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Defining Competition Rules for Pencak Silat Sport

Rapid Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Book 31, 2004: 46-45)

© O'ong Maryono


Between 1970 and 1971, draft match rules and competition practices were drawn up by the District Commissions in the various provinces. An IPSI Working Meeting was then held to formulate National Contest Rules. Weighing the various proposals, the IPSI members held to two main guiding principles. First, pencak silat sports competitions should respect ‘sporting norms, fostering a spirit of nobleness and not result in injury or fatality of the participants’. Second, they should reflect the specific characteristics of pencak silat in the choice of techniques or tactics to attain results.


This second principle was more difficult to apply since the meaning of ‘specific characteristics of pencak silat’ varied depending on the style of the perguruan in question. Pencak silat leaders suspected IPSI of selecting particular styles in order to make them the national norm. Many were concerned that establishing standard techniques so that pesilat of any style could compete, would lead to a blurring, and ultimately the loss, of regional variations. Some also feared that by holding open pencak silat competitions, uniformity would triumph because the perguruan that took part in the competitions would copy each other’s effective movements. Some masters also questioned whether pencak silat could be preserved when schools were borrowing techniques and movements from foreign martial arts to improve their performance.


This sparked a difference of opinion between the progressive schools, which did not want to imitate other styles or martial arts, and the rational-liberal schools, which were open to sharing experiences and were not concerned that their techniques would be stolen by other perguruan. Rather, rational-liberal masters felt proud when their techniques were considered effective and taken up by other schools. The author can testify to this, since once, after winning a competition, he was approached by a master, smiling proudly, who said: ‘Do you know that the basic stance and throwing techniques you have used to win are actually mine?’


Showing the same receptive attitude, rational-liberal masters also advocated the integration of other martial arts in pencak silat sports competitions:

 Pesilat who are going to compete really have to know the technical rules of pencak silat. These technical rules draw from all styles of pencak silat and if necessary they can be enriched by karate, kempo, and ju-jitsu techniques to make them more effective, just as our national language, Indonesian, draws on various regional and foreign languages. In this way, pencak silat will continue to interest the young generation and future generations; and, if we are fortunate, foreign countries will embrace it too (Marijun Sudirohadiprodjo 1982:3).

The controversy was particularly heated with regard to martial arts originating from China. Although, as seen in previous issues, the interaction between Chinese martial arts and pencak silat had long been evident, at the end of the 1960’s the debate flared up because of changing political circumstances. Nationalist efforts to dismantle Chinese institutions and force them to dissolve into local ones, sparked the influx of kungfu and other Chinese martial arts into the body of IPSI. Although many pencak silat masters initially did not agree with the inclusion of kungfu schools in their association, they had to accept them so that they could be reformed and nationalised. To achieve this goal, all Chinese attributes were expunged. Names of Chinese schools were translated into Indonesian, for instance the Siao Chong San school in Iran Jaya became Naga Mas (Interview with Daniel Dondi, national athlete, on 14/4/1996 in Jakarta) . Kungfu uniforms with their distinctive buttons on the front were banned, and well-known movements like ‘drunken master’ and ‘heron’ were banned and replaced by specific pencak silat moves (Interview with Jan Pandey, chair of PB IPSI design team, on 15/4/1997 in Jakarta). .


This, however, was not a one-way assimilation process, and the presence of kungfu within IPSI also influenced the development of pencak silat, as Harsoyo, Setia Hati master and Secretary General of IPSI from 1983 until 1988, complained:

The government instructed IPSI to accept/open itself up to kungfu, presumably to slowly mask the ‘redness’ of kungfu with the ‘whiteness’ of IPSI. What happened was rather the opposite: the ‘redness’ of kungku stained the ‘whiteness’ of IPSI. Of course mismanagement was to blame for this (1984:8).

Whatever one’s opinion on the desirability of foreign influences, it cannot be denied that the development of pencak silat olahraga was shaped by other martial arts and sports. For instance, so that pencak silat could gain an equal footing with other sports, masters began studying sports sciences that had developed in the Western world, such as coaching, body mechanics, and sports nutrition. In formulating the system of competition, the technical team also got inspiration from other sports. For instance, like boxing matches, pencak silat sports competitions are divided into rounds lasting several minutes (Interview with Mohamad Hadimulyo, master and founder of KPS Nusantara, on 17/4/1997 in Jakarta). These external influences were eventually accepted by most perguruan because they were felt to add something to pencak silat while leaving its specific characteristics intact. In his written address read at the 4 th IPSI Congress, President Soeharto advised:


Pencak silat needs to be developed, preserved and improved because it is a legacy from our forefathers and a part of our national cultural heritage. To achieve this, it is not necessary to reject elements of foreign culture, insofar as the best elements are taken up and the negative elements discarded (Kompas 1973:10).


At the same congress, IPSI succeeded at last in producing competition rules for pencak silat olahraga ‘to answer the call of time, and ensure that pencak silat truly lives on in society’ (PB PON VIII 1973:6). After preparing trainers and jury members, and holding regional selections, history was finally made: at the 8 th PON, pencak silat was included for the first time as a sports discipline. ‘Sport, the lost child of pencak silat’, had been found, also thanks to the Governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, who as host asked that pencak silat be competed and rated in the medal tables (Saleh 1991:29). With his support, at the closing ceremony, pencak silat olahraga became the main attraction with its ‘colossal sports performance’, receiving public recognition as ‘a tool for the development of healthy minds and bodies across generations’ (PB PON VIII 1973:7). How this glorious event became a turning point for pencak silat sport will be the focus of the next episode.


Pengaruh Perkembangan Karate di Indonesia atas Perkembangan Pencak Silat .17/12/1973:12.
Marijun Sudirohadiprodjo

Pelajaran Pencak Silat; Rumusan Kongres IPSI Thaun 1950 - Yogyakarta.Bhatara Karya.1982:3
PB PON VIII 1973 Jakarta.

Jakarta PB.PON VIII ke-VIII.
Saleh, M.

Pencak Silat (Sejarah Perkembangan, Empat Aspek, Pembentukan Sikap dan Gerak). Bandung IKIP. 1991:29

Pelestarian dan Pengembangan Budaya Pencak Silat untuk Pembangunan Bangsa dan Negara Indonesia.In PB.IPSI &KPS Nusantara, Himpunan Kertas Kerja Saresehan Pencak Silat 1984:1-4.