Martial arts plan stride into global spotlight
After securing Asian Games place, government is hoping ‘pencak silat’ will gain Olympic glory
Some fight with meter-long machetes, others are armed with daggers curved like the claws of big cats, while other combatants rely on only their minds.
This is the world of “pencak silat”, or Indonesia’s martial arts, which are now battling for greater global recognition. Having secured a place in theAsian Games, the government is now hoping for Olympic glory.
They are held dear by many Indonesians because of historical links with the country’s struggle for independence when anti-colonial groups used themartial arts to take on the archipelago’s then Dutch rulers in the 20th century.
But despite being practiced for centuries across Southeast Asia, pencak silat has struggled to receive the same international recognition as other Asian martial arts, such as karate and taekwondo.
The Indonesian governmentis seeking to change that.
Pencak silat will feature for the first time in the Asian Games when they come to Indonesia in 2018. Officials then want to take it to the Olympics.
“Pencak silat has it all — the sport, the art, the spiritual side,” said ErizalChaniago, secretary-general of the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association.
“That is what makes it unique and special when compared to martial arts from other countries.”
Pencak silat is an umbrella term for a family of about 800 related Indonesian martial art forms. They are linked by their emphasis on defense rather than attack, and are characterized by fluid, dance-like movements.
Some styles use full-body combat involving strikes and grappling, others focus on weapons, while some involve performing moves as a kind of dance show with no contact.
One of the best known is the “tiger-claw” style practiced on westernSumatraisland, where practitioners stay crouched downlowto thegroundas they take on their opponents.
Java island’s “Kanuragan” is linked to local mystic beliefs, and supposedly gives its practitioners supernatural powers, including protection from attacks by weapons.
Some “Kanuragan” experts are said to have proven their masteryof the stylebystabbing and cutting themselves without sustaining any injuries.
Recently at a gymin the capital Jakarta, a 12-year-old boy stood still as a coach smashed bricks over his head and stomach during a training session in a form of the martial art called “Pencak Silat Basic Energy”.
The style mixes traditional moves with specialized breathing techniques and is meant to help the body withstand strong blows.
“It makes me confident enough to do anything,” said participant Indra Surya Pringga, 28, adding that the martial art had helped him regain strength and recuperate after a serious lung infection.
The version that will feature in the Asian Games is likely to be one of the traditional fighting styles.
But officials concede getting pencak silat into the Olympics will be tough. To become an event, a sport must first be recognized by the International Olympic Committee and then a long campaign is necessary before a final decision is taken.
Still, proponents are upbeat and want pencak silat to be central to a drive to promote Indonesia globally.
“It is just like when South Korea was trying to promote K-pop,” said sports ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto. “We should make pencak silat part of cultural diplomacy.”
A teenage student is hit in the stomach with a brick during a demonstration of his martial arts skills in Jakarta.