of Pencak Silat Education in the Perguruan
Rapid Jurnal Vol 5, No. 3 (Book 17, 2001: 37 – 39)
© O'ong Maryono
Beginning in 1598, Dutch traders came to the islands of
the archipelago and tried to gain control of the spice trade, competing
with local authorities and the Portuguese traders who had arrived earlier
in the archipelago. After taking hold of the spice production in Central
Moluccas, Ambon and Banda, the co-ordinating institution of Dutch traders
or United East India Company (VOC: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
affirmed its position on the north coast of Java with the construction
of the fortress of Batavia (formerly known as Jayakarta, and now as
Jakarta) in 1621 (Koentjaraning-rat 1994:62-63).
The presence of the VOC in Batavia posed a serious threat to the maritime
kingdom of Banten, and to the inland kingdoms of Java. In particular,
Sultan Agung (1613-1645), the third king of the Mataram Empire, was
extremely concerned about this foreign expansion, and on various occasions
clashed with the VOC. However, subsequent kings became increasingly
dependent on the Netherlands, as the VOC supplied them with weapons
and ammunitions in exchange for valuables and land. Such military provisions
were needed to quash local rebellions and attempts to seize the throne
These 'modern' arms in the form of cannons and guns were extremely effective
and practical in use compared to traditional weapons, prompting the
reform of the defence system of the keraton. Consequently, the role
of pencak silat as an instrument of war slowly declined. After their
heyday came a bleak time for pencak silat masters, who lost their place
in the keraton structure, and faced political and socio-cultural changes
at odds with the moral principles dear to them.
The situation at the beginning of the 17th century, wherein kingdoms
were waging civil war and the keraton lost political significance, forced
pencak silat masters to seek out new ways of life. Many eventually left
the keraton and chose to become ordinary citizens in rural villages.
Outside of the keraton they continued to teach pencak silat, sharing
their knowledge and attracting followers wherever they lived. Following
the keraton tradition, pencak silat was taught not only as a self-defence
method, but also as a form of spiritual knowledge necessary to attain
supernatural powers. In doing so, the masters preserved the humanistic
values in which they believed, disseminating among the people the doctrine
of manung-galing kawula Gusti , thus becoming guardians of Javanese
royal culture outside of the palace (Candra Gautama 1995:70).
In due course, many informal teaching groups emerged in the rural areas
of Java, allowing pencak silat to prosper, and be handed down to future
generations. For the first time, the study of pencak silat was institutionalised
within a traditional educational system, one that retained the pencak
silat teacher as a guide and source of knowledge, as reflected in the
term 'perguruan' (pencak silat school) which is derived from the word
'guru' or 'teacher'. The perguruan became one educational option for
the youth on the road to adulthood, as alternative to undertaking an
ascetic search under the guidance of a spiritual teacher (orang pinter),
or entering a pesantren to absorb Islamic teachings (Anderson 1972:5).
The classic, literary image of the perguruan portrays 'a teacher of
an advanced age, but still young at heart, ...teaching pencak silat
jurus (series of movements) to a small group of students who wish to
learn how to restrain themselves and attain invulnerability (ilmu kebal)'
(Lombard 1996(2):332). Usually, the students lived under one roof with
their teacher, and received food and clothing. In exchange, they assisted
their teacher in his work on the land, planting or helping with the
harvest (An-derson 1972:5). The teacher imparted his knowledge and skill
of pencak silat in stages, over an unlimited period of time, according
to the individual ability of the student.
Because teachers kept their own techniques secret from one another,
pencak silat disappeared from the surface, yet grew in the perguruan
'like a snake in the grass'. In accordance with tradition, only students
who underwent an initiation ceremony were accepted into the perguruan
and allowed to receive pencak silat education. During this ceremony,
the aspirant students swore allegiance to the school, and affirmed the
existence of a moral and existential binding between them and their
teacher, and with their peers at the perguruan.14 Students were thus
united and found strength in feelings of mutual respect.
At the time when the perguruan based on this fraternity principle (perguruan
persaudaraan) began to expand on the islands of Java, schools meant
exclusively for family members still dominated in Sumatra. These family
schools (perguruan kekeluargaan) were more firm in their allegiance
to secrecy, since they aspired to preserve intact their family culture.
The teacher kept his knowledge confidential, and refused to impart it
to those who had neither biological nor customary ties to the family.
Access to outsiders was made possible only to persons who were considered
part of the family, or were adopted as such. For example, in West Sumatra
if one wished to become a student, he had to undergo a ceremony to become
anak sasian (nephew/niece), which involved making offerings of materials
with a symbolic meaning:
A quart of rice and a rooster would be used for the initiation ritual....
to unify in a spiritual relationship the anak sasian and the teacher....
The rooster was used to signify that the members of the school should
be 'seciok bak ayam' (singing in unison as the roosters), meaning that
they should be living harmoniously; a bundle of betel leaves to declare
unity of the members in an equal spiritual-material bond; a white cloth
as a symbol of the purity of heart of each member in their purpose to
live in a friendly way, defend one other, and let go all negative prejudices
about their peers; and a knife blade representing the quality of their
unity, 'sedencing bak besi' or 'strong as iron'. (Department of Education
and Culture 1982:12-13; see also Winsnoe Wardhana 1976:19)
Teachers were also not to impart their entire knowledge to their students,
or in the language of Minangkabau 'sepinjik tetap dipegang' (withholding
a little). A number of jurus had to be kept secret, because of concern
that one day the student would challenge the teacher with what he had
learned (Olahraga 1957:12). The caution of these teachers is also reflected
in the adage: 'if it is sweet, don't swallow it straight away; if it
is bitter don't retch it straight away'.
Clearly, had all these cultural rules been followed to the letter, the
schools would have expanded in isolation, without ever integrating with
other schools. Also, pencak silat would not have been touched by any
new, external influence, thus remaining static, or beginning to disappear
altogether. Fortunately, this was not the case. During the 18th and
19th century, the development of pencak silat remained very dynamic
and continued to be shaped by a process of acculturation among perguruan.
In disregard of customary norms, the fraternal cord was oftentimes cut
by students, making way for new and varied schools. It also frequently
happened that people outside the boundaries of family or ethnic groups
were accepted as students. There were teachers who taught those who
were not related to the school, no matter the inevitable social castigation.
Actually, many young masters wandered to other areas to learn from other
teachers in order to enhance their pencak silat skills. In this way,
interaction occurred among disparate regional styles, leading to the
emergence of hundreds of new pencak silat schools. Although these new
schools often sprung from the same source, they exhibited different
Through this simultaneous process of acculturation and expansion, as
the next article will show, pencak silat will reach its zenith after
the VOC lost its domination over the Indonesian archipelago in 1799
and the Dutch colonial government was installed.
1. Koentjaraningrat, "Kebudayaan" , Balai Pustaka
2. Chandra Gautama, "Mencari Keindahan Tenaga Dalam", Matra,
3. Anderson, B, "Java in a time of Revolution; Occupation and Resistence,
1944 - 1946". Ithaca & London : Cornell University Press. 1972.
4. Lombart, D, "Nusa Jawa :Silang Budaya ; Jaringan Asia".
Gramedia Pustaka Utama .Bagian 2. Jakarta 1996.
Department of Education and Culture, "Perkembangan Seni Bela Diri
tradisional di Daerah Sumatera Barat", Depdikbud Jakarta 1982.
see also Winsnoe Wardhana, "Pembudayaan Pencak Silat Indonesia"
Derektorat Jenderal Kebudayaan, Jakarta.1976.
6. Olahraga, "Apakah Pentjak Satu Saat Akan Kandas" Jakarta
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