Yes, I am really amusing myself here for picking a ‘sportsball’ book where balls don’t really feature in the sports of focus. To make up for that though—as I discovered—nearly everything else that you could think of has been used as a weapon in an Indonesian martial art at some point. This includes knives, more knives, swords, shields, sticks, more knives, whips, chains, and teeth.
And the knives? More knives than spam in Monty Python. Some of these people folks really love their knives.
The Martial Arts of Indonesia comes in with the premise that in order to understand the arts practised there, you need to have at least a rudimentary understanding of both Indonesian history and culture. And this is where Donn F. Draeger starts his first chapter. Indonesia is an archipelago with a long maritime history that has come in contact with people from many different diasporas and cultures. While this gave many different points of influence, there are three main ones: the Chinese, from as far back as the Han Dynasty; India, whose Hindu influences can still be strongly seen today; and Islam, from their many conflicts with the Hindus and other religious groups.
Then on top of that, we have the oppression from the Dutch. Which certainly fired the flames.
The name of the game in Indonesian-style martial arts seems to be diversity and adaptability. There’s very little misplaced purity here—if it works and it’s useful, it was adopted.
This leads us to three main forms: Kuanto, heavily influenced by the Chinese; Pencak Silat, the form that has seen the most nurturing from the government since independence; and the less organized and formalized endemic forms that still exist across the islands.
The rest of the book is broken up by geography, where each section details the martial arts traditions found in each region. Of all the forms, the Pencak Silat styles from both Bali and Java probably receive the most attention—especially Cimande—as they have been the most studied. My personal favourite though is the Minangkabau, who are just so fascinating in general but have had a disproportionate influence on Pencak Silat compared to other groups. However, a good deal of cultural and historical context is given for most systems, as well as a wealth of photos displaying the techniques.
And the knives. So many illustrations of knives. Some of them have blades that make you sit up and go ‘For real? That is NOT from a video game? How?’
I am slightly disappointed though that I ordered this as an ebook. Paper copies had been hard to find, but it may have been worth it to hold out. A lot of the photos and illustrations don’t look half as good on an eInk screen as they would in print. Maybe I’ll have to buy a second copy.
While a little academic and dry in tone, The Martial Arts of Indonesia is one of the most expansive books I have read on the subject. I don’t think I’m going to find anything more detailed unless I start looking for an anthropology thesis or trying to step out of the English language sphere (orf, no)
I might be biased, as someone who is attempting to practice Pencak Silat and all, but this was a great read for me. I’m not sure who else it might appeal to though—any fans of The Raid films perhaps?
For bingo, again, this is Sportsball. And I think I have myself a diagonal there
At the time of this book’s publication, there were 157 recorded styles of Pencak Silat. There is apparently only one man who teaches mine in this country. I am going to try cold calling him this week…)