Pencak Silat is the martial art of Indonesia. It is an effective form of self-defense, in which the user employs among others punches, chops, kicks, clamps, leg sweeps and scissors techniques. Pencak Silat is characterized by graceful execution, distraction of the opponent with threatening moves and rapid surprise attacks.
But Pencak Silat is more than just a form of self-defense or a fighting art. It is a complete system of personal development, with its own philosophy and code of ethics. As such, it can serve as a development path for those who wish to practice this fighting art.
In Indonesia, some 16 million people practice one of the approximately 800 styles of Pencak Silat, a number of which have spread outside Indonesia in the second half of the 20th century.
Opinions vary as to the exact meaning and origin of the terms “Pencak” and “Silat”, most likely because of the large number of languages spoken in the Indonesian Archipelago.
“Pencak” is usually explained as “skilful and specialized body movements”. In this sense, the term can refer to the exercise itself as a form of gymnastics, which is not by definition intended for self-defense.
“Silat” literally means “to hit” or “to defend”. This could be derived from “Bersilat’ which is formed from the components “Ber” (to do) and “Silat” (to fight). In short, Silat refers to the application of the Pencak for self-defense.
All combined, “Pencak Silat” can be translated as “to fight using specialized body movements”.
"Pencak Silat is a martial art with a unique blend of arts, cultures and sports"
The accuracy of this legend cannot be substantiated but the fact that pencak silat is attributed to a woman is thought to indicate their prominence in ancient Southeast Asian society.
Srivijaya had control of the Melaka Straits, making it one of the most powerful kingdoms in the history of Southeast Asia. Its reign encompassed what are now Sumatra, Singapore, western Borneo, peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. The empire was also a centre of learning and religion, attracting scholars and holymen from around the Southeast Asian region. More than a thousand Buddhist monks were living and studying in Srivijaya-ruled Sumatra alone. Among them were Javanese, Siamese, Malays, Chams and Khmers. This not only allowed pencak silat to spread throughout the archipelago but also brought the art into contact with what would become sibling fighting systems.
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 1200s, 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. From its base in eastern Java, Indonesian culture flowered and pencak silat became highly refined. Weapons made by Majapahit smiths were greatly prized in the peninsula such as Hang Tuah's famed Kris Taming Sari.
Pencak silat was later used by freedom-fighters against Dutch colonists. During this time the Bugis and Makasar people from south Sulawesi were very well-known as expert sailors, navigators and warriors. After achieving independence, pencak silat was brought to Europe by Indonesians of half-Dutch ancestry. The art is now popular in the Netherlands, Spain and France.