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Home » Padang » Silek Harimau Minangkabau : the True Martial Art of West Sumatra

Silek Harimau Minangkabau : the True Martial Art of West Sumatra

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Pencak Silat is the original Martial Art that is native to Indonesia, just as the Chinese have the Kung Fu, the Japanese the Karate, or the Koreans the Taekwondo.  Among the many forms and styles found across the Indonesian Archipelago, one distinct style is the Silek Harimau, that was developed among the Minangkabau  ethnic group of West Sumatra.

Archaeological evidence revealed that the origins of Indonesia’s martial art, known as Pencak Silat dates back to the sixth century, to the times of the Srivijaya kingdom on Sumatra and the Majapahit kingdom in East Java. Artifacts showed that this unique combat system had been used consistently through Indonesia’s long history. But scholars point out that the first silat system known is to have actually appeared in the mountain region of west Sumatra that was developed by the Minangkabau ethnic group.

Mid Djamal in his book published in 1986 mentioned that the martial art of Silek was established around 1119 by Datuk Suri Dirajodi Pariangan from Padang Panjang. He was said to have been assisted by martial art masters from other countries who taught him the Kambiang Utan system (presumably from Cambodia), the Harimau Champo (presumably from Champa/Vietnam), Kucing Siam (presumably from Siam/Thailand), and the Anjiang Mualim (presumably from Persia). 

Silek Harimau has the following meaning:Silek  is the Minangkabau  word for Silat, while  the word: Harimau  means Tiger both in the Minangkabau language and Bahasa Indonesia. So, the Silek Harimau is a branch of Pencak Silat that is inspired by the fearsome and majestic Sumatran Tiger. The Silek Harimau looks to the tiger as an animal capable of destroying its opponent while still keeping its gracefulness.

The fighting style of Silek Harimau reveals a vast variety of kicks, strikes, locks, counters, ground fighting, as well as the use of various weapons. One main characteristic of Silek Harimau is the open hand technique that mimics the paw and claws of a tiger in fight. This style enables the fighter to seize and lock his opponent.  The locking and seizing technique is then followed by throwing the opponent down to the ground.

For the Minangkabau, martial art serves two purposes, namely, for self defense against sudden unforeseen attacks and as a means to defend the community. Thus, the Minagkabau refer to Silek as panjago diri (Self Defense) and Parik paga dalam Nagari (Guardian of the Community).This philosophy is based on the history of the Minangkabau, where with their fertile land and being the main producer of herbs and other farm produce, they were  frequently attacked by outside forces who tried to seize their wealth. During more peaceful times, however, the ancient 

martial art was preserved and used in traditional performing arts and dances.

The Silek Harimau as well as other Pencak Silat styles of West Sumatra have also become the basis for traditional dances and the art of Randai. Randai combines music, theater, and the Minangkabau Silek choreography. These performances are usually held during folk festivities or to commemorate important events. Randai, moreover, serves as media to pass down folk stories and ancient Minangkabau tales and values from generation to generation.

In recent years, the art of Minangkabau’s pencak silat has made its way into popular culture. The traditional pencak silat choreography can be now be enjoyed in the movie “Merantau” released in 2009, as well as in the popular film “The Raid” which was released internationally in 2012, as well as its sequel “The Raid 2”,  released in 2014.

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