A typical early morning before the day’s training is filled with the buzzing and chirping of insects. The Muezzin’s prayer already fades in the rapidly heating air, broadcast from many speakers and creating the impression of an entire country calling out to God. To make myself presentable and clean off the night’s sweat, I take a mandi, a bath of refreshingly cool water involving a cistern and a ladle.
Slipping on my outside sandals I pad over to the waiting tray of hot jasmine tea and to my new friends, students of our Indonesian branch of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat. I exhaust my Bahasa Indonesia, “Selamat Pagi,” and help myself to a glass, exchange smiles with my new friends and wait for the day to begin. A day of training follows along at its own pace, somehow fitting in morning practice of jurus or forms from a visiting instructor.
After each jurus is an explanation (always in Bahasa Indonesia, or I find out later, in Javanese) and a translation peppered with jokes given by the translator Guru Daniel Prasetya or one of the senior Indonesian students. We practice techniques and applications on the hard-packed dirt of the central courtyard, take another mandi, and have a delicious breakfast of rice, egg, and chicken with more tea. Showering frequently is essential as it cuts the heat and keeps you from smelling too badly.
Next up is internal martial arts training, something like a cross between Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi until it gets too hot to do anything except have lunch and wait for the worst of the day’s heat (or a massive downpour) to abate. The day continues with more training or perhaps a trip to see one of the many tourist attractions around Jogjakarta such as Candi Borobodur, Candi Prambanan, or Jalan Malioboro.
At night we have rituals, journeys to sacred pools or places in the forest, and mantras or lessons in traditional medicine, wreathed in fragrant kretek cigarette smoke under the harsh glare of fluorescent bulbs. Late at night, we retire to bed with our minds full of the lessons learned that day, suspicious that sleep is robbing you of further opportunities for training. The next day is an early rise with the sun, and joining the group for morning yoga to help wake up and make our bodies limber as the next day begins.
If Jakarta is the beating industrial heart of Java, then Yogyakarta (Jogja) is its soul. Here there are many old temples, the cemeteries of sultans, and ancient traditions kept alive.
Every day is a surprise, and you learn to savor the long breaks with cups of well-sugared tea (always more tea) and good conversations with your new friends. You find out that the culture there is very different, but also that you have important things in common. Their hospitality and friendly attitudes make it easy to become friends, and you can thank pencak silat for being that bridge.
There are many historical sites in central Java, but two of the most prominent are Candi Borobodur and Candi Prambanan. Borobodur is a massive Buddhist temple and step pyramid constructed in the 9th century and rising 9 levels above the surrounding plain. Carved in every level are panels of bas relief sculptures of daily life in ancient Java. I enjoyed spending as much time as I was allowed walking the temple and scouring the panels for evidence of Pencak Silat from 1,200 years ago.
Prambanan is a complex of Hindu temples that were built (1,000 of them) in a single legendary night in a theme reminiscent of the labors of Heracles. The three main temples are to Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu and are very impressive and carved with additional panels.
Frequently, we also travel to the cemetery of the sultans of central Java, my teacher’s ancestors, at Imogiri. Here we pay respect to my teacher’s family. Respect and courtesy, or Hormat, is an important part of Indonesian and therefore pencak silat culture that deserves a future article of its own.
The whole experience is training, not just of body, but of mind and soul.
These sights are very impressive and worthy of visitation if you ever travel to central Java. However, when you are immersed in Indonesian silat culture, they take on a special significance and their stories hold many lessons for your growth as a practitioner. As I mentioned before in a previous article that I wrote on mysticism in pencak silat, to properly train in pencak silat, you must not only train bela diri (self-defense) but also tenaga dalam (inner power), the proper behavior of a pesilat (someone who practices silat).
I learned these words and teachings from my friend Dr. Bahati Mershant, a powerful martial artist and guru in his own right, and one of many friends for life I have met while training in Indonesia. For further reading on how training in Indonesia can subtly influence your silat motion, read my friend Dr. Lee Becker’s blog article on rhythm.
My silat organization, Inti Ombak Pencak Silat, conducts a training camp about every two years (2008, 2011, 2013), and I have just returned from the one in 2015 at the time of writing this. This year and two years ago, our group participated in a massive parade of silat players down the main thoroughfare (Jalan Malioboro) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This is the 4th such parade, and each year it attracts 5,000-8,000 silat practitioners from all over Indonesia, South-East Asia, and the rest of the world.
This year the United States’ branch of my organization came in force, with contingents from Colorado, Virginia, Vermont, and New York. The purpose of this parade is to convince the newest generation of Indonesians that the practice of pencak silat is an interesting and useful part of their culture. I have touched on this in previous articles but the martial art of pencak silat is in danger of being forgotten, along with many other cultural treasures of Indonesia, as the country modernizes itself. If you want to read more on resurrecting silat, you can do so here.
This event has grown to encompassing a weekend of performances, workshops, and the parade itself. I am proud that my teachers have had a major role in establishing this tradition and continue to help it grow each year.
For the practitioner, especially from a foreign country, this event is ideal for making connections with other silat players and teachers.
The performances are stunning, and can help inspire your practice of silat seni or martial dance and refine your technique. Most important are the connections with indigenous teachers that this event provides. If you already have a guru or organization then, with their permission, you can find teachers to help expand your practice. On the other hand, if you are looking for a teacher to train with, then many of them have been assembled in one place for you to talk to. I would be happy to help you at the next camp, just look for the tall white guy in a bright green jacket.
Charles Brandon Stauft has been training in Silat since 2006 and teaching for the past 4 years. He is the head instructor for Inner Wave Pencak Silat New York where he teaches occasional seminars in New York City, a number of private students, and a class at Stony Brook University in Pencak Silat basics. He has mainly trained under Guru Daniel Prasetya and also with instructors in other Filipino and Indonesian martial arts both in the United States and Indonesia. He has been lucky enough to go to intensive camps in Bali and Java as well as a number of seminars in the United States. Recently he has also taken up historical European martial arts (HEMA), specifically German longsword fencing in the Lichtenauer tradition.