements apply to the system's weapons training as well. In this way, practitioners can resort to everyday objects such as pens, combs, drinking receptacles, shoes, belts, eating utensils, etc., to enhance a particular technique. The unified, coherent system allows the Silat stylist to substitute and transfer the use of weapons to the empty hand techniques he already knows. This is unlike Filipino fighting arts which teach weapons use first and empty hand derivations later.
The most common silat weapons are the kris, spear, machete, stick, kerambit, sickle and sarong. Edged weapons are given priority in silat, but the stick and sarong are also popular for self-defense. Because Southeast Asian society was traditionally based around agriculture, many of these weapons were originally farming tools.
Pencak Silat Today
Today many schools of Silat can be found around the world, more precisely in France, the Netherlands, UK, US and Australia. The world governing body for Silat, the International Pencak Silat Federation (PERSILAT) is based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Donn F. Draeger (1992). Weapons And Fighting Arts Of Indonesia. Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co..
American Kun Tao Silat. Indonesian Fighting,The Devastating Art of Pentjak Silat by Cass Magda.
Ian Douglas Wilson (2002). The Politics of Inner Power: the practice of Pencak Silat in West Java. School of Asian Studies, Murdoch University, Western Australia.
D.S. Farrer (2009). Shadows of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism. Springer.
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Photos by Gregory Brophy (hand wraps), Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl), Lucian (Karate fight).
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The term is a composed 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 refers to the performance, i.e. the fighting aspects of the martial art, the body movements used in training and the combative use of a cutting weapon.