To ‘D’ or not to ‘D’: Getting ‘s’-oteric with the spelling of jurus

Anybody who has been exposed to Pencak Silat for long enough will see the terms Djuru, Djurus, Juru or Jurus. While they presumably refer to the same thing the differences in writing can give rise to several questions.

Is one term more correct than others?
Yes… I mean no.

Are some spellings more representative of the source than others?
Sort of.

Is it pretentious ask these questions?
Yes.

Will adding or dropping the ‘d’ make me a better silat player?
Probably not, though you may get more sparring practice depending on what you say to others.

So why the differences and what can linguistics and understanding of the Indonesian language tell us about these words? Brace yourself for a wall of text that somehow simultaneously geeks out about language and silat.

Language is an ever evolving contract, and words and their usages will change over time to adapt to the needs of the speakers (or the powers that be). The the Dj– vs j– (IPA /dʒ/) distinction provides a good starting point for a history lesson. Dj– comes from the van Ophuijsen system, the first standardized, romanized spelling system for Bahasa Indonesia, which drew heavy from the Dutch spelling system. In the van Ophuijsen system our word in question would be spelled “djoeroes“. The Republic spelling system of 1947 started to change the ‘oe‘ to ‘u‘ (ironically this system is also called the Soewandi Spelling), and so we have ‘djurus’. 1972 brought the Enhanced Spelling System (aka the Perfected Spelling System) that aimed to harmonize the spelling between Indonesian and Malay (whose orthography was influenced more by the British) — giving us the modern ‘jurus‘ spelling. This evolution also explains why we often see differences like pukulan/poekoelan, tjimande/cimande, pentjak/pencak. Someone in Indonesia using the Dutch spelling is typically trying to evoke nostalgia in much the same way as a restaurant calling itself Olde Towne Tavern would. When we see these different spellings outside of Nusantara, we’re seeing a snapshot of what was exported abroad.

As for the final -s, there is much to tease apart. I have heard claims that this is due to regional variation, especially in the Sunda-land. Not knowing Bahasa Sunda, I can’t speak authoritatively. While the most direct way to answer this would be to count word frequencies over, the Google Ngram Viewer falls short, primarily because we don’t have digitized versions of old Dutch and Indonesian texts. Finding occurrences of ‘jurus’ historically would require significant manual research effort in locating texts and cataloging the differences. The best I can do is speculate based on some understanding of linguistic phenomena.

Dutch has two ways to pluralize nouns: 1) adding an -en and 2) adding a final -s. The final -en is the most common, but -s comes along in a few ways. Two notable triggers include: Nouns that end in unstressed vowel combinations (de bamboe -> de bamboes) and Foreign words that also take the plural -s in their original language (de elektricien -> de elektriciens). Often when loan words enter a language they undergo changes to accommodate the morphology and phonology of the target language. Consider the word ‘tamale’ in English. In Spanish there is no ‘tamale’; there is singular ‘tamal’ and plural ‘tamales’. Pluralizing tamal to tamals is cumbersome and inefficient, while truncating tamales to tamale is natural to the English tongue (yes literally the tongue. There are physical constraints that dictate how the mouth machinery can transition between sounds. This can be modeled as probabilistic distributions). My guess is that the -s was dropped by some in the original Dutch, but may have been dropped independently by some English speakers. The other option is to keep the final -s, but make no distinction between singular and plural — much like the words “deer” and “moose”. Dropping the ‘s’ reduces cognitive load for those less familiar Indonesian, while keeping the final ‘s’ maintains closer ties to the original source. In the spirit of disclosure, I tend to prefer the latter and will say things like “This jurus has uses low stances” or we have “Many jurus in our system.”

Morphology (how words are formed and relate to one another) introduces another tension in bringing the word jurus into English. Indonesian morphology is categorized as agglutinative where word meaning is produced by tacking on lots of different parts (prefixes, affixes) onto a root word. English morphology is a mix of strong analytic (meaning relies heavily on helper words and word order) and weak synthetic (inflection of words changes meaning like -s for plural or -ed for past tense).

In Indonesian, the word jurus has a lot of meanings especially when you consider all of its morphological variants. Lexicographers consider the meaning we know from Pencak Silat as its secondary sense, while its first sense pertains to directionality. Jurusan can mean direction, goal or major. A common question asked of university students is “Jurusan apa?” (what is your major?). Pluralization of jurus usually comes by tacking on a number (Saya tahu hanya dua jurus -> I only know two jurus), but occasionally it comes via reduplication, i.e. repeating the word (Jurus-jurus Pencak Silat Inti Ombak -> the jurus of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat). Or reduplication can produce something slightly more abstract. For example sayur is vegetable and sayur-sayuran means “many types of vegetables”; pikir means “to think” and pikir-pikiran means ‘thoughts’; jurus-jurusan would then mean something like the “concept/collection of jurus”. All this is to say there is not a concise package to carry over the many variants of jurus into English, and the reduplication feels especially non-intuitive.

The word ‘juru’ (sans ‘s’) in Indonesian is a synonym for ‘ahli‘ or expert. To my knowledge there is no system of pencak silat which uses this meaning, nor have
I seen any styles which intentionally conflate juru and jurus. Still, the meaning of jurus within Pencak Silat is highly variable and very dependent on context. Some systems consider jurus to be just the upper body motion, whereas langkah (footwork) is something distinct to be combined later, while others define it as whole body. To some jurus refers to predefined motion while kembangan is more extemporaneous. While we borrow kata in English, Indonesian will describe karate motion as jurus.
In Inti Ombak Pencak Silat (IOPS), we have started to redefine our terminology to help in setting educational goals. An IOPS form is a sequence taught to you by something else; a jurus is when you adapt it to your own understanding.

The diversity of spellings gives us hints at how Pencak Silat has spread well beyond Southeast Asia. A combination of globalization, immigration and lexicalization has produced the orthographies we see today. But all this discussion is focused purely on the surface form of the words. More important that agreeing on spelling, is developing your own understanding of the terms and practicing until the lessons transcend language and body.

Post script

The notion of regular expressions from computer science may give us a shallow compromise. The python code below shows how we can match all of the terms and more with a single pattern.

import re
r = re.compile("d{0,1}j(u|oe)r(u|oe)s{0,1}")
for s in ['jurus', 'juru', 'djurus', 'djuru', 'djoeroes']:
print(r.match(s))

will produce:

<_sre.SRE_Match object; span=(0, 5), match='jurus'>
<_sre.SRE_Match object; span=(0, 4), match='juru'>
<_sre.SRE_Match object; span=(0, 6), match='djurus'>
<_sre.SRE_Match object; span=(0, 5), match='djuru'>
<_sre.SRE_Match object; span=(0, 8), match='djoeroes'>

Rhythm and Rules

I have had the same question nagging me for seven years.  This question first formed when I began my training in Yogyakarta, and each and every silat video I have watched since then has only made me more uncertain and more curious.  At its core I have been wondering, “Why is it that Indonesians look like they are practicing silat, while many of us back in the U.S. look like we’re doing something else?

My thoughts have conjured several hypotheses including body build, cultural heritage, age, environment.  In a sense these all contribute, but only recently have I had the tools and vocabulary to know how to ask my teachers what I should be looking for.

Often times people ask practitioners (pesilat) of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat (IOPS), “What are your signature movements?” The response I most frequently share is that we do not have signature motion, instead we follow a set of kaedah (roughly translated as rules of engagement) that govern our motion.  Primary among these kaedah is an adherence to the possibility of a knife attack.  If you look closely at the jurus or applications of an Inti Ombak practitioner, you will see this dictates everything from the footwork, the choice of blocks and strikes, and even the gambits the pesilat is willing to take.

While the recognition of kaedah has begun to gel for me, and has granted me a whole new perspective on silat, I still found myself returning to my question about what makes silat look like silat.  To me, it didn’t make sense that the kaedah would make our motion starkly different from all other types of silat, as our style is just as rooted in that ancestry and history as any other.  It also didn’t seem that body type would make a difference as I’ve seen Indonesians of all shapes and sizes perform silat in a very silat looking way.

Finally when asking a question about a video I saw recently, my teacher said something enlightening.  He said the pesilat have different kaedah from IOPS kaedah, but they have correct rhythm and power generation.  Eureka!  The answers have been there right in front of me for years.  As someone with an engineering background, power generation is something that always made sense.  But as someone who can’t play an instrument,  the notion of rhythm had long escaped me.  This was that intangible cultural factor I couldn’t quite verbalize.  So even though kaedah governs motion, music and culture is the lens by which a teacher interprets the kaedah.

When I step back to reflect on the origins of silat, this makes sense.  The music and dance govern the silat, but in a dimension separate from those dictated by kaedah.  Rhythm is the breath of our motion, and it controls what type of power we use.  While many of our drills address rhythm, it has always been implicit. Concepts like flow, power, and timing are easy to learn via osmosis at an early age, but for an adult learner this requires a more explicit awareness.  Another complicating factor is the slight variations in rhythm.  Indonesia is home to 6000 islands with nearly 300 ethnicities, each with their own take on music.  Rhythm is difficult to change, and unless you are a silat savant your own rhythm will appear.  Consider this video.  The pesilat here comes from a style from East Java.  The music however is from Sumatra.  Notice how his training is fighting the external rhythm?

In retrospect, rhythm was not emphasized as much in my training because in IOPS, kaedah comes first, and rhythm builds from there.  In short, rhythm can shift and change from person to person, but a loss of kaedah is a loss of the IOPS philosophy.

Post Script:

In an effort to cultivate some rhythm, I have asked Guru Daniel to share the music of his training, so that his students can better understand his motion.  Again the picture is not so simple as he learned Madurese silat that had already migrated to East Java.  He then later mixed it with the Central Javanese style of his grandfather’s lineage.  And I imagine there have been further influences from his migration to the United States

Here is some tari remo as Guru originally practiced.

And here is a more modern take on tari remo.

And here is some gamelan that combines the rhythms of Central Java, East Java and Madura.