An­cient In­done­sian mar­tial arts seeks global spotlight

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Some fight with ma­chetes three-feet long, 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 the Asian 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 the mar­tial 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 govern­ment is 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, and hope it could one day be rec­og­nized by UNESCO. "Pen­cak silat has it all-the sport, the art, the spir­i­tual side," said Erizal Cha­ni­ago, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the In­done­sian Pen­cak Silat Association. "That is what makes it unique and spe­cial when com­pared to mar­tial arts from other coun­tries."

'Tiger-claw' style

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 fight­ing with 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 west­ern Su­ma­tra is­land, where prac­ti­tion­ers stay crouched down low to the ground as 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 mas­tery of the style by stab­bing and cut­ting them­selves with­out sus­tain­ing any in­juries. Re­cently at a gym in the cap­i­tal Jakarta, a 12-year-old boy stood stock 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 re-gain strength and re­cu­per­ate af­ter a se­ri­ous lung in­fec­tion. Coach Rudi Trianto said the stu­dents were taught that pen­cak silat is first and fore­most about self-de­fense.

"We teach our stu­dents how to fall so they know how to bounce back in life," he said. "We don't teach them to be ar­ro­gant or to have a killer in­stinct." The ba­sic en­ergy style fea­tured in hit In­done­sian ac­tion film "The Raid" and its se­quel, which starred pen­cak silat fighters Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais.

'Cul­tural diplo­macy'

The ver­sion that will fea­ture in the Asian Games is likely to be one of the tra­di­tional fight­ing styles. "It will pave the way for us to reach our two main goalscom­pet­ing in the Olympics and for pen­cak silat to be rec­og­nized as part of In­done­sia's na­tional her­itage by UNESCO," said sports min­istry spokesman Ga­tot Dewa Broto. UNESCO draws up a list of "In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage" around the world that is in need of pro­tec­tion. Gain­ing en­try into the Asian Games, the big­gest multi-sport event in the world af­ter the Olympics, was easy be­cause In­done­sia, as hosts, could nom­i­nate the sport for in­clu­sion them­selves.

Of­fi­cials con­cede get­ting pen­cak silat into the Olympics will be far tougher. To be­come an Olympic event, a sport must first be rec­og­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and then a long, costly cam­paign is nec­es­sary be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion is taken. Still, pro­po­nents of the sport are up­beat and want pen­cak silat to be cen­tral to a drive to pro­mote In­done­sia glob­ally, com­par­ing it to the suc­cess of South Korean en­ter­tain­ment ex­ports which have helped fa­mil­iar­ize the world with Korean cul­ture. "It is just like when South Korea was try­ing to pro­mote Kpop," said Broto. "We should make pen­cak silat part of cul­tural diplo­macy."

Stu­dents dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion in the an­cient In­done­sian mar­tial art of ‘pen­cak silat’ in Jakarta.

Two fighters bat­tling at the first ever pro-fight of the In­done­sian mar­tial art of ‘pen­cak silat’.

A stu­dent tak­ing on mul­ti­ple op­po­nents dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of her "pen­cak silat" mar­tial arts skills in Jakarta.

Two fighters bat­tling at the first ever pro-fight of the In­done­sian mar­tial art of ‘pen­cak silat’ in Jakarta.

Two fighters bat­tling at the first ever pro-fight of the In­done­sian mar­tial art of ‘pen­cak silat’ in Jakarta.

A teenaged stu­dent (right) stand­ing his ground as he takes a blow from a brick be­ing smashed onto his stom­ach dur­ing a demon­stra­tion of his "pen­cak silat" mar­tial arts skills in Jakarta.

Stu­dents dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion in the an­cient In­done­sian mar­tial art of ‘pen­cak silat’ in Jakarta.

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