Indonesian Fighting Arts as the Elephant

There is an old story about how constrained viewpoints lead to incorrect conclusions. Three blind men touch separate parts of an elephant, and are then asked to describe it. The first, who touched inside the trunk, says “elephants are soft and damp, like a fish or a reptile!” The second, who touched the ear, says “elephants have wings like a bat!” The third, who touched the tail, says “elephants are long and thin, like a snake!” Not only did none of them correctly describe an elephant by themselves, they are also incorrect taken together. Elephants are elephants, and one must have much more wide-ranging experience

Our elephant: “what are the Indonesian fighting arts?”

How many systems are there? Where are they practiced? What weapons are used? What philosophy guides the art? What techniques form an art’s “backbone”? If two practitioners have similar styles, do they call what they do by the same name? Is everything called by the same name the same system? Some of these questions have several correct answers; some have no correct answer, only an approximation.

Trying to come up with a single definition of something complex in a place as diverse as Indonesia is much like being one of the three blind men: we are hampered by unavoidably limited context. However, that does not mean no one should try; it means simply that all answers should be viewed as one answer from a (necessarily) limited viewpoint.

Here is one person’s answer to the question posed above: An Introduction to Indonesian Martial Arts by Jason Maine (external link, opens in a new window).

And a few more links with further information:

Pencak Silat Gadjah Putih –

Wikipedia on Pencak Silat –

Wikipedia on Silat –

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