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Seeking Unity within the Pencak Silat World

Rapid Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Book 23, 2002: 40-47)

© O'ong Maryono


In the previous edition, we have seen how the founders and board members of IPSI aimed at standardizing 'pencak silat' on the assumption that its essence was unique, now matter how diver the various regional styles.    

This aspiration for unity is also revealed in the evolution of the term ‘pencak silat’. In the 1950’s, IPSI was still using the term ‘pentjak’, which is indicative of the region of its origin, Central Java. To encompass all styles in Indonesia, which were known as ‘silat’, ‘pencak’, or ‘pencak and silat’, a new national term was needed. If in 1948, IPSI came into the world as ‘Ikatan Pentjak Seloeroeh Indonesia’ (‘Pentjak Association of Indonesia’), by 1953 the names ‘Ikatan Pencak-silat Seluruh Indonesia’ (‘Pencak-silat Association of Indonesia’) and ‘Ikatan Pencak/Silat Seluruh Indonesia’ (Pencak/Silat Association of Indonesia’ abbreviated sometimes as IPSI and sometimes as IPSSI) began to appear. Thus, IPSI moved from ‘Pentjak’ to ‘Pencak-silat’ and ‘Pencak/Silat’ in its denomination. These titles were used more frequently during the 1960’s, up until the 3 rd Pencak Silat Seminar in Bogor on November 20-24, 1973, when IPSI selected the name ‘Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia’ (Indonesian Pencak Silat Association) to reflect its national scope. At the same time, the term ‘pencak silat’ came into being, as a new construction sparked by the demand for nationalisation and standardisation to reflect a wholeness of meaning between pencak and silat that could not be divided.    

That this choice of terminology occurred in 1973 is not accidental. On the contrary, it is closely related to the greater emphasis on nationalist ideologies in New Order Indonesia, and the emergence in the 1970s of a militaristic framework, which considered self-defence sports –judo, karate and pencak silat alike– as instruments of national defence. Branches of self-defence were set up under the leadership of military figures. In 1973, the IPSI board was militarised too with Tjokropranolo, a high-ranking officer –Brigadier General of the Armed Forces (Retd.) and Governor of Jakarta– being elected as chair. In subsequent years, the role of IPSI in national defence and development was to be refined with the linking of pencak silat to the national ideology. In addition to nurturing pencak silat so that it would flourish in society, IPSI was now entrusted with shaping pencak silat practitioners who could play a positive role in national development, state defence, and public security.    

To attain this goal, IPSI had to win over the many masters who held differing views. Especially masters of smaller perguruan outside Java opposed IPSI’s proposed standardisation out of fear that pencak silat’s distinguishing characteristics would be lost. Some of them also felt that IPSI had failed to fully take into account their aspirations, since the decision to establish this organisation did not involve all regions in Indonesia, but only Java. This regional bias was also evident in the declaration of the top ten perguruan or ‘leading organisations’ at the 4 th IPSI National Congress. All the leading pencak silat organisations –Persaudaraan Setia Hati, Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate, Perpi Harimurti, Phasadja Mataram, PPSI, Perisai Diri, Tapak Suci, Perisai Putih, KPS Nusan­tara, and Putra Betawi– without exception, originated from Java. They were the ones thought to have influenced the history and development of IPSI and of pencak silat in general between 1948 and 1973, by contributing to the establishment of a single national organisation of Indonesian and by providing support for the promotion of pencak silat as a competitive sport.  

No wonder that a fair number of masters living outside Java felt that certain regional styles dominated the national arena and no space was left for their own styles. In reaction, these disgruntled masters often refused to participate in national events and opposed IPSI’s plans and policies. The region that most systematically and consistently opposed IPSI was West Java, home of the rival organisation Persatuan Pencak Silat Indonesia (PPSI or Indonesian Pencak Silat Union). This organisation was set up in Bandung on August 1957 and it flourished under the leadership of Major General of the Armed Forces (Retd.) Kosasih with the support of well-known figures such as Suhari Sapari (Sekar Pa­kuan), Nunung Hudaya (Riksa Diri), Uca (Panglipur), and Soetedja (Raksa Waruga). The Sundanese masters felt that IPSI’s activities gave too much attention to Central Java and East Java, while neglecting West Java. They were also of the opinion that the IPSI board was dominated by perguruan from Central Java and East Java. Therefore, an alternative organisation was needed to protect, preserve, and develop the perguruan that practised West Javanese styles, wherever they may be.  

In the 1960’s, both IPSI and PPSI set up numerous regional branches in all the provinces of Indonesia to gain the upper hand in the world of silat. PPSI expanded rapidly in West Java, Lampung and the east of East Java, where there were many perguruan practising West Javanese styles. Even after the government’s recognition of IPSI and its acceptance as a member of the Indonesian Sports Association (PORI) in 1963, the conflict continued, with masters continuously switching camps.  

Significant changes took place in the 1970’s with the introduction of pencak silat olahraga. As soon as sports competitions were held, IPSI begun to grow rapidly since only perguruan that were members of IPSI could take part in official events. At the same time, political pressure began to urge all pencak silat groups to join or affiliate themselves with IPSI as the sole organisation recognised by the government. Still, more conservative masters continued to be loyal to PPSI, arguing that they did not want to ‘defile’ the West Javanese style of pencak silat –which emphasised the artistic aspect– by contesting it as a sport.  

IPSI’s recognition of PPSI by including it among the ‘top ten pencak silat organisations’ in 1973, failed to garner the sympathy of PPSI. Even today, PPSI does not take part in IPSI activities, be they competitions of pencak silat as a sport, art, or self-defence, and prefers to organise its own events. Nevertheless, PPSI’s clout is slowly diminishing as government support for IPSI allows it to expand further and spread overseas, as we will see in the next article.