The Physical - Magickal Connection
By William Sanders, Pendekar
When I began studying this Indonesian Martial Art over twenty
years ago, most martial artists in the USA had never heard its name. Most
teachers in America at that time had to label this ancient and complete
art Indonesian Karate or Kung Fu, just so the average person had some
idea that this was a complete fighting art. Of course, I sought out all
of the available written documentation on my art. It was evident, even
among the few books written, that I was studying a very esoteric system,
whose very core consisted of a magickal-mystical blend that was integral
to the art.
My first teacher spoke of this part of the system often, and at first
seemed as intent on acquiring this knowledge as I was. We had many interesting
discussions as he read over the "Tibetan Book of the Dead."
He spoke of many tales of secret training with a candle flame, etc., told
to him by his teacher, who was from Indonesia. Sadly, a few years later
his teacher died and he rarely spoke of these things again. My interest,
however, did not die but grew stronger and stronger. I realized I only
had a shell of the true art
Finally I was to meet Suryadi Jaifri, the then government representative
to the USA from the official Indonesian Pencak Silat organization, the
IPSI. Eddie, as he was known, again spoke of the Tenaga Dalam (the
inner spirit), the movement, and the magick, and so I began a steadfast
and determined vow to learn this portion of the art and pass it on to
For a moment, let's examine what inspired this inseparable aspect. Prior
to the Fourth Century, which was the approximate time period that Hinduism
and Buddhism arrived in Indonesia, Animism was the major belief structure.
The Gamelon plays, the participants moving rhythmically, hoping to be
possessed by the animal spirits they are invoking. Suddenly the movements
look strikingly like the animals invoked, the weave of the snake, the
crouch of the tiger, thus the ilmu, the magickal transformation which
could be summoned in combat had begun.
Therefore this early Animism was the initial source of the mystical-magickal
tradition of Pencak Silat. In fact as stated the original flavor and movements
can be stated to have been born of this magick.
Hinduism brought much mystical knowledge with it to the Archipelago,
such as the yoga type postures, breathing exercises, and the concept which
became known as Tenaga Dalam (or the inner spirit.) It also taught that
ones lot in life is primarily predetermined at birth and one could not
really rise above it. This concept was referred to as Dharma.
Buddhism maintained the use of this term, although its meaning became
more vague. It often referred to various conditions, including states
of awareness. However a major difference was that one could, by studying
the inner and outer worlds of existence, obtain "enlightenment."
This then now allowed the practitioner to gain control over the physical
plane, to rise above ones given lot in life. The spirits of the beasts
now were no longer in control but became harnessed for the skilled practitioner.
When a particularly mystical sect of Islam (Sufism) began to come into
power towards the end of the 15th Century and towards the conclusion of
the famous Majapahit Empire, a blending of Shamanistic type structure
with Pencak Silat occurred. Indeed during the reign of Raden Mas Rangsang,
the powers of Tenaga Dalam and Ilmu were duly recorded.
The main weapon associated with Pencak Silat and inexorably blended
with early Indonesian culture is the highly mystical Keris. A ceremonial
bladed weapon whose construction (some blades contain the actual thumbprints
of the Pande or Keris Smith, who through his power was able to handle
the molten steel with his bare hands), the materials used (a blend of
meteorite iron), and its many reported powers (everything from flying,
to the ability to draw fire, water, and projection of its owner) reflect
the aura of Pencak Silat.
Just as there are many local variations from village to village, even
in the same system, so to do the magickal-mystical methods find many forms.
Many contain a strong Islamic structure, many do not. But while I was
in Indonesia it was always indicated that this magickal-mystical development
was the ultimate goal of the art. The physical portion, indeed is but
the tip of the iceberg, ten percent to be exact.
When I was introduced to my Magickal teacher Sartono, he told me that
he had to go up to his favorite mountain and meditate to see if a non
Indonesian could be given this training. He said he did not know because
he had never seen it done. A few days later, he told me he was presented
with a small powerful golden Kris as a sign to teach me, which he then
gave to me.
During my various trips to Indonesia I visited many villages and witnessed
much Pencak Silat in every village. Without fail all demonstrations which
were performed for me contained many applications of combative methods
which were blended with and attributed to the underlying magickal-mystical
training. Excited, I absorbed everything.
I have stayed in contact with my Magickal teacher Sartono over the years.
I had discovered the missing link which I had not found in the Pencak
Silat I had seen in the USA. What astounded me was the inner meanings
that were now understandable in the physical training. The act of not
looking at the attacker, so the inner awareness could be turned loose
to guard the body. The elements of fire, earth, water, and air which allowed
the body to subconsciously isolate and perfect the concepts of various
movements. This translated as really useful fighting skills, not to any
specific religion. Martial arts themselves are more efficient ways of
defending oneself by having information or skill, and hopefully not being
possessed by your opponent. This inner training is no different and at
its core could be the keys of the psychological workings of the human
When I first observed Pencak Silat so many years ago I was awed by the
feeling that the movements elicited from me. My teacher referred to it
as fascinatingly deadly. Years later and still today, when I observe much
of the Pencak Silat that is taught in the USA, I get no such feeling.
The training in the concepts of earth, wind, fire, and water, the search
into the deeper self, reflects its "alive" nature in the movements.
The spirits of the animals come alive, the subconscious takes control
and one senses the presence of something "more." Most of the
purely physical types of so called Pencak Silat I see by comparison seem
lifeless, stiff, and something is missing.
Keep in mind this is not any particular religion. Indonesia itself has
an actual law called "Panscalla," the belief in the personal
concept of Divinity you choose to believe in, but belief never the less.
This is the concept behind Pencak Silat. A training and belief in the
ability to go beyond the normal physical boundaries.
It is no wonder that the term Pendekar, the highest rank awarded
in Pencak Silat to the Indonesian practitioner, connotes spiritual priest
master - a teacher of the mystical and physical. If one is a true Pendekar,
one must teach both sides of the complete coin, or don't use the term.
The practitioner crouches low embracing the power of Mother Earth and
he springs up towards Father Sky. He does not look at his attacker and
by disassociating the conscious mind away from the fray, his inner being,
which his teacher has been teaching him to develop, comes forth to protect
him. This is Pencak Silat.