Before examining the controversy about pencak silat sports competitions, we need to understand the differences in types of pencak silat schools or perguruan. Indonesian perguruan can be classified into four broad categories –conservative, moderate, progressive and rational-liberal schools– according to their specific views on how to preserve and develop pencak silat. Although these four types of perguruan have emerged in different time periods, today they exist and grow alongside one another.
In this article, I will start a review of these four categories of perguruan, starting with the oldestperguruan that often take a conservative stance. This group of ‘perguruan konservatif’ (or ‘conservative schools’) recognizes no official organization, and has no monthly fees, or uniform. Owing to their informal set up, conservative schools are not spread out, so that students live within the proximity of the teacher. Training takes place in secret locations or behind closed doors –often in the teacher’s house– and may not be observed by people who are not members of theperguruan, to protect jurus and techniques from being ‘stolen’ by other perguruan.
The conservative schools hold strictly to tradition, are very closed and are secretive about their knowledge obtained from divine revelation. A conservative guru reveals his secrets and shares his knowledge only with those who have become perguruan members through a special initiation ceremony. Notwithstanding variations among schools, the primary motive of the initiation ceremony is the same: the would-be-student brings an offering from his home and presents it to the teacher as a symbol of his transfer from his biological family to the perguruan family. For instance, at the perguruan Batu Rantai in Bondowoso, a prospective student must bring a quart of rice, a hen’s egg, and seven different kinds of cake to cook. After praying and eating together with the other members, the prospective student is accepted in the perguruan. Instead, at theperguruan Penca Macao in Pandegelang, West Java, a prospective student must present his teacher with a cockerel as ‘housekeeping’. The rooster is chosen as a symbol of hope that the student’s movements will be smooth, fast and agile.
A ceremony is also held whenever a student has attained a certain level of knowledge or has completed the entire training, such as at the Bawean school in Bondowoso:
When a student can perform all the 28 jurus properly, he is required to bring an offering for the ceremony before being officially recognized as a graduate. This ritual ceremony is called dudusan. During the ceremony, the student’s body is covered with a cloth like a dead person. The shrouded body is then washed in clean water in which the needles and garden flowers have been placed and stirred with a knife. To test the sharpness of the axe, a stalk of sugar cane is cut up. The coconut is placed on the back of the pesilat, who breathes in and tenses his muscles. Then the axe is swung as hard as possible to split the coconut in two in one go. If only the coconut water wets the student’s body, and no blood is spilt, the graduation ceremony is considered successfully completed. The coconut may also be broken by throwing it repeatedly at the pesilat’s body until it is smashed to pieces.
Before reaching this final stage, a student must learn all the jurus inherited by his teacher from theperguruan’s founders. The training program has no time limit, and may take years depending on the student’s learning capacity. Avoiding any warming-up exercise, the teacher begins his training sessions practicing offensive and defensive jurus, and the students –normally no more than five in all– follow his moves from behind. By way of this imitative method, students learn unarmed self-defense techniques before being introduced to armed ones.
Once the physical training is completed, the students begin to exercise their inner powers by reciting sacred texts, fasting, meditating and so on. Their level of mystical or magical knowledge (ilmu batin) is continually tested through challenging trials, such as playing with balls of fire, eating glass, and rolling on salak thorns. New students, who have yet to demonstrate their loyalty to the school, are not allowed to watch the training of senior students, to ensure that thepamungkas (‘deadly’) knowledge is not revealed outside the perguruan. Masters also fear that if a student experiments with ilmu batin before the time is right, it will adversely affect his psychological and mental development. As a result, conservative schools view pencak silat solely as a self-defense tool and have no interest in taking part in sports competitions. In their opinion, their techniques are too dangerous to be used in contests, since each move and offensive embodies a potentially lethal power. Adhering to the principles of their forebears, conservative schools firmly believe that pencak silat can only be used to defend oneself when forced by circumstances. As the Bawean master, Abdus Sjukur, explains:
Pencak silat may not be contested or used in carok (brawls) fights. Better to run if one still can. There’s no need to defend oneself, because this will lead to conflict. Running is the best option. Run, not because one is afraid, but to avoid conflict. We came here and set up this fraternity to earn a living, not to seek out enemies among fellow people of God.
A similar principle is held by the perguran that adhere to a moderate viewpoint (‘perguruan moderat’ or ‘moderate schools). According to them, the goal of pencak silat is to improve physical fitness while enhancing the feeling of fellowship among practitioners. Moderate schools are therefore not interested in fighting, and believe that one must try as hard as possible to ensure that a difference of opinion does not lead to conflict. Using the symbolism of wayang characters, moderate masters might be likened to Sami Aji and his advice to ‘respect one another so as to make friends rather than more enemies’ (adapted from Rachmad Susuronagoro 1984:2). Or, in the words of Kartosoedirdjo, master of the perguruan Bunder: ‘Enemies are easy to find; friends do not come cheap’. Thus, moderate schools do not wish to take part in sports competitions, which they perceive as a form of conflict.
In their pursuit of a harmonious life style, moderate schools appreciate artistic beauty, and enjoy demonstrating their pencak silat seni skills in popular theatre genres such as ludruk in East Java,lenong in Jakarta and ketoprak in Central Java. Sourcing on a long tradition of performing in open arenas at night markets and other festivals, up to this day moderate schools captivate and entertain audiences with their demonstrations of armed and unarmed combat, beginning and concluding with attractive stances.
This willingness to perform in public suggests that moderate schools are not as secretive as conservative schools in guarding their jurus. Their training methods also differ. Although students are still required to memorize the jurus, moderate schools have structured their training starting from basic techniques until more complex movements, as recalled by Boechori Ahmad, master of the perguruan Tapak Suci in Jember:
Training began from a cross-legged seated position. A small lime was suspended and swung back and forth in front of the student’s face, and he had to follow the lime’s movements. The goal was to train the sharpness and alertness of vision. Still in a seated position, the pesilat had to thwart an offensive, dodging, warding off and evading attack by moving the body from left to right. Only after mastering the techniques of defence in a seated position, did training in a standing position, combining steps withjurus, begin.
The didactical reforms of moderate schools were to be carried on and expanded by the ‘progressive schools’ (‘perguruan progresif’), which first emerged early in the 20 th century, as we will discuss further in the next edition.
- Liem Yoe Kiong
- 1960 Ilmu Silat. Sedjarah. Theorie dan Practijk. Malang : C.V. “Penjedar”
- 1960a Himpunan Karangan2 Silat. Unpublished paper
- Rachmad Susuronagoro
- 1984 Pendekatan Pencak Silat dari Sudut Spiritual. In PB IPSI & KPS Nusantara, Himpunan Kertas Kerja Sarasehan Pencak Silat 1984: 1-10
- This classification is adapted from Liem Yoe Kiong (1960:60-63; 1960a:8-12) with a slight redefinition of the four original categories to better reflect the situation observed.