Pukulan Pencak Silat: the Art of Striking

Pukulan Pencak Silat: the Art of Striking

Continuing our journey within the Indonesian Pencak Silat universe, we cannot help but mention a term that is particularly dear to us, a term that more than any other defines the art we practice and, ultimately, defines us practitioners too: this word is Pukulan.

Literally translated the term Pukulan means “to strike”, but as we will discover here there is much more behind this name and, as always and as already seen for Pencak Silat, to fully understand its meaning it is first of all necessary to understand the historical and socio-cultural context from which this word came to life. It is in fact impossible, and even useless or even counterproductive, to try to understand an art without tying it to events, human beings, and the traditions from which it was born.

If we want to talk about Pukulan then it will be important to be able to distinguish the origin of the word itself and its common use in Indonesia from what was later recognized as a real way of practicing the martial art of Pencak Silat. This real way applies certain martial and biomechanical principles that define it and distinguish it from the approach used by other schools which, although practicing Indonesian martial arts, cannot be defined as practitioners of Pukulan.

For both definitions, our journey begins in the 1950s, from the route of the ships that brought the Indonesian and Indonesian refugees (fleeing Indonesia) to Holland. The proclamation of the independence of the Indonesian Republic in fact, as often happens in these cases, had led all those who had fought or sided with the Dutch occupying enemy to be forced to leave their homeland, as they were at risk of being killed or deported.

Where does the Pukulan originate?

The Indos, normally of Dutch father (and therefore surname) and Indonesian mother, had played an intermediate role and prominent positions in pre-independence Indonesian society. Often these leadership positions involved owning homes with all the comforts and Indonesian servants at their service, as well as being able to command the labor used for low-grade jobs. All these privileges, however, vanished with the birth of the Indonesian Republic.

Therefore, understanding the inherent danger of staying in Indonesia, having supported the previous Dutch-style government, many Indo fled to the land of their fathers, precisely Holland, where, however, they found a very different place to welcome them from what they expected. The climate and food were diametrically opposed to hot and humid Indonesia, the Dutch, who previously used them as trusted men and intermediaries, now ghettoized them because of their customs and appearances so different from theirs.

In those years, more than 300,000 Indo and Indonesians found themselves in this kind of limbo, a middle ground with no return, hated and expelled from their native land, of which they had a wonderful and almost mythicized memory, with the difficulties of rebuilding a life from scratch, in a cold and inhospitable country, without references and with all the distrust that unfortunately developed in many situations.

As a consequence of this event, and as often happens to ethnic groups in exile, the Indos created among themselves a very strong and united community, within which they kept Indonesian traditions and customs intact and jealously guarded memories, customs and stories of the Indonesia they had left. This is what has allowed us to have access to a part of Indonesian culture that has almost disappeared even in the motherland to date. Just think for example that the only university in the world where you can study the Sunda language to date is Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Fortunately, however, in recent years various cultural movements have also been formed in Indonesia in order to promote, safeguard and transmit intact the cultural traditions of these people.

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Clearly with the Indos their language and their martial art also arrived in Europe, and with them the use of the word that interests us so much, namely “poekoelan” or “pukulan”, which means “to strike with the hands”, and which in the common language is therefore often used as a reinforcement alongside the name of the martial arts style practiced, to indicate the propensity of this style towards percussion, or it is inserted within the didactic program of a school to indicate a set of exercises specific to train the strokes of the arms.

Like pukulan, there are in fact other terms within the Indonesian language with similar uses and meanings, such as: tendangan (kicks), kuncian (joint levers) and senjata (use of weapons). All of them can have their place within the martial curriculum of a Pencak Silat school, or be used to define a particular style or trend.

Therefore the first use of the word pukulan is the representation, or the preference of a style, in hitting with the hands or a category of exercises aimed at developing this skill. This may explain why nowadays, and especially until the 1980s in Holland, there were a large number of Silat schools that identified themselves with the name Pukulan + something, such as: Pukulan Betawi, Pukulan Kamajoran, Pukulan Cimande and many others. All these schools wanted to identify their style in the “specialty” of hitting with the hands.

These names, and most of the Pencak Silat style names in reality, are however nothing more than a recent creation of the second half of the 1900s, due to the regulation and organization of Pentjak Silat schools in federations, such as the IPSI internationally or the NPSB (Nederlandse Pencak Silat Bond), born precisely following the massive Indo and Indonesian immigration to the Netherlands.

And it was in the Netherlands, following the creation of the NPSB, that in some cases style names had to be created completely from scratch. In fact, many teachers had practiced until then, for years, without needing to give a name to the style they practiced, or the name often corresponded to the name of the head teacher, the city or the geographical area in which it was practiced or from where the head of the school came. As a result many of these names, while referring to different schools, were absolutely identical.

A bit like if we all said we cooked Italian, but without specifying the name of the dish.

To clarify and identify each style, it was therefore necessary to differentiate the names of the styles by adding prefixes, suffixes or the villages from which the practitioner came, in order to facilitate the organization of the newly formed federation.

Pukulan as an Art

Then there is a second, and most dear to us, meaning of the word pukulan. The pukulan is understood on a physical, mental, and spiritual level, as a methodology that bases its strategies on hitting.

It is not just a matter of training fists in this case, that any martial art style can do, but of learning and applying linear geometries integrated with the biomechanics of the human body, so that each blow creates the desired result with minimum effort and maximum yield. The blow itself therefore becomes a means and not the end: I hit in a certain way because I want to obtain a certain effect on my opponent’s body.

It is said that before starting a fight the pukulan practitioner must already have clear in mind what will happen and how he will get it, once the movement begins, in fact, there are no doubts, second thoughts or changes in the race, the fight must be closed in a few strokes. It is not sparring, there is no study of the opponent, or rather, there is study but it is upstream. The way people walk, breathe, speak and move the body is studied and analyzed before the fight itself begins. The fighting distance is short, very short, suitable for defense situations in an urban environment where you are often closed by physical obstacles in a room or surrounded by other people, more or less involved.

Physical and mental conditioning play another very important factor. In principle, the practitioner conditions his body through exercises to moderate the pain of the blows received, but also to harden his bones so as not to get damaged during the fight. Later the physical conditioning gives way to the mental one and the pain no longer becomes a problem, on the contrary it becomes fuel to carry on the action.

The steps of the Pukulan practitioner move on precise geometric lines, which have the task of cutting the opponent’s lines, preventing him from reacting and allowing him to control the surrounding environment at the same time, keeping constant guard and attention towards a possible neighboring opponent. The Pukulan was born on the street and as such it immediately foresees the idea of ​​fighting against multiple opponents.

Finally, timing and momentum represent the dichotomy that allows shots to achieve the desired result. The rhythm is never continuous but always broken to make it difficult for the opponent to predict the next blow, the moment of impact is preceded by an instant of absolute calm and relaxation and immediately followed by it, creating a “full/empty” effect which allows you to generate great impact and power at a very short distance, both of these words have different meanings and represent, together with the way of walking, the two pillars on which the Pukulan is based.

The Pukulan today

As with any art, Pukulan has changed over the years, since it was trained in Indonesia, it then absorbed the characteristics that were given to it when it started being taught in Holland, and from there it has evolved to the present day. This is certainly a good thing, because it has allowed it to survive and reach us while keeping its effectiveness intact, and indeed adapting to the needs of current practitioners and the social, cultural and geographical situation in which they live.

The practice that was done in Indonesia was certainly aimed at protecting people from the types of dangers they faced then, but as you can well understand it would not make sense today for an Italian practitioner to train to fight, for example, against practitioners of Silat Cikalong. Not because they are not valid practitioners, but because we will hardly have the opportunity to run into one of them in Italy. The practice of Pukulan has therefore evolved in Holland, where it has found excellent schools of Muay Thai against which to confront, for example, and physical structures different from those of Indonesian martial artists, and has thus developed characteristics and strategies to solve the problems that can happen in a street fight in the West.

The art of Pukulan is therefore alive and in constant evolution, but always respecting the tradition of it’s effectiveness that has characterized it since its birth. The task of the practitioners therefore is to continue to respect and pass on this tradition, bringing it with us into the modern age to pass it on intact to the next generations.

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Pencak Silat: The Indonesian Martial Art

When we think of martial arts the first names that come to mind are generally Karate, Judo or in some cases Kung fu. These names have now established themselves in Western language and mentality thanks to their widespread diffusion in recent decades and to the wide use they have seen in cinema, particularly action cinema.

This situation is changing a bit since the arrival of the internet and in particular of Youtube, tools that are allowing more and more people to have a window from which to spy on the reality of the martial arts world. Almost every country and tradition, in fact, especially in the East, has developed over the centuries techniques and schools of fighting, both with bare hands and with weapons, so much so that today the quantity of martial styles existing in the world is practically impossible to classify with certainty. Some are immensely popular such as Karate and Judo mentioned at the beginning, others practically unknown to the general public and, even today, remain hidden in plain sight, entrusting their survival and tradition to their dedicated practitioners.

This is what is happening today with Pencak Silat.

Among the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, the Indonesian archipelago attracts tourists for its breathtaking beaches, dense jungles and the fascinating culture that can be experienced in its various islands. It is in these lands that over the centuries a traditional martial art has developed that is still synonymous today with those lands of tradition and strength. A martial art, that of Pencak Silat, which has survived until today not thanks to its international fame, but to its practical effectiveness, to its direct techniques, designed for maximum damage with minimum effort. A martial art that has proven in the field to deserve this title and that perhaps for this reason has not yet achieved the international fame it deserves but continues to be practiced by small groups of passionate practitioners.

What is Pencak Silat?

The term Pencak Silat (or Pentjak Silat, according to its ancient form of writing in the Dutch colonial era) is a term actually coined only in 1948 to indicate and in some way classify martial arts from Indonesia. The then born IPSI (Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia), the first International Association of Pentjak Silat, wanting to give a strong common identity to the martial arts of the Indonesian archipelago, therefore chose this name to group them together under a single hat.

However, it remains a rather generic term. It must be considered that the Indo-Malay archipelago is made up of about 16,000-17,000 islands, and from these thousands of martial styles were born which in some cases are very different from each other. In fact, each group of people has structured their own style and techniques on the basis of the territory, the physical characteristics, the potential enemy and their need to fight to defend themselves and survive.

The name Pencak Silat, although very popular nowadays, is therefore in itself not very representative if we look at the single fighting style, but it assumes value if we refer to the Indonesian martial arts as a whole. The very meaning of the two terms, “Pencak” and “Silat”, is even sometimes questioned and can change depending on the geographical area in which we find ourselves. One of the most accredited explanations is that “Pencak” represents the external and choreographic part of the martial art, while “Silat” (coming from the word Minang Silek) represents its fighting soul. Pencak Silat would therefore represent the union of the outermost part of the art, its form, with the combative soul that lives within it.

Pencak Silat: One, None, One Hundred Thousand

As we said Pencak Silat is a sort of “umbrella” term, so we cannot technically simply practice Pencak Silat, but rather we will always be practicing one or more of the martial styles that fall into this category, that is, they developed in the Indonesian archipelago, in Malaysia or Brunei.

For this reason it would be practically impossible to make an exhaustive overview of all Pencak Silat styles. What we want to do in this article, therefore, after having defined the term “generic”, is to enter more specifically and describe, albeit briefly, the characteristics of the styles that may have influenced our teachers and their teachers, including some styles originating from Java Island.

  • Cimande : style that favors the conditioning of the body and that bases its fighting tactics on dodging the opponent’s blow to enter then hitting in a devastating way. The prefix “Ci” of the name indicates the proximity of the village belonging to a river, and is typical of the styles of the Sunda ethnicity and language, (which influenced most of the styles of the western part of the island), of which the Cimande is the oldest and most recognized style.
  • Cikalong : as famous as Cimande, Cikalong is another style that has largely contributed to influencing many more “modern” Silat styles. This style owes its name to a city near Bandung and its peculiarity is to work mainly on the sensitivity of the arms and body, as well as on the use of joint levers, grips and open hand strikes.
  • Cingrik : coming from the area of ​​Batavia, today Jakarta, and it is said that it’s quick and elusive techniques were born from the imitation of the movements of monkeys, animals common on the island.
  • Sabahndar : the style comes from the village of the same name and brings together the Sunda and Minang cultures in its techniques and tradition.
  • Setia Hati : a Minang-derived style known for the fluidity of it’s kicks, effectively brought from both ground and standing position.
  • Sera (k) : style that we will deepen in other articles, as the mother art from which the Bukti Negara that we practice was born and part of the styles practiced and safeguarded by the Naga Kuning Institute.

And now a not insignificant note for anyone who is interested or wants to know more about Pencak Silat. Speaking of styles, we have named the term Minang, which is an abbreviation of the name of the Minangkabau ethnic group, coming from the west of the island of Sumatra. The influence of this ethnic group, of the styles and techniques practiced by it is today very strong and clearly visible in many styles, even outside Sumatra itself, which prefer footwork, with agile and fast kicks, brought up and to earth, joined by scissors and fast rotations similar to those that can be observed in Brazilian Capoeira for example.

Obviously, over the years many styles have mixed together, united and modified, creating today schools or styles that combine different systems, techniques, traditions and cultures within them. This has led to the birth of a great variety of different styles, which often share similar if not entirely identical techniques, but to which each one has been able to give their own interpretation according to the philosophy that guides it or the transmission of the masters. It is therefore not uncommon today to see Jurus (forms, the equivalent of Japanese kata or Chinese taolu) with the name of a given style present in the teaching program of another school. At a given moment in its history the school incorporated part of the principles according to the perspective of combining what is considered useful and effective.

The Origins

At this point, however, we will ask ourselves if all these styles are entirely indigenous, how where they born and how did they come down to us? This is where history and legend, as often happens, mix.

There are legends on the island of Java that tell of a conquering king from India and paintings where strong similarities with Chinese styles in the handling of weapons and their shape are highlighted. The different trade routes, wars, resolutions and exchanges that took place for centuries within the Asian continent were certainly the main architects in the strong mixture from the martial, but also religious and spiritual point of view, which took place between the different nations and therefore not only within Indonesia alone.

In fact, one of the characteristics of Indonesia is the presence of a mix of cultures and religions mixed with pre-existing traditions. It is precisely this habit of incorporating and combining traditions from different peoples with their own that has created the vast range of Pentjak Silat styles we have talked about in this article.

However, few are those who have gone beyond national borders and when it happened it was through one of these two events:

  • The sporting development of Pencak Silat, a relatively recent event.
  • The migration to Holland of Indonesian and Indo (half Indonesian half Dutch) practitioners following the Indonesian war of independence.

It is to this second event that we owe the knowledge in the West of a particular “macro” style of Pencak Silat which will deserve an article in itself: the Pukulan. Here we define macro as more than a single style, it represents a way of conceiving the martial art specific to a specific geographical area.

The Pencak Silat today

At the end of this short article, the purpose of which was to give an overview of a reality still little known and widespread in the West regarding the Indonesian martial arts, it is necessary to define what are recognized today as the main aspects of Pencak Silat.

Pentcak Silat today is divided into four main aspects: 

  • Ola Raga (sports combat)
  • Bela Diri (self defense)
  • Seni (dance, culture and art) 
  • Batin (mind and spirit)

Each style and group chooses if and how much to train these four components according to the ideologies and/or tradition of the school or the teacher.

Ola Raga : it is not uncommon today to attend sparring competitions between Pentjak Silat schools. Regulation is constantly in progress to allow Silat to enter the Olympic games and become more attractive for young talent who, even in Indonesia, watch with more interest ring sports or MMA than the arts belonging to their own tradition. However, as we said, this is a conscious choice of a certain group or school and therefore does not identify the art of Pencak Silat in its broadest form.

Bela Diri : this is the personal defense component of Pencak Silat, the one that is normally trained starting from more or less long forms, commonly called Jurus, and then applied to street, combat and personal defense contexts.

Seni: this is the most choreographic part. In Indonesia it is common to see performances by practitioners accompanied by what are essentially large orchestras that follow or dictate the rhythm of the performance, this practice in recent times has evolved into choreographic demonstrations with music presented during galas or competitions of forms organized at a national or international level.

Batin : is the spiritual component of Pencak Silat. Some styles specialize in these practices, but they are less and less, and more and more rarely this component is treated in modern styles, partly because it is seen as a legacy of the past, partly because, especially in Indonesia, Islam has restricted those pre-existing spiritual practices and customs coming from Javanism, Animism or Hinduism.

Pencak Silat remains to this day a martial art as complex as it is mysterious, of which this article has just begun to scratch the surface of what we need to know to deepen our knowledge.

However, as with any art (especially martial), often the best way to understand it is to practice it, live it in your skin, immersing yourself in its teachings, in its Jurus and in the passion that guides the practitioners who are carrying on the tradition even today. 

The Indonesian martial arts have not come down to us without passing the test of time, including wars and similar situations, to emerge from where they were created. They have managed to do so by adapting, mixing and innovating. Today practicing an art like Pencak Silat therefore does not only mean practicing one of the best and most effective combat systems generated by the history of man, but it means giving continuity to a tradition that combines combat, self-defense, art and spirituality, and whose purpose is not only to make us fearsome fighters but also the best human beings.

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First Online Group Leader Convention

The Naga Kuning Institute hosted the first-ever online Group Leader Convention last Sunday. Jon, Adam and I were all lucky enough to attend. It’s surprising how much of Bukti Negara – The Unified Art you can learn through a Zoom session. Over 3 hours, we got to follow along with:

  • Ottavio Tramonte – Mobility Training for Ground Fighting
  • Stefano Chiappella – Langkah (footwork) and Strategy Training
  • Ronald Hartman – Puter (turnaround) in All of Its Variations

It was quite a workout and we were all extremely sore the next few days (Ottavio’s fault) but we came away with multiple new insights, including:

  • The need for serious flexibility and leg strength to truly fight on the ground and hope to get back up again
  • How the time you have available as the opponent attacks dictates your footwork options
  • That weight transfer and level changes are the foundation for safe, effective turnarounds

We will be incorporating many of the things we learned into our future online classes. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, please contact us to sign up!

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Now Offering Online Classes

Beginning November 5, 2020, PNW Silat will offer online classes in Bukti Negara – the Unified Art.

For any of you that know us, that might seem like a strange announcement. Online instruction was not something we seriously considered because we believed that it couldn’t compare to the in-person experience. But as the pandemic has ground on month after month, we have received regular online instruction from Walter and it has helped us immensely.

Due to COVID concerns, we have had to turn down requests for classes multiple times. But as it has become clear that the pandemic is far from over, it seems that we won’t have the opportunity to offer in-person classes anytime soon.

We all benefit from regular exercise and instruction in our art. Online classes offer both.

If you are interested in learning Bukti Negara as taught by Walter van de Broeke, contact us. The online instruction we offer will help you build a foundation in the art, improve your fitness, and make you a better fighter.

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A Brief History of Silat and Bukti Negara

Pencak Silat is the collective name for the increasing number of styles in the various Indonesian martial arts. Kind of like Karate or Kung Fu cover numerous styles from the region they originated.

Pencak Silat is unique due to the rich variety of styles. Each style has its own appearance, emotional value and beauty. One problem in writing a history of Pencak Silat is the absence of written sources, probably due to the level of secrecy maintained within
the various styles.

During colonial times gatherings of more than five people were illegal. As a result both the self-defense and the demonstration forms had to be performed in the deepest secrecy. Also, the Dutch government forbade martial exercises outside the colonial army
because of the fear of rebellion.

After the Second World War and the subsequent Indonesian war of independence, Pencak Silat filtered through to large sections of the general population.

The original Pencak Silat that was practiced in Indonesia from early morning until late at night and required many years of intensive training that was imbued with Eastern mysticism and impressive
traditions. The real Pencak Silat is a way of life, a martial art that was never intended to be a sport.

Fortunately, not all experienced pencakers decided to take their expertise with them to the grave, and a few have managed to transfer their skills to the rational Westerner. Not only that, but they also managed to develop Pencak Silat in such a way that it could be taught in the context of a sport school. One of these experts was Paul de Thouars, who developed the style of Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara. Bukti Negara is a very advanced fighting system based on physics and physiology, and consisting of elements from Serak.

Since 2011 Bukti Negara has made a new start. Under the leadership of the European Board of Directors & Technical Director Walter van den Broeke, Bukti Negara is currently being practiced in many European
countries, in America and in Asia.

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