From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Pencak Silat or Silat ("fighting by using techniques of self-defense") is a Southeast Asian martial art with roots in the culture of the Malay World. This art is widely known in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines but can also be found in varying degrees among the Malay-affiliated communities in Thailand and Cambodia. The art has also reached Europe, and is especially popular in the Netherlands, where it is as popular as karate is in the United States. It is estimated that there are hundreds of aliran (styles) and thousands of schools. Many of the aliran find their origin in the observation of wild animals fighting. "Harimau" (Tiger) and "Elang" (Eagle) are some examples.


There are four main aspects to pencak silat:

To be simplified, seni silat or pencak silat are based on four parts:

  1. Culture
  2. Self defense
  3. Weaponry
  4. Sport

  1. Mental and spiritual:
    Pencak silat aims to build and develop personality and noble character, just like all other martial arts. One must use their training to focus their mental and spiritual energies during combat situations or dangerous emergencies.
  2. Self-defense:
    Self-confidence skills and perseverance skills are very important. Without them, your skills are reduced significantly.
  3. Culture and art:
    Culture and performing the "art" of pencak silat is very important. This combines Pencak Silat with traditional music and costumes.
  4. Sport:
    This means that the physical aspect of pencak silat is important. We try to have a sound mind in a sound body. Competitions and intense training are part of this aspect.
    There are full-contact matches, as well as form demonstrations, for single, double or teamed.

Styles and techniques

The styles and schools of pencak silat differ from each other with regard to which aspects are emphasized. It is thanks to the sport and self-defense aspects that this sport has become popular in Europe. However, as with many martial arts, some believe the essence of pencak silat is watered down when converted to a sport, and therefore prefer to focus on traditional or spiritual forms of Silat, not strictly following the PERSILAT way.

Pencak silat is a system that consists of sikap-sikap or kuda-kuda (positions) and gerak-geri (movements). When pesilat (silat practitioners) are moving in combat, these sikap and gerak-geri change continuously. As soon as one finds an opening in their opponent's defense, they will try to finish the opponent with a fast serangan (attack).

Pencak silat has a wide variety of defense and attacking techniques. Practitioners may use hands, elbows, arms, legs, knees and feet in attacks. Common techniques include kicking, hitting, tripping, sweeps, locks, takedowns, throws, strangles, and joint breaking.

The pesilat, or silat practitioner, practices with djurus - a series of meta-movements for the upper body used as a guide to learn the applications, or buah, when done with a partner. The use of langkah (steps), or lower body meta movements teach the use of footwork. When combined, it is dasar pasang, or whole body flow. This is common to most Asian martial arts and called kata in Japanese.

Pencak silat has developed rapidly during the twentieth century and has become a competition sport under the PERSILAT rules and regulations. At the moment pencak silat is being promoted by PERSILAT in several countries. The goal of PERSILAT is to make pencak silat an olympic sport. Apart from the official PERSILAT line of making Pencak Silat a competition sport, there are still many traditional styles practicing old forms of Silek and Silat.

Weapons in silat

Along with the human body, silat employs the usage of several martial arts weapons. Among the hundreds of styles are dozens of weapons. Listed here are a few examples.

  • Keris: Dagger, the most popular and well known weapon in silat with either a straight or wavy blade.
  • Pedang: Sword, either double or single-edged and sometimes paired with a rattan buckler.
  • Parang/Golok: Machete, a popular weapon also used for daily tasks.
  • Lembing/Seligi: Spear/javelin made of either wood or bamboo and often with horse hair attached near the blade.
  • Kayu/Tongkat: Stick/walking staff made of either bamboo or wood.
  • Chinese sword: An early Chinese import which could be used either singly or in a pair.
  • Kipas: The traditional Asian folding fan preferably made of wood or iron when fighting.
  • Tjabang/Tekpi: Three-pronged stave originally used as an agricultural tool.
  • Kelabit: A small claw worn on the hand, easily concealed and preferred by women.
  • Japanese sword: Used in some Indonesian styles, it probably came to South-East Asia in the 1600s or during an earlier period.


The beginning of formulized martial arts in Southeast Asia can be traced back to India and China. Traders and settlers from both lands have long been living in the region and provided the basis for local culture, including martial arts. The impact that Indian martial arts had on silat evident from the use of silambam staffs and the thigh-slapping found in many forms of silat which is reminiscent of Hindu wrestling for example. Even silat's animal styles are derived from those of India. Additionally, bas-reliefs in Srivijaya which clearly illustrate warriors wielding weapons such as the Chinese double-edged sword also suggest a strong Chinese influence.

With the rise of Malay civilizations, combat became more advanced and silat was institutionalized. There are a number of legends of how this happened but only one has any historical significance. The story tells of a Sumatran woman who witnessed a fight between a tiger and a very large bird while fetching water from a well. Both animals, unfortunately, died in the fight. The woman's angry husband came to scold her for her tardiness but she blocked all of his attacks, remembering the movements of the fighting animals that she saw earlier. The couple later formulized the art and founded the first style of silat. However true this story is, archeological evidence shows that silat was indeed created in the Sumatra-based empire of Srivijaya and flourished after it spread to Java.

Java was home to the Mataram Kingdom and, together with Srivijaya, was an important centre for education and religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. It attracted monks and learned men from various parts of South-East Asia. This allowed silat to influence and be influenced by other styles from nearby countries such as Krabi Krabong from Thailand and Banshay from Myanmar. Trade with Okinawa also brought about the similarities between silat and karate as well as various Japanese weapon-arts like tessenjutsu and bōjutsu.

By the early 1300s, silat was already highly refined, much like its present form. After Dutch colonization, silat was brought to Netherlands by Indonesian immigrants. From there it spread to other parts of Europe to eventually become as popular as it is today.


PERSILAT (Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antarabangsa, the International Pencak Silat Federation) is promoting pencak silat as an international competition sport. Only members recognised by PERSILAT are allowed to participate at international competitions.

At the moment some European national pencak silat federations together with PERSILAT have founded a European Pencak Silat Federation.

In 1986, the first Pencak Silat World Championship outside of Asia took place in Vienna, Austria.

In 2002, pencak silat was introduced as part of the exhibition programme at the Asian Games in Busan Korea for the first time.

However this was not a part of the official programm, 2 referee's from Europe (Remco Doorn and Eric Bovelander) are present on invitation by the organizing comitee. This was to show the level of quality outside the asian area, and also to show the globalisation of Pencak Silat as a sport.

The last World Championships took place in Singapore in December 2004.

Terms in pencak silat

  • Bersilat is the word given to the act of practicing silat.
  • Berpencak is the word given to the act of two pesilat in combat situation.
  • Pentjak is the old Indonesian spelling of the word pencak.
  • Another alternate spelling of pencak is the phonetic penchak (commonly used by French practitioners).
  • Pesilat is the word given to mean practitioners of silat.