According to the Bahasa Indonesia dictionary, ‘guru’ is a person who has teaching as profession. ‘maha‘ originally derives from Sanskrit, meaning ‘great/big’. Therefore ‘mahaguru‘ is synonym of ‘guru besar‘, and it is used to designate founding teachers and grand masters.
In Indonesia, not every pencak silat group is inclined to use the designation ”mahaguru/guru besar’. Let’s examine for example the so-called ‘pencak silat keluarga‘ (‘keluarga‘ meaning ‘family’) like Permainan Rachmad, Bang Mahdi, Bang Kare, Bang Sabeni and Bang Pi’i. These groups have as common characteristic that they don’t have an organization (perguruan) with members. The teaching of pencak silat is mostly only for the family. The teachers do not like to present themselves as ‘guru besar’.
The same is true for the ‘pencak silat aliran‘ (‘aliran‘ meaning ‘style’) such as Cimande, Cikalong, Cingkrik, Cikaret, Timbangan, Serak, Beksi, Kwitang, Bojonegaran, Gusti Harimurti, Silek Tuo, Starlak, Kumango, Lintau , Pauh, Painan, Sungai Patai, Bawean, Podai. Pencak silat aliran have plenty of members, but still don’t have an organization. The vertical relationship between the guru and individual members is very close but among them the members are not interrelated. The founders generally have a low profile and don’t want to present themselves as ‘guru‘. However, outsiders often call them ‘guru besar‘.
For the so-called perguruan or persaudaran the situation is again different. These organizations are generally founded by somebody who is expert in pencak silat and who by mixing different techniques and styles is able to make a new version of pencak silat. They are organized around the guru but have also strong horizontal relationships among the members. Some of them see the guru as an ‘older brother’ others as a ‘father’. For example, in the Persaudaraan Setia Hati (1903), the largest pencak silat organization in East Java, the guru is called ‘kadang tuo’/saudara tua, which means ‘older brother’. Instead in the Perhimpunan Pencak Silat Panglipur (1907), a federation of different perguruan, the guru’s are called Aba (father).
In other words, not many in Indonesia would easily use the title “guru besar” but prefer more familiar forms of respect. The title “guru besar” is heavy to carry on somebody’s shoulders. The “guru besar” is like a “kaca benggala” (mirror) who has always to show the best attitude and behavior to his/her disciples because as we know pencak silat is not only sport, self-defense and art, but also spiritual and humanistic education.