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The Militarisation of Pencak Silat during the Japanese Occupation and the Era of Revolution

Rapid Journal Vol 6, No. 3 (Book 21, 2002: 36 – 38)

© O'ong Maryono

At the outset of the Japanese occupation, the military authority banned all socio-cultural activities (including pencak silat) that might endanger its future existence. Only after the successful dissemination of the 'Asia Timur Raya' (Great East Asia) ideology and the promotion of the Japanese nation as 'Indonesia's blood brother', the ban on community activities was lifted. Still, pencak silat continued to be prohibited in those areas where the population remained suspicious of Japanese propaganda and resistance was carried on. For example, the Japanese did not allow pencak silat activities in the regency capital of Jember (East Java). Just as in colonial times, training went on in the middle of the night to avoid being seen by Japanese troops, and pencak silat could only be performed as an art form at ritual ceremonies. Military concern about the threat of pencak silat self-defence was not unfounded as pencak silat skills were often used to fight against the Japanese army.

In other districts, where the local population cheered the arrival of the Japanese troops, pencak silat was allowed to flourish. In Yogyakarta for instance, the Japanese authorities allowed pencak silat to be taught to everyone. Their trust was based on the good relationship that existed between the pencak silat masters (pendekar) from the neighboorhoud of Kauman and a Japanese trader who opened up shop in Yogyakarta before the arrival of the Japanese army. In this climate of openness, a Japanese army officer and martial arts expert in judo, ju jitsu, and kendo, called Makino, was accepted by the Kauman masters and allowed to learn pencak silat in return for sharing his knowledge and skills. In time, a deep feeling of fellowship developed, which was heightened by Makino's conversion to Islam.

Cross-cultural exchanges continued during the three and a half years of Japanese occupation. To garner the sympathy of the Indonesian people, the Japanese Military Administration worked to introduce its culture -including its language, art, dance and sports- through educational programmes. Japanese forms of self-defence -such as taizo, kendo, judo and sumo- began to be popularised among the Indonesian youth (Mohamad Djoemali 1959:21). In particular, martial arts were taught to the youngsters recruited by the Pembela Tanah Air or Peta, an indigenous military organisation established by the Japanese for the joint defence of 'Great East Asia'.

In response, pencak silat masters introduced Japanese soldiers to their self-defence styles. In a short time, pencak silat underwent a process of militarisation and became a part of military education. All Japanese and Peta soldiers started training in pencak silat with Japanese military discipline in preparation for eventual warfare.

To facilitate learning, the Japanese administration decided to draw up a homogenous training package for all battalions, by standardising and unifying the diverse pencak silat styles -something that would be attempted again and again by several parties. Selected masters were gathered in Jakarta and charged with the task of consolidating the various pencak silat techniques into one logically combined system, under the co-ordination of SH (Setia Hati) masters, Soegoro and Saksono. The training package that was devised consisted of 12 jurus as described in a 40-page book of guidelines entitled 'Pentjak' (Soegoro & Saksono 2605 ). This little book is of importance because it is the first ever manual on standardised pencak silat to be published in Indonesia.

To disseminate the training package, the Japanese military authority invited to Jakarta representatives from all regions to be trainees, so that they could teach the 12 jurus in their respective perguruan after returning home. It was also expected that the perguruan in the regions would later provide training for members of the Renggo Tai, the local troops who in the revolution would become known as the Barisan Pelopor or Pioneer Troops. In reality, the standardisation process proved not to be as easy as the Japanese administration had predicted. Perguruan strongly opposed the concise training version produced by the Japanese as they had far more respect for the jurus handed down to them from generation to generation than they did for the newly created ones. Renggo Tai members also rejected the Japanese training package, as most of them were already proficient in their respective pencak silat styles.

These onerous standardisation efforts would be put to a stop when the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces after atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a struggle ensued to free Indonesia from foreign domination.

On two occasions, in 1947 and again in 1948/49, the Dutch army tried to re-colonise Indonesia through Politionele Acties (Police Actions). At that time, nationalist feelings were running high and physical confrontation was inevitable. It was then that pencak silat skills helped to boost the self-confidence, and physical and mental preparedness of the freedom fighters. Although the NICA (Netherlands-Indies Civil Administration) troops were heavily armed, young Indonesian men and women attacked fearlessly as guerrillas, using pencak silat techniques and very simple weapons.

Freedom fighters well versed in the arts of Pentjak/Silat were able to put them to very good use. Some of them seized the enemy's weapons under cover of darkness, by strangling them. Some hid and attacked unexpectedly, using punches and holds to seize the enemy's guns, because at that time our guerrillas were sorely lacking firearms… So clearly, Pentjak/Silat was used most in guerrilla warfare, to defend the Nation. The enemy used machine guns, aeroplanes, bombs, cannons and mortars, but of course in the dead of night, these weapons couldn't be used with any accuracy, and using them may only have meant wasting bullets in vain… Supposing all the Indonesian People were proficient in Pentjak/Silat, the enemy would probably have been very loath to invade and occupy an Indonesia defended by a People's guerrilla army (Mohamad Djoemali 1959:34-35).

Many pencak silat masters joined the Barisan Pelopor under the leadership of President Soekarno, to help realise the dream of an independent Indonesian nation. Among them were women freedom fighters like Ibu Enny Rukmini Sekarningrat, a Panglipur master from Garut . She fought against the Dutch alongside the Pangeran Papak Troops in Wanaraja, Garut, and the Mayor Rukmana Troops in Yogyakarta. As the capital city of the Republic of Indonesia at that time, Yogyakarta came under very heavy fire from Dutch troops. A great many pencak silat masters came from all over the archipelago to defend it from occupation. The same happened for Bandung, Surabaya, and other cities involved in the struggle.

Pencak silat was also instrumental to the revolutionary movement in Bali. After learning pencak silat as part of his Peta military training in West Java, national hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai gave lessons to his troops to boost the skills they needed to overthrow the foreign enemy. The soldiers in turn covertly trained the people of Banjar, even though the Dutch army forbade this. So today, pencak silat originating from West Java has taken root and developed on the island of Bali.

The heroism of pencak silat masters was not limited only to warfare. We must not forget their safeguarding the first President of the Indonesian Republic at a time of political uncertainty. It has been recorded in history that the night before the proclamation of independence on August 17, 1945, five special sentinels highly skilled in pencak silat (Neill 1973:324) guarded Soekarno.

The struggle for independence ultimately bore fruit and in 1949, Dutch troops attached to the NICA had to abandon Indonesia, the only exception being Irian Jaya, which was returned to the fold only in 1963. Indonesians and Dutch-Indonesians who had collaborated and sided with the Dutch were given the opportunity to return to the Netherlands along with the former colonialists. Among them were several masters, employed as KNIL soldiers or as civil servants. It was they who introduced pencak silat into the Netherlands by setting up schools, which even today remain loyal to their roots, including Pamor Badai (Malang), Pamor Kombinasi (Probolinggo), Pukulan Betawi (Batavia), Pencak Kemajoran (Batavia), Panglipur (Bandung), SH (Madiun) and others.

The fact that a group of masters sided with the Dutch in no way undermines the contribution of pencak silat to nation building, and as we will see in the next episode, pencak silat played a central part in the nationalisation process of the young republic.

Mohamad Djoemali
1959 Pentjak-Silat Diteropong dari Sudut Bangsaan Indonesia. Jogjakarta: Seksi Pentjak/Silat Bangkes Djakb. Kem. P.P.& K.
Neill, W.
1973 Twentieth Century Indonesia. New York & London: Columbia University Press.