Resurrecting Silat for a New Generation of Indonesians

Seated at the end of Jalan Malioboro in the town and province of Yogyakarta, Indonesia is the Kraton (the Sultan’s palace).  The Kraton holds a special place in the history of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat as it is the origin of the style of Central Javanese Silat that comprises a major part of the art we practice today (the other major side coming from the island of Madura).  In eras past the Kraton was the seat of martial arts for the region.

Malioboro, and the Kraton all exhibit a fascinating blend of old and new.  Waves of motorbikes zip past an array of becak (pedicabs) and horse-drawn carriages.  Street-side vendors hawk a variety of traditional handicrafts such as batik alongside an assortment of bootleg purses and t-shirts.  In front of the Kraton is a giant town square known as Alun-Alun Utara.  In the alun-alun you are just as likely to see a concert as you are to see giant mounds of rice presented in celebration of the birth of Mohammed.  Yet for silat’s role in the region’s cultural heritage it is largely absent.

Unfortunately, modern Indonesians tend to think of Silat as an outdated novelty of their grandparents’ generation.  Many consider silat too halus (soft/polite) as they associate it with the flowery, dance-like motions seen at demonstrations and tournaments.  While I lived there, several people asked me why I studied silat instead of cooler, more en vogue arts like capoeira or karate.  In many ways they are correct.  The move to modernize silat has robbed the motion of meaning and marginalized those that continued to practice in the traditional way.

But not all is lost, I have witnessed a resurgence of interest in the years since I was last in Indonesia.  Fueled by Indonesia’s rapid adoption of social media, it appears the remaining masters are taking to YouTube and Facebook to ensure their respective arts live on.  Today, I was pleased to see yet another merging of old and new.  In my Facebook feed there was a link to a video of a silat parade and exhibition right in the middle of Malioboro.  This video features a wide range of silat styles, many of which have ties back to the Kraton of Yogyakarta (including Mas Sigit of Inti Ombak).  To see another way in which silat is being shared with a new generation of Indonesians,  visit this album from the Tangtungan Project.