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Pencak silat was chosen in 1948 as a unifying term for the Indonesian fighting styles. It was a compound 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 is the performance aspects of the martial art, while silat is the essence of the fighting and self-defense.

The origin of the words pencak and silat have not been proven. Some believe that pencak comes from the Sanskrit word pancha meaning five, or from the Chinese pencha meaning avert or deflect. 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.


The pencak silat tradition is mostly oral, having been passed down almost entirely by word of mouth. In the absence of written records, much of its history is known only through myth and archaeological evidence. The primary weapons of Indonesia's tribal peoples were the single-edge sword, shield and javelin. The inhabitants of Nias Island had until the 20th century remained largely untouched by the outside world. However, they are culturally similar to the Himalayan Naga tribe. Neighbouring Sumatrans are said to have left the Nias people alone because they were fearless warriors.

Balinese warriors armed with kris in the 1880sIndia and China were the first civilizations from outside Southeast Asia with whom Indonesia made contact. Both countries influenced the local culture, religion and martial arts. Bas-reliefs in Srivijaya depict warriors wielding such weapons as the jian or Chinese straight sword, which is still used in some styles today. Additionally, Javanese blades are of Indian derivation. It was during this period that silat was first formulised. The earliest evidence of silat being taught in a structured manner comes from the Sumatra-based empire of Srivijaya where folklore tells that it was created by a woman named Rama Sukana who witnessed a fight between a tiger and a large bird. By using the animals' movements, she was able to fend off a group of drunken men that attacked her. She then taught the techniques to her husband Rama Isruna from whom they were formally passed down. There are several variations of this story depending on the region where it is told. On the island of Boyan (Bawean), Rama Sukana is believed to have watched monkeys fighting each other while the Sundanese of West Java believe that she created cimande after seeing a monkey battle a tiger. The accuracy of this legend cannot be substantiated but the fact that 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 center 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, Khmers and Chinese. 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 13th century, 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 Malay Peninsula, such as the famed Kris Taming Sari.

Pencak silat was later used by Indonesian freedom-fighters against Dutch colonists. During this time the Bugis and Makassar people from south Sulawesi were very well-known as expert sailors, navigators and warriors. After Indonesia's independence, pencak silat was brought to Europe by Indo people of Eurasian (mixed Indonesian and European) ancestry, such as the well known Paatje Phefferkorn. The art is now popular in the Netherlands, Spain and France. Schools can also be found in the USA.


Kris: A dagger, often with a wavy blade made by folding different types of metal together and then washing it in acid.
Kujang: Sundanese blade
Samping/Linso: Piece of silk fabric worn around the waist or shoulder, used in locking techniques and for defense against blades.
Batang/Galah: Rod or staff made from wood, steel or bamboo.
Tongkat/Toya: Walking-stick carried by the elderly and travelers.
Kipas: Traditional folding fan preferably made of hardwood or iron.
Kerambit/Kuku Machan: A blade shaped like a tiger's claw that women could tie in their hair.
Sabit/Clurit: A sickle, commonly used in farming, cultivation and harvesting of crops.
Sundang: A Bugis sword, often wavy-bladed
Rencong/Tumbuk Lada: Slightly curved Minang dagger, literally meaning "pepper crusher".
Gedak: Mace/ club made of steel.
Tombak/Lembing: Spear/ javelin made of bamboo, steel or wood that sometimes has horsehair attached near the blade.
Parang/Golok: Machete/ broadsword, commonly used in daily tasks such as cutting through forest brush.
Trisula/Serampang: A trident originally used for fishing.
Chabang/Cabang: Short-handled trident, literally meaning "branch".

International Competitions
The major international competition is Pencak Silat World Championship, organised by PERSILAT.] This competition takes place every 2 or 3 years period. More than 30 national teams competed in the latest tournament in Jakarta, 12-17 December 2010.

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13 responses to "Pencak Silat : fighting styles"

  1. conference call On January 30, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    This has been a very significant blog indeed. I’ve acquired a lot of helpful information from your article. Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us

  2. ipad car mount On February 17, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    This is a really cool blog. I found it looking at fighting styles. I didnt know blades were ever used with this style of fighting. Nice post

  3. seattle laminate On February 17, 2011 at 1:55 AM

    Wow so interesting. I had no idea the history of this type of fighting. I found it really interesting and I am not usually a history buff. Thanks

  4. карате On February 19, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    Pencak silat was introduced in Europe in the 1960s by Henri de Thomis, who brought the pencak silat style of Bongkot Harimau to the Netherlands.

  5. Tuscany vacation rentals On February 21, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    Me too found it looking fighting styles. Very good informations about this style. Anyway I never tried it.

  6. aradeamarkatin On March 3, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    I think pencak silat is deserve to be come a choice to whom want to be expert in martial art

  7. aradeamarkatin On March 3, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    It's a wonderful tactic and strategy.pencak silat is the martial art original from Indonesia.

  8. John On March 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    I didn't even knew that Indonesia has got so great martial art. Please use short paragraphs.

    Good work.

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