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Early Standardization Efforts of Pencak Silat

Rapid Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Book 23, 2002: 40-41, 39)

© O'ong Maryono


In the previous edition, I concluded by mentioning that on December 21-23, 1950, the second IPSI congress was held in Yogyakarta to strengthen the organization and form a new IPSI Board of Directors. It is also important to know that at the same congress, the participants pledged to develop a single training system of pencak silat for all schools in Indonesia. In subsequent years, training would be devised in several regions, employing new and practical methods to teach certain pencak silat styles to all sections of society. For instance, in Yogyakarta, pencak lessons were broadcast on Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI). Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 6.30 a.m., listeners could practice pencak moves following instructions given by the pencak master, Sukowinadi.    

The development of national training packages for educational curricula proved a more difficult task. Teams of pencak silat experts, comprising specialists in various styles, had to study hundreds of rules and moves, and try to consolidate them without sacrificing their singularity. They also had to adapt the traditional system of pencak silat training, which was founded on jurus (sequences or series of moves), to ‘modern’ principles of sports and gymnastics. To do this, besides asking masters for suggestions, the experts’ team had to consult with medical specialists about health and child development, and to learn about the structure of gymnastics:  

As a first step, IPSI has begun conducting research into the basic principles of physical and spiritual education, within the following broad outline:

a. exercises related to muscular and bodily functions,… exercises to improve vital capacity and other exercises that improve the function of various bodily organs (gymnastica medica).

b. exercises of an aesthetic nature. In general, pencak silat can be like a dance and therefore it is popular as a form of entertainment (gymnastica popularis).

c. exercises which could be used to improve the strength of our people in defending our nation (gymnastica bellica).

d. core exercises, encompassing the art of self-defence including personal education. The main aim of being proficient in the art of movement is not to beat opponents, but rather to gain inner peace and a pure heart (gymnastica ascetica).  (Olahraga 1954:21)  

This difficult work of research and codification was propelled by the issuing of the Instruction of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces dated January 8, 1959 (Instr/Peperdu/059/59), which set forth proposed drafts for Introductory Education for Public Defence (P3R), including the ‘Sport of Self-defence’. The Instruction’s core assumption that to have enough manpower to defend the nation, physical education should be provided to young students, sparked the request to teach pencak silat at all educational levels.

The importance of pencak silat for youth was also emphasised by President Soekarno in his Independence Day speech on August 17, 1959, by inviting them to reject the ‘cultural imperialism’ of the West with its ‘rock ‘n’ roll, cha-cha-cha, [and] crazy pop music’, and to learn the values of national culture, pencak silat included. The integration of pencak silat in school curricula could no longer be put off, and the Ministry of Education, Teaching and Culture issued a series of guidebooks for the different school levels, compiled by the Head of the Technical Section of the Board of Directors of IPSI, Mohamad Djoemali. In this way, pencak silat gymnastics (senam pencak silat) became standardised for the purpose of physical education.

Another advantage was that these training packages composed by masters could be easily distributed to regional branches, spurring a growth in national perguruan with members spread throughout the archipelago. Still, they fell short of standardising pencak silat olahraga as a precondition for its being contested at national competitions. Although at the 3 rd IPSI Congress held in Bandung in July 1953, a committee had been set up to formulate pencak silat ‘sport’ in the sense of a ‘pure and regulated national form of self-defence, in which the capacity of the two opponents could be accurately gauged’, twenty years of developing systems of pencak silat olahraga by several perguruan would not be sufficient to produce common rules for sporting contests. Until 1973, pencak silat matches would be only held as demonstrations at the National Sports Games, their outcome not being scored nor counting towards the final medal tally.

Besides experiencing technical difficulties in developing methods and systems that would be acceptable to all parties, IPSI also faced resistance from traditional masters who were opposing reforms as they did not want pencak silat to be reduced to being merely a sport in disregard of its artistic and spiritual aspects. Still, IPSI could not afford to stop its search for standards of pencak silat olahraga because of tight competition from imported forms of self-defence. Between 1960 and 1966, when the deteriorating economic and political situation further undermined IPSI’s position, karate made its official debut in Indonesia, becoming popular among school students and members of the armed forces. Chinese and Japanese self-defence had been around for a long time in Indonesia, but it was only in the 1960’s that judo, kungfu and karate started being practised as sports and contested in public.

The favourable public response to foreign martial arts forced a more positive attitude towards developing pencak silat as a sport. Or, in the words of one pencak fan, Yosis Siswoyo: ‘the presence of karate in Indonesia was a really effective spur to ‘waken’ the world of pencak silat from its slumber’ (Kompas 1973:10).

Despite continued objection from some masters, a conceptual shift happened to allow the sporting aspect to come to the forefront. In 1961, IPSI –which for the past ten years or more had been under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Teaching and Culture– was shifted to the Department of Physical Education, and several years later, on December 31, 1967, played an active role in setting up the National Indonesian Sports Committee (KONI). During that time, a special technical commission was formed to design a comprehensive system for pencak silat as a competitive sport.

Further information about this development is given in the next edition. For now, it is important to note that IPSI succeeded in including pencak silat olahraga in the 7 th PON, held on August 4-15, 1973 in Jakarta. Two years later, for the first time National Championships (Kejuaraan Nasional or Kejurnas) of pencak silat olahraga would be held in Semarang on April 27, 1975. At this first Kejurnas, eighteen provinces participated, but in matches, West Javanese styles of pencak silat, followed by Central and East Javanese styles, and styles from Sumatra, including Aceh, Batak, Minangkabau and Riau, overshadowed styles from other regions.

The competition system employed at the 7 th PON and at the 1 st National Championships would be refined in the following years, and by 1980 would be recognised at the international level. By then, concern had arisen on the dominant role of pencak silatolahraga, and demands to reintegrate its artistic and spiritual aspects once again appeared on the IPSI agenda. The public was anxious to see pencak silat seni preserved and, if possible, standardised, so that it could be contested at national and international events –a demand that IPSI is working towards fulfilling. What even today remains unclear is how the spiritual aspect –which constitutes the wealth of perguruan across the archipelago– could be managed, and whether it needs to be ‘rationalised’ by IPSI.

IPSI commitment for all these years has been grounded in the conviction that the process of standardisation of pencak silat was essential for its future development. Furthermore, the founders and board members of IPSI were optimistic from the outset that their work would not be in vain. In their opinion, standardisation was possible because the essence of pencak silat was unique. Hundreds of different styles were grounded in the same basic principles, although taught in different ways. As we will see in the next edition, this strong belief in the unity of pencak silat is closely related to the greater emphasis on nationalist ideologies in New Order Indonesia. 


Kompas   1973   Pengaruh Perkembangan karate di Indonesia atas Perkembangan  Pencak 17/12/1973:12

Olahraga    1954   IPSI tentang Rentjana Nasional KOI 15/08/1954: 7, 21