What is Pencak Silat?

Pencak Silat is a grouping of martial arts found within the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, and the Southern Philippines. That is to say, that the preceding countries could be considered source countries for the indigenous martial art known as pencak silat.

Pencak silat is nothing more than a blanket term for those indigenous martial arts. That is to say, that there are many different styles of pencak silat and many different emphases within those styles.

Historically, it has been accepted that the various originating regions had particular physical characteristics and today that is largely still true, though to say that the variety is great is probably an understatement. In addition, the great variety of styles has been further increased by the constant influence of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese systems, not to mention the cross-pollination of the various styles within the indigenous regions themselves.

All that to say, that pencak silat is typically considered a complete martial art by those who practice it - though the degree to which that is true may depend on too many factors to rationally consider. In any case, pencak silat practitioners often utilize the following methods: evasion, striking, kicking, locking, throwing, ground fighting, weapons, spiritual, and societal training.

That said pencak silat is often viewed as a martial art that focuses on the use of weapons, and in particular, bladed weapons. I personally have not seen an exception to this and as a result, it is often said, "that without the knife there is no silat."

What is often difficult to do is to define what is pencak silat. With such a wide variety of influences, and breadth of styles it is a task few would take on. However, most silat practitioners can recognize pencak silat when they see it. This is because it does have characteristics that are not found to the same degree or with the same combination of influences as they are found within pencak silat.

One of those characteristics is the consistent use of "baiting" through the use of Sikap Pasang or Welcoming Postures. They do not look the same from art to art but often, within pencak silat, it is the use of "baiting" as a method for expression of beauty and gracefulness that is noticed. In addition, in concert with the fluidity of movement, changes of tempo, constant changes of height, and wave-like energy, that no other martial art does similarly. The degree to which that it is apparent or different appears to be the degree to which the particular system of pencak silat has been influenced by external martial arts such as, kung fu, karate, tae kwon do, judo, jujitsu, etc. Additionally, regional influences do exist, not to mention the influences and desires of a given teacher to express those aspects.

An example, of a regional difference is the footwork of some West Javanese systems, which tend not to pick up the feet, but rather to prefer almost sliding the foot across the ground. In direct contrast, a Sumatran system may pick up the foot, raising the heel as though kicking behind, before stepping.