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Pencak Silat Indonesia martial arts | Techniques & History

Pencak Silat (Also called pentjak silat & puncak silat) is known to be one of the deadliest martial arts of Indonesia. Pencak Silat practitionners are trained to defend themselves against multiple opponents. In the early centuries, in Indonesia, survival was not easy. Human beings had to earn their right to live by engaging in a fight with animals and other human beings. Those individuals who were strong and skilled emerged victors and won for themselves important positions in the rustic society.

Their prowess was feared and they were made the head of the clans with the responsibility to protect those weaker than them. These fights and the self-learned skill sets formed the basis of the ground rules of Pencak Silat. The early forms of this martial arts were inspired by nature. Fighters observed and mimicked the movement of predators and wild cats in the dense forests.

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Beyond this point, the details get a little blurry. Each little island has its own version of the origin of martial arts. The lack of any clear documentation from the early days makes it difficult to form an educated guess. It is difficult to say at which exact point in history the fighting technique got the form of a disciplined martial art. It can however, be safely said that the pencak silat was gradually developed to encompass self-defense techniques which were popular under their individual local names.

In 1973, over 800 styles of martial arts, originating in from every big and small island which belonged to the Indonesian group of Islands, were clubbed under the unified title of Pencak Silat. This new form of martial arts combines the best of defense and attack techniques which exercise both the body and the mind.

Pencak Silat and the History of Indonesia

The fighting style of pencak silat is closely intertwined with the history of Indonesai. The Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Sunda, Srivijaya and Majapahit have trained their warriors and soldiers in the fine fighting techniques of the pencak silat.

An archaeological excavation revealed that an organized form of combat training existed in the Malay peninsula even as early as the sixth century. The Srivijaya kingdom, followed by the kingdom of Majapahit are said to have based their fighting techniques from the learning of this combat system. The excellent fighting skills developed by this technique helped the kingdom spread its rule.

The Minangkabau, people residing in the highlands of Minangkabau, claim that the fighting skills were first demonstrated by their fore father, Datuk Suri Dirajo.

A beautiful poem in Javanese describes how a form on pencak silat was used by Kidung Sunda, who were the guards of the Prabu Maharaja Sunda, when they were escorting Princess Dyah Pitaloka to the kingdom of Majapahit to get married to the ruling king, Hayam Wuruk. The guards were severely humiliated and disgraced. Kidung Sunda were not a force which would suffer insults lightly. In the ensuing Battle of Bubat, the Sundanese army, trained in the exemplary skill of pencak silat fought bravely against the attacking forces.

Techniques used in Pencak Silat

Since pencak silat is a broad term which encompasses various form of martial arts, it is extremely difficult to narrow it down to a general pattern. Every martial art clubbed under the title of pencak silat has developed its own fighting style. Some fighting forms on strikes and kicks while others prefer to emphasize the training of locks and grappling techniques.

Despite the diversity of fighting styles, some threads bind the discipline of martial arts together:

Stance or Posture

The first phase of learning pencak silat, is characterized by training in langkah or the art of moving your foot from one point to another when fighting. Eight direction of steps have been defined under the langkah 8 penjuru which guides the learning curve of the student. It is not uncommon for the steps training to be accompanied by traditional music.

As important as the langkah, is the posture of the body. The posture or stance is defined as that point in a fight from which the fighter attacks or defends himself. Some of the stances used in the training of pencak silat are:

- Horse stance or kekuda: This stance stabilizes the body by providing strength to the quads

- Middle stance

- Forward stance

- Side stance

- Tiger stance: The body is hugging the ground in almost crawl position

The stances prepare the fighter to either launch an attack or defend himself form sitting, crouching or standing position.

Jurus of Pencak Silat

Once a student has a firm grasp on the langkah and stances he progresses to learn about the jurus. Jurus is a conditioning technique which helps the fighter prep for learning proper technique. Jurus are used to train the body in firmness and agility.

The pre-meditated format of the jurus helps develop muscle memory. This enables a fighter to take split second decisions in a fight. Jurus can be practiced solo or with the help of a partner. When practicing a juru with a partner it is mandatory to implement the juru like you would if you were in an actual fight.

The armed form of jurus allows the use weapons even during training. The weapons used during practice are blunt and cannot cause serious damage.

The kembang lit juru is a series of graceful hand and foot movements which almost look like a dance. The fluidity of the movements is used to prep the body to reverse the attack planned by an opponent. Often music is played while practicing this form of juru.

Defense and Offense Techniques of Pencak Silat

Defense in pencak silat consists of primarily blocking the attacks. To do this, the fighter may use any style including dodging, countering and deflecting. Since pencak silat has no restriction on which part of the body can be the target of an attack, defense techniques involve the use of hands, shoulders, forearms and shins to block potential blows. The body of the fighter is conditioned to hard block the blows. In the event that the opponent is stronger, the fighter resorts to deflection techniques to distract him.

Pencak silat makes heavy use of punches and kicks to define the offense. The punches are also known as pukul and can use any part of the hand to deliver a strike. For example a strike can be delivered by the heel of the palm, with open fists, the shoulder and even with the elbows.

Kicking involves the use of any part of the leg which includes the knee, feet and shins. The hands and feet can be used in a combination of moves to deliver an attack. Another unique feature of the pencak silat is the use of deceptive blows to confuse the opponent. Fighters often make use of the sweeping technique to unbalance the opponent and ends the fight by wrapping the opponent’s waist between the legs in a classic scissor style.

Over the years pencak silat has emerged as a form of martial art and has become synonymous with the traditions of Indonesia. Festivals and celebrations include a live demonstration of this form of martial arts. It is considered to be an honor and a matter of pride to be invited to give such a demonstration.

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