Indonesian Martial Arts – Types and Development

Martial arts are some kind of arts developed as a fighting skill to defend oneself. It exists since ancient time developed until now. Basically, a person has an instinct of defense. Then, while growing and developing, a person will have physical activities, and can get in trouble with another person, then needs to defend him/herself.

On the other hand, in ancient time, when there was still no modern weapons, a human learned how to use his own body to defend himself, probably with simple weapons such as bones, stone axes, javelins, or simply a piece of wood. From there, human learned how to increase his fighting ability by using animals movements, such as eagles, tigers, monkeys and snakes. They made certain body movements as basic to strike or defend. Striking and defense would have other purpose, such as fighting to increase one’s area, for example enlarging the land. To take a land from someone else would require a high fighting ability, thus martial arts were formed.

We can say that martial arts are dispersed through the world, and almost every nation has its own martial arts, even though it could be a branch from another kind of martial arts. For example, one of native Indonesian martial arts, Pencak Silat, was spreading to South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei. Nowadays, martial arts are performed not only for defense, but also as hobby or psychological enrichment.

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1. Pencak Silat

Pencak silat or simply called “silat” is a traditional martial arts native to Indonesia. The leading organization for pencak silat in Indonesia is IPSI (Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia), meaning Indonesian Pencak Silat Asociation. Meanwhile. the international organization is Persilat (Persekutuan Pencat Silat Antar Bangsa), means International Pencak Silat Federation. Persilat  founded by Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. Persilat already recognized 33 pencak silat asociations internationally. Moreover, Pencak silat is also a performed in SEA Games matches.

Pencak silat uses various technics such as kicks,hands, grappling and strikes (using hand and feet). Each branches around Indonesia developed one or two technics specially as typical characteristic of the branches. For example, kicks are used more in West Sumatra and North Sumatra. Hands are used more in West Java, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. Grappling is used more in East Java, Sumatra, and Bali. While strikes are used in Central Java, Madura, Bali, and East java.

Recognition Worldwide

traditional martial arts known worldwidePencak silat has been known worldwide. In South-east Asia, pencak silat is popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. There are pencak silat schools in US and Europe, originally founded by Indonesian students. Now, pencak silat is recognized as one of martial arts and already performed in international matches, especially in SEA Games. Silat had been influenced by Chinese and Indian martial arts too. This happened because since the beginning, Malayan culture had been influenced by cultures of merchants from India, China, and other places.

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Silat spread around Nusantara archipelago (now called Indonesia) since 7th Century AD during Dharma civilization, but the origin is still unknown. Big kingdoms such as Sriwijaya and Majapahit had famous generals who mastered martial arts and could develop armies whose martial arts ability could be relied. The evidence of martial arts can be found in artifacts of weapons from Dharma era. Then, it reliefs showed horse stances found in Prambanan and Borrobudur temples. Weapons and silat couldn’t be separated, they were not only used for self-defense, but also as spiritual relationship. Until now, some Indonesian people still believe that each weapon has it’s own “spirit” staying in the weapon.

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Pencak silat has been known by most of Malayan people in many names. It is called gayong and cekak in Malaysia and Singapore. It is called bersilat in Thailand, and pasilat in South Phillipines. From its name, we can see that the name “silat” is used most of the time, so it could be guessed that this martial arts were found possibly in Sumatra and spreaded across South-east Asia.

Silat tradition was raised verbally, spreaded by word of mouth, taught from teachers to students. It made finding early written reports about silat very difficult. History of silat was narrated from folk legends. In Minangkabau Legends, silat (silek in Minangkabau language) was created by Datuk Suri Diaraja from Pariaman, Tanah Datar on the foot of Mount Marapi in 11th Century AD; then silek was brought and developed by Minang nomads throughout South-east Asia. There is also folklore about silat branch from Cimande, that narrated about a woman who imitated fighting movements between a tiger and a monkey.

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Every region usually has silat warriors that people are proud about, for examples Prabu Siliwangi as a pencak silat warrior from Sunda Pajajaran, Hang Tuah as general from Melaka, Gajah Mada the prime minister of Majapahit, and Si Pitung from Betawi.

Development of Silat was noted historically when the spreading was influenced by Islamic propagators in 14th Century AD. That time, Pencak Silat was taught along with religion lessons in mosque or Islamic boarding school. Silat was given as a spiritual lesson. On the other hand, during colonial era, Silat was practiced to defend a region from foreigner armies, such as Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. There were some silat warriors who made troubles with Dutch governments, for example Si Pitung from Betawi. The Dutch government had to use various ways to kill Si Pitung.

Silat in Traditional Cultures

In some Indonesian ethnic groups, silat is already embed in their cultures. For examples, Randai dance from Minangkabau that uses movement of silek Minangkabau; silat is also showed in “palang pintu” tradition in Betawi, where the groom and his family picks up the bride before marriage ceremony. Nowadays, silat has been approved as part of Malayan cultures, the region from Sumatran coast and Malayan peninsula, also from other ethnic groups that use Malay language as lingua franca in many regions in Java, Bali, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and other islands.

Branches of Pencak Silat in Indonesia

There are various branches of pencak silat in Indonesia. They have been developed for centuries. These branches will be divided into various schools.

[toggle title=”1. Silat Betawi”]

Betawi people live in Jakarta. Their silat tradition was originally from the culture of jagoan or jawara, local heroes of the inlanders (local people). These heroes often made troubles against colonial governments, making the Dutch see them as bandits. The most well known silat school in Betawi are Cingkrik and Beksi. Cingkrik is the older one, it uses agile movements inspired by actions of monkeys. Beksi is more defensice, using close-distance combat style and lack of offensive kicks.

[toggle title=”2. Silek Harimau Minangkabau”]


traditional martial arts, Indonesian martial artsSilek Minangkabau is a branch of silat from Minangkabau, West Sumatera. It’s inherited from generation to generation. It also influenced many silat style in Sumatra.Minang people had nomad culture, where the boys, after reaching certain age, would go on his own outside of his hometown to gain experience and wealth.

To live as a nomads, they had to learn silat to defend themselves, for example when they were attacked or robbed. Not only that, silat was also used to defend the nation from any external threats. This Silat style sometimes uses weapons too, such as swords, daggers, spears, sickles, even umbrellas.

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[toggle title=”3. Silat Cimande”]

This is the branch of maen po (Sundanese pencak silat) from Tari Kolot, Cimande, Banten. Cimande is a very famous, old, and big branch of pencak silat. It influenced other branches around Java Island. Cimande has five aspects: sports, cultures/traditions, fighting, spiritual and folk medicine. The last aspect, the folk medicine, includes Cimande-style massage and bone fracture treatments.

[toggle title=”4. Silat Nampon”]

traditional martial arts, Indonesian martial artsSilat Nampon was established by Uwa Nampon (born in Ciamis, 1888 – died in Padalarang, 1962 – West Java). From 1932, Uwa Nampon taught silat to Independece fighters, included Soekarno, Sutan Syahrir, etc. Different from other silat stances, Nampon stance was centered in the chest so the movements of hands felt empty. It orientated in similarity of motions from arms, limbs, and chest. The muscle power is centered in chest and shoulder muscles, and ended by similarity of muscle movement in the arms, limbs and chest.

This unique basic makes this stance later recognized as “Jurus Gebreg” (abbreviation of Gerakan Bersama – joint motion). Some people called this silat style Ulin Nampon and Timbangan (balance), while the Dutch called it Stroom (power) or Spierkrarcht (inner power). Spierkrarcht was popular to Middle and East Java as the silat style of Nampon.

See also : Indonesian Red Cross Society

[toggle title=”5. Merpati Putih”]

Merpati Putih was developed from Javanese traditions since 1550. The Guru was Mr. Saring Hadi Poernomo, while the founder of the school and master (also as heir) was Purwoto Hadi Purnomo. The last master from the 11th generation is Budi Santoso Hadi Purnomo. Merpati Putih was established at 2 April 1963 in Yogyakarta. Now it has 85 branches in Indonesia and 4 branches abroad. Pencak silat Merpati Putih is known as empty-handed martial arts.

[toggle title=”6. Tapak Suci Putera Muhammadiyah”]

It was established at 31 Juli 1963 by Pendekar Perguruan Kauman (Kauman school warriors) in Yogyakarta. This branch was founded as continuance of Kauman School which was established in 1925. This silat branch is based on Al Qur’an and as-Sunnah, has brotherhood system, and is under the supervision of Muhammadiyah, a national Muslim organization. The particular style is mixing self-defense and art. Tapak Suci encourages its students to conserve Indonesian arts and cultures by pencak silat. Tapak Suci also requires each student to make papers at the end of every level.

[toggle title=”7. Bakti Negara”]

This is a silat style from Bali, which is oriented in Hindu Dharma of Balinese people. Bakti Negara was established at 31 Januari 1955 in Denpasar, Bali. It was founded by 5 ex-warriors of Independence: Anak Agung Rai Tokir, I Bagus Made Rai Keplag, Anak Agung Meranggi, Sri Empu Dwi Tantra, and Ida Bagus Oka Dewangkara.

See also : Indonesia Flag

[toggle title=”8. Silat Pangean”]

This is a martial art from Riau, Sumatera. It has been popularized from generation to generation by Induak Barompek (respective name of Silat Pangean masters) since long time ago. Riau is the origin of classical Malay culture, including the silat. Silat Pangean is also called Silat Melayu. The fighting system of Silat Pangean has influenced almost entirety Pencak Silat in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The typical stances are wide stances with the front foot turned slighty inward. The most used weapons in Silat Melayu are the staff (toya) and spear. The best staff technic of Silat Melayu came from Palembang, South Sumatra.

[toggle title=”9. Silat Perisai Diri”]

Silat Perisai Diri is a silat technic that was established by Mr. Dirdjo who had learned more than 150 traditional silat style. He also learned siaw liem sie (shaolin) kungfu for 13 years. The technics are practical and effective, based in elusive dodgery and maximum power strikes. Today, this silat style is the most popular and has many members in Australia, Eropa, Japan and United States.

[toggle title=”10. Pencak Silat Siwah”]

This branch is originated from Aceh. It gathers 4 smaller native Aceh silat branches, from Peureulak and Aceh Besar (Keudee Bing –  Lhok Nga). Silat from Aceh is used mainly to attack (offensive). Aceh style Pencak Silat has the mixed style of Silat Melayu and Silek Minangkabau. Aceh style Pencak Silat mostly uses bladed weapons, primarily rencong, the traditional Aceh weapon.

[toggle title=”11. Silat Bugis-Makassar”]

Bugis and Makassar people are ethnic group from Sulawesi. Bugis people were known as navigators, shipbuilders, and pirates. Using alliance with the Dutch, Bugis destroyed Makassar Kingdom in 1700s. As sailors and pirates, Bugis and Makassar’s silat uses bladed weapon. The primary weapon isbadik, the traditional knife. Silat in Sulawesi is tied to animism, which is a belief that  there is a spirit stay in every weapon.

See also: Gamelan Facts

[toggle title=”12. Silat Bajau”]

Bajau people are also from Sulawesi, but they were originally came from South Phillipines. Their style of silat is almost the same as Bugis and Makassar people. Among the Sulawesi people (includes Toraja, Bugis, and Makassar people), Bajau were known as nomads who lived mostly in the sea. Since they lived in the sea, they needed to defend themselves from any threats, such as piracy. The silat mainly use knives as weapons.

[toggle title=”13. Silat Maluku”]

Pencak Silat in Maluku islands uses bladed weaponry, such as forked truncheon, knife, and staffs. Female fighters usually use pedang (sword). Pencak silat in this region spreaded during Muslim Sultanates era of Ternate and Tidore (15-16th century  AD). The particular stance is one-legged stance, which is perfect for fighting on the sandy beach that covers most of the region.


2. Tarung Derajat

traditional martial arts, Indonesian martial artsTarung Derajat is an Indonesian martial art based on practical and effective full body contacts. It was founded by Mr. Achmad Dradjat. He developed this technic from his experience of street fightings in 1960s in Bandung. Tarung Derajat is recognized as one of national sport in Indonesia, and used as basic training for Indonesian National Army. Since 1990s, Tarung Derajat has been refined for sport. In 1998, Tarung Derajat formally became member of KONI , Indonesian National Sport Association.

Since that time, Tarung Derajat has had place in Pekan Olahraga Nasional (National Sport Week), an Indonesian national multi-sport competition held every 4 years. Tarung Derajat was first introduced in 2011 SEA Games in Palembang, Indonesia. And it was added formally in SEA Games 2013 matches in Myanmar.

See also: Indonesian Traditional Transportation


Started from unpleasant experience and hard life, Achmad Drajat (nicknamed AA Boxer) always tried to defend himself from any fightings he had when he was younger. He said, in 1960s, in his hometown, he often had pressures from his peers and it often ended with fight. His hometown was troubled, often became fighting place between gangs. He even had to join the fight, not because he wanted to, but because he was forced to.

This unpleasant experience was imprinted in his memory. He was bored of being defeated, so he wanted to learn how to defend himself effectively. He created practical self-defense technics that can gain his dignity, so he wouldn’t always be the butt of his big-bodied-opponents. After paying close attention to each fights he experienced, he found 4 basic movements: strikes, kicks, dodging, and slamming. He said to himself, “If I want to win in a fight, I have to have my own way of strikes, kicks, dodging, and slamming, which are unknown by other people”.

So, he processed his movements, because basically arms can move naturally according to its functions and needs. Passion and perseverance had formed him to master self-defense. He was even brave enough to protect people who were suppressed and hurt by irresponsible people.

Since that time, many young men came to him and asked him to teach them about self-defense.  At this time, people started to call him “AA Boxer” (means Brother Boxer). At the beginning, AA Boxer didn’t want to teach people to do self-defense, because he just used those technics for himself and he didn’t have any raw stances. But some men still persuaded him to teach them, so he began to teach his own self-defense technics. This happened in 1968, when he was only 18 years old.

From some people, it was spreading and growing rapidly. AA Boxer thought about making an association with a name, so he founded the association Tarung Derajat, according to his name. Tarung Derajat was formally established at 18 Juli 1972.

Pure Physical Training

Tarung Derajat is purely physical training. There is no mystical element used for adding power. In Tarung Derajat, someone needs to do physical exercise routinely with a technic that is already adapted to self-defense technics, but it doesn’t mean to shape the body like bodybuilding athletes. Physical exercise for self-defense also means breathing exercise, and this happens naturally, without any particular exercise. It is advisable for the members to do physical exercise for 1-2 hours everyday. To form strong muscles and body, it needs diciplines in doing exercise continously. With regular exercise, body strength and self esteem will be increased.

See also: Indonesian military power

Indonesia has many cultures, according to each ethnic groups. One of the cultures is martial arts. Indonesia has its own native martial arts, the Pencak Silat and Tarung Derajat. If you are Indonesian, you should be proud of your country as Indonesian martial arts are recognized well worldwide. We can see most of these martial arts in matches of Independence Day, PON (Pekan Olahraga Nasional) or SEA Games.

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