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Pencak Silat Competitions in the 1970’s

Rapid Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Book 28, 2003: 442-43)

© O'ong Maryono


The approval of pencak silat competition rules at the 4 th IPSI Congres in 1973, as described in the previous journal, was a crucial moment for the development of pencak silat olahraga since it implied its public recognition as a competitive sport. Still, nothwithstanding a great deal of public interest, the growth path remained hardous. In the early 1970’s, pencak silat sports competitions were still far from perfect. The regional selections for the 8 th PON were actually conducted without proper facilities and infrastructure. Athletes had to compete without body protectors, and often no special arena was provided. Also, competition rules being new were not fully understood by pesilat, trainers, or jury members, which meant that the matches were often wild. The atmosphere was usually very noisy and frightening, as the author himself experienced:

In 1973, a great many perguruan in the Bondowoso regency East Java sent their students to take part in the selections for the 8 th PON. In the run up to the competition, preparations were very different from today, the approach being improvised, with no understanding of ‘speed training’, ‘weights training’ or ‘endurance training’. There were no health or nutrition examinations either. In fact, the physical condition of the prospective athletes was ‘abused’, as they had to fast for a week before contests, and sleep on the ground after 12 midnight. All this was done to protect the prospective athletes from santet (black magic), which might cause illness and force them out of the competition.

On the day of the competition, after meditating the teacher Handoko gave his athlete, O’ong Maryono, a drink of tegu oil (an oil to prevent knife wounds) and rubbed it all over his body, before he left for the competition. The teacher reminded O’ong that in the ring he must use the steps and offensives previously determined according to Javanese spiritual beliefs and birth date calculations which identified lucky and unlucky (apes) days. Other perguruan also did these kinds of preparations. The athletes’ mission in this first pencak silat sports competition was to win, thereby boosting the prestige of their teachers and the perguruan. To achieve this end, they were ready to try any method whatsoever, even killing if necessary. Likewise the masters who were watching the contest, and did not yet fully grasp the goal of IPSI, were only interested in having their athletes win. Upon entering the building, they were searched by the police, and many had weapons like belati, sickles, sticks, and chains confiscated.

The athletes feared that mob carok (brawling) would break out amongst the crowd, most of whom were perguruan members and family relatives. What’s more, members of the public thronged the arena, leaving only a one-metre space between them and the competing athletes. When O’ong was attacking, his opponent fell smack to the ground and had to be taken to hospital. The opponent’s master was so angry that he threatened to nyelep O’ong, meaning that he would kill him from behind. Consequently, after winning the contest, O’ong returned home under police guard.  

In other regions the mood was very similar, as Uca, master of perguruan Panglipur recalls an early pencak silat sports competitions in West Java:  

The pencak silat competitions at that time were very different from today. In the past, before a competition, students were prepared as if for war. They were trained not only in pencak silat techniques, but were also entrusted with magical powers. The atmosphere was highly charged, and could easily spark brawls if the crowd was not happy with the jury’s decision. Loyalty to the perguruan was so great that both masters and athletes felt that if an athlete lost, it meant that the perguruan also lost. This sparked mass brawls between the schools!(Interview on 18/2/1994 in Bandung)  

To change this situation, at the 8 th PON, and two years later at the 1 st National Pencak Silat Championships in Semarang, the competition rules ratified at the 4 th IPSI National Congress were strictly applied. These rules comprised 30 articles including the opening and concluding articles which covered aspects such as competition facilities, instructions, equipment for participants, prohibitions, penalties, and a scoring system. To discuss all these articles in detail would lead us astray. It suffices here to mention some of the key elements in pencak silat sports competitions. Beginning with facilities, Article 5 required that the ring measure 7 square meters and be divided into a fighting zone measuring 5m x 5m with a one meter safe zone around the edge. Only athletes wearing competition uniforms pencak clothing comprising fairly loose black long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, with the contestant’s red or blue insignia displayed were allowed to fight. For safety’s sake, contestants were also required to do the chest and genital guards provided by the committee.  

One day before the competition, all the athletes were given a health check and weighed to determine their class. Matches were divided into three two-minute rounds, with a one-minute rest in between. Upon entering the ring, each contestant paid homage and performed an opening salutation according to the style of his perguruan before the match began. The matches were supervised by a referee assisted by five jurors, all hailing from different styles, schools, and regions from the competing contestants. Male contestants could target all parts of the body, except the genitals and above the neck, and female contestants all the parts of the body except the breasts, genitals, and above the neck. If a contestant attacked a prohibited part of the opponent’s body, he/she would be given a warning and have his/her score deducted. In extreme cases, a contestant would be dismissed and disqualified.  

The winner was the contestant awarded the highest score by the jury. Only offensive techniques were scored, according to the target contacted: contact to the opponent’s arm or back scored one point; contact to the opponent’s chest, stomach, and left or right side scored two points; and an offensive causing the opponent to fall or a three-second lock scored three points. Apart from winning on points, a contestant could also win on a technicality if the referee stopped the match for some reason, or could win outright (for KO) if he incapacitated his opponent for ten seconds.  

Enforcement of all these rules started to enhance the quality of the competitions, but –as we will discuss in the next journal─ many masters still remained critical towards the existing rules, their implementation and the associate scoring and penalties system.