Indonesian Pencak Silat Loved by US Citizens

The term pencak silat in Indonesia usually refers to professional silat matches, which involve the whole body by combining attacks, wrestling and throwing anything that is not a weapon. Now, Indonesian pencak silat is quite popular in America, even 95 percent of its members are Americans.

Pencak silat began to be included in the Southeast Asian Games in 1987. Then at the 2018 Asian Games. Pencak Silat was also recognized as a Masterpiece of Humanity Heritage by UNESCO at the end of 2019.

Since 2013 the sport has grown in America, when the five founders and administrators formed the USA Pencak Silat Federation (UPSF). Co-founder Poppy Budhiastuti told Mouab.

Poppy Budhiastuti (left) with Prabowo Subianto (Chairman of the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association).  (Photo: UPSF)

Poppy Budhiastuti (left) with Prabowo Subianto (Chairman of the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association). (Photo: UPSF)

“There are five founders of the USA Pencak Silat Federation. He met since the 1980s, studied at the martial arts school under the auspices of Al Azhar Indonesian Martial Arts Washington, DC. The 10th branch is the Al Azhar martial arts branch at the Great Mosque of Jakarta. Since then, we have aspired to establish a Pencak Silat Federation.”

From there, now Indonesian pencak silat is known by Americans. Of the five administrators, three of them are still active as coaches. Even his coach, Abdul Malik, who is not Indonesian, became the first pencak silat athlete and coach in the US.

UPSF raises funds at a bazaar event in the US (photo: UPSF).

UPSF raises funds at a bazaar event in the US (photo: UPSF).

Malik as he is known, was born in Connecticut in 1975, to a Cuban father and Aruba mother. He can speak Indonesian and has been to Indonesia several times. Malik studied pencak silat since the age of 15, during his pencak silat training at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC.

“There was a class there, in 1998 and four or five years after that I started teaching pencak silat, teaching many students,” he explained.

World Championship

UPSF now has studios they rent to practice for their students, in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Pencak silat federations are also found in other states such as New York and Texas.

Abdul Malik was so passionate about pencak silat that he passed it on to his 20-year-old daughter Sakina Ahmad, who followed in his footsteps. Sakina has been practicing pencak silat since she was 5 years old. She won the first gold medal for the US team in the Tournament in Belgium and the second place in Singapore.

Abdul Malik Ahmad and his daughter, Sakina Ahmad (20 years) who won the first gold medal for the US team at the Tournament in Belgium (photo: UPSF)

Abdul Malik Ahmad and his daughter, Sakina Ahmad (20 years) who won the first gold medal for the US team at the Tournament in Belgium (photo: UPSF)

Of the many pencak silat students who are 95 percent American, one of them, Adam Pereira, is 29 years old who was born to an Indonesian mother and a Trinidad father.

Asked by Mouab why he was interested in learning pencak silat, Adam said, “My mother is from Indonesia and my uncle trains at the college in Jakarta Tiga Berantai. So out of respect for my family, I love pencak silat and I can compete with people internationally.”

Malik (far right) with his students.  (Photo: UPSF)

Malik (far right) with his students. (Photo: UPSF)

Adam has been practicing this martial sport for 15 years, but he admits that he has only been serious about practicing for six years. The result? He won three US and world championships. First he won a bronze medal at the world martial arts championship in Bali in 2016. Two years later he won a silver medal in the championship in Singapore and in 2019 Adam won a gold medal at the US Open Championship in Virginia.

Summer school

This summer, the US Pencak Silat Federation (UPSF) held a summer school which in the US is called Summer Camp. However, due to concerns that a new type of Corona virus will spread, according to Abdul Malik, the Pencak Silat Summer Camp will be postponed.

“I think more than 20 people, but there are still problems with Covid, there is a new variant and people are still afraid. I have a lot of students who want to come to this camp but their parents don’t allow it. So I think it’s better to postpone it after the pandemic comes down.”

Pereira's family (Adam in the middle) with father (Alpha) and Amanda Pereira.  (Photo: UPSF)

Pereira’s family (Adam in the middle) with father (Alpha) and Amanda Pereira. (Photo: UPSF)

During this pandemic, UPSF also taught pencak silat through virtual.

In addition to promoting culture through martial arts, the Pencak Silat Federation also holds social activities by distributing basic necessities. Asked where the funds came from, Poppy Budhiastuti added, “Usually we collect funds from our own pockets, then raise funds such as participating in bazaars, holding Gala Dinners and asking for grants from the state government for the distribution of basic necessities”.

Apart from Indonesia, many other countries have pencak silat. Based on that, UPSF accommodates pencak silat groups from other countries by respecting the principles, style, technique, philosophy and culture of each.

Efforts to preserve Indonesian culture as well as humanitarian efforts carried out by UPSF need to be imitated by other groups, especially during this difficult pandemic. [ps/em]

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