by Ian Wilson
Looking Within: The Science of Inner Power
The pursuit of esoteric knowledge or ‘ilmu’ has always been an intrinsic part of pencak silat culture. Mastery of the physical body forms the foundation for perceiving and harnessing hidden powers both within and without. In this chapter I concentrate on the history and theory of ‘inner power’ within pencak silat. After outlining the historical development and general theory of inner power we focus on four contemporary groups in West Java. As we will see, inner power practices have grown in popularity in recent times, partly and ironically, in response to the ‘sportization’ of silat culture. The promotion of silat as sport and national culture by the state has led to what some see as a ‘banalisation’ of the silat body.
Inner power practitioners on the other hand have sought to ‘re-enchant’ the body by exploring the forces and flows within it, and expand its horizons by borrowing theories from modern science, religion and New Order ideology. In looking at inner power practices, I aim to highlight how silat practitioners have imagined themselves as finding a dynamic equilibrium between inner realities and outer social process. By exploring and developing the individual body via body techniques, and attempting to embody social and cultural ideals, inner power practitioners, in their terms, have sought to bring themselves into harmony with the larger social body of which they are a part. In their terms, this means their practice is precisely and completely ‘engaged’ and active rather than ’escapist’. ’The inner dimension of pencak silat is seen by its practitioners as a practical means of engaging with the world as embodied and conscious social actors.
According to Popo Sumadipraja, traditional pencak silat training in West Java consists of three progressive stages of development: olah raga, olah rasa and olah jiwa. Within this context, olahraga or in Sundanese, pakalah, refers not to ‘sport’, but to the training of the physical body via the reflexive memorisation of jurus. The trained physical body constitutes the necessary base for the unfolding of the next stage of olah rasa, intuitive knowledge. The repetitive performance of physical exercises aids in the maturation of an enhanced awareness of the body’s internal processes and to previously hidden flows of energy. There are two basic types of force, ‘unrefined energy’ (Ind: tenaga kasar) and ‘refined energy’ (Ind: tenaga halus). Tenaga kasar refers to the purely physical product of training such as muscular strength and endurance. Sustained training of the physical body can lead to the final stage of olah jiwa where one masters tenaga halus and gains perfect knowledge of the self. Within silat discourse the body is not an impediment to self-knowledge and self-realisation as it provides the vehicle and source for it. In the words of Popo Sumadipraja “coming to fully know oneself means understanding all of the elements of the natural world, all of which exist within us”.
The sportization of pencak silat practice that took place in the mid 1970’s via the agency of IPSI, led to a marginalisation of the spiritual dimension of pencak silat as well as practices aimed at the accumulation of supernatural power.‘Olahraga’, identified by IPSI as ‘sport’, which was the preliminary stage of training in traditional schools, became an end in itself. The socialisation of this new form of purely technical, competitive silat took time. Many competitors still wore magically charged jimat (amulets) under their uniforms, and employed various other forms of ilmu to gain an advantage over their opponent. During these early years of competition ‘checks’ were required to ensure that no magic was being used. The promotion of sport as the main developmental forum for pencak silat corresponded with a shift in government policy regarding mysticism (Ind: kebatinan), with which pencak silat had been so closely identified. Up until 1970 the popularity of kebatinan within pencak silat circles had been fostered by Wongsonegoro, who apart from being the head of IPSI was also the founder of the Indonesian Kebatinan Congress (Ind: Badan Kongres Kebatinan Indonesia) and an ex government minister In 1973 government legislation was introduced that recognised kebatinan as a ‘belief’ (Ind: kepercayaan), “an independent but legitimate option within the terms of the Pancasila”. Whilst, officially at least, this constituted a legal recognition of kebatinan practices, the reality was that listing a mystical movement instead of a religion on one’s identity card was often considered ‘subversive’.
The secularisation of pencak silat was accompanied by an influx of concepts from the sports sciences that resulted in a new “rational-logical” approach, enculturated in the general public via the New Order’s ‘development’-orientated education system. Beliefs that were not in accord with the discourse of Western science and orthodox religion were downplayed. This ideology of modernity influenced IPSI, which in 1982 replaced the term ‘kebatinan’ with the more ‘scientific’ term mental-spiritual:
The mental-spiritual aspect of pencak silat cannot be explicitly pointed to. However, without a mental-spiritual dimension a form of self-defence cannot be called pencak silat. This is in accord with the understanding of pencak silat itself. Pencak silat is Indonesian national culture aimed at defending and maintaining the existence and integrity of the social and natural environment. It is for the purpose of increasing faith and piety towards Almighty God. In this respect we can conclude that whatever we do in connection with pencak silat must be orientated towards increasing our faith and piety.
IPSI ‘guidance’ (Ind: pembinaan) programs associated the mental-spiritual aspect of pencak silat to the ethical complex of ‘noble character’ (Ind: budi pekerti luhur), one that linked concepts of national character (Ind: kepribadian nasional) and the ‘complete person’ (Ind: manusia seutuhnya) with a moral interpretation of the Pancasila. The shift was away from the experiential embodied spirituality towards the ideological.
IPSI’s attempt to separate the esoteric inner dimension from pencak silat was in part responsible for an upsurge of schools concerned solely with the internal aspect of practice. The mid 1970’s saw a upsurge in the number of ‘inner power’ (Ind: tenaga dalam) orientated pencak silat schools, that gained widespread media attention and popularity, especially amongst the educated urban middle-class. Modern ‘inner power’ practices revised and rationalised traditional practices associated with the ‘kebatinan’ and magical dimension of pencak silat as well as techniques drawn from local Sufism, via a discourse that blended theories from Western science and medicine with indigenous spirituality and orthodox religion. The traditional focus upon the accumulation of ‘power’ was gradually replaced by the objective of maintaining ‘health’ and ‘well-being’. The basic principle found in the varying inner power techniques is that by combining regulated patterns of physical movements with specific breathing techniques, humans can activate, increase, and utilise the potentially huge reservoir of power that is believed to exist within each individual. This power can be applied in numerous ways, such as for repelling attackers without the use of physical force, healing oneself and others, heightening sensory perception, clairvoyance, performing extraordinary physical feats such as breaking hard objects, and spiritual enlightenment.
It appears also that it has only been since the 1970’s that the term ‘tenaga dalam’ has been used in reference to a distinct set of practices taught either separately or in conjunction with pencak silat. In West Java other terms used to refer to inner power have included penca gebreg, spierkracht and ilmu hikmah. The Indic and Chinese terms prana and chi are also commonly used. The huge increase of popular interest in tenaga dalam was itself the product of two seemingly divergent yet interrelated social processes. The process of borrowing and adapting concepts from Western science in response to pencak silat’s secularisation was paralleled by a growth of representations of pencak silat in popular culture. According to pencak silat researcher Agus Heryana, during the early 1970’s dramatised radio broadcasts of dongeng pasosore (serialised legends broadcast in the afternoon) such as Si Andi Jago Turugan and Saur Sepuh came immensely popular in West Java. These legends, of which there are literally hundreds, revolved around a similar romantic theme: a nomadic, magically powerful martial arts expert roaming the countryside fighting evil (usually in the form of sadistic warlords or evil sorcerers) and defending the weak. Whilst the physical martial skills of the hero are prominent, they were ultimately secondary to his supernatural powers, referred to as tenaga dalam. These broadcasts fostered a wave of popular interest in the ‘inner’ dimension of pencak silat, fostering the belief that those who practiced inner power are capable of performing incredible super-human feats. Martial arts films and popular fiction, both local and foreign, further fuelled this.
Whilst popular culture increased interest in inner power, IPSI made moves to distance itself from it and other practices not considered to be ‘within reason’ (Ind: masuk akal):
In this rational age, we must take a sceptical and critical approach towards the problem of inner power that is found within IPSI ranks. Indeed it constitutes a part of the richness of pencak silat, but it needs to be rethought and reconsidered as to whether this richness should be preserved. Pencak silat is already equal with karate, judo, jujitsu and taekwondo, but not yet completely. In order to make this equality total, pencak silat must be rationalised. For this reason, things that are doubtful and difficult to understand, that are a hindrance in making pencak silat a source of national pride which is also respected by different nations, must be cleared up.
Pencak silat schools that prioritised physical self-defence but also taught inner power, such as Merpati Putih (White Dove), Pencak Silat Tenaga Dasar and Sim Lam Ba continued to have close organisational links with IPSI.[xiii] However many schools that taught only inner power without physical self-defence techniques grew increasingly distant from the organisation. Whilst many were formally registered with IPSI, they had little or no contact with it. The conceptual status of inner power in relation to the four categories of silat practice enshrined by IPSI was also unclear. Some considered it to be an aspect of self-defence techniques whilst others saw it as still falling under the rubric of ‘mental-spiritual’. The result was that many inner power groups disengaged completely with IPSI. It was not until 1990 that an organisational body was established especially for inner power schools. Founded in Yogyakarta by Daliso Rudianto, the Indonesian Inner Power Association (Ind: IPTDI; Ikatan Perguruan Tenaga Dalam Indonesia) aimed to act “as a forum for discussion for those committed to developing the inner force activities and those who have problems related to inner energy”.[xiv] Several universities, such as Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, also set up ‘laboratories’ in their medical faculties to investigate the healing properties if inner power, working closely with larger schools such as Satria Nusantara.
Mapping forces and flows: defining Inner Power
In discussing inner power it is important to situate it within the broader context of ideas and practices related to conceptions of power. In his essay, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture’, Bennedict Anderson argued that in Java power is conceptualised as being something that infuses all matter, both animate and inanimate. There is only so much power in the cosmos, though its distribution can change. Hence if power is concentrated in one place, then there will be less in others. Power is morally ambiguous, its possession not indicative of any kind of legitimacy. Power is simply power. As will be seen, the concept of power found in inner power circles is, in several significant ways, different to that outlined by Anderson.
Contemporary tenaga dalam theories adopt a syncretic approach that combines Western and Eastern concepts of the body. For example, according to Aas Rukmana, founder of the Inner Radiation School of inner power, inner power can be defined as “the energy produced by the activation of hormones. These hormones are situated in specific places (within the body) that is in the glands, which in the terminology of yoga are referred to as cakra”. Whilst being specific to his particular school in its references to hormones and cakra, Aas’s definition of inner power is typical of most contemporary schools in the way in which it combines elements of western biological science and religious and mystical concepts. Similarly Dicky Zaenal Arifin, head of the Hikmatul Imam school, describes inner power in the following manner:
Every human possesses what is known as inner power. Humans possess a chemical element in the body known as ATP or Adenosin Tri Phosphate, which can transform into energy via the body’s metabolic process. The energy produced by ATP is extremely abundant and can become a huge force when a human is in a particular spiritual state, such as panic, trance or hypnosis. This energy can also be developed via precise training.
The use of appropriate technique is vitally important to determining the type of energy activated, and its affect upon the body. Patterns of breathing and movement in effect act as ‘keys’ that open different reservoirs of energy. Consequently the incorrect practice of a technique, or the combining of techniques from different styles, is believed to have potentially disastrous consequences. Modern inner power practices vary from invulnerability practices (ilmu kanuragan and ilmu kebal) in that there are few prohibitions relating to sexual abstinence, fasting or diet. Focused around weekly training sessions, the practice easily integrates with the everyday life of its practitioners.
The use of Western scientific discourse by inner power groups reflects both a desire to provide a ‘modern’ explanation for essentially traditional practices, and conviction that inner power is a universal, objective phenomenon. The secular language of Western science helps to objectify powers within the body. As one Inner Radiation trainer explained, “science is a language that can be accepted by everyone”. Maryono argues that the use of Western scientific terminology by inner power groups began in the mid-1980’s as a response to an increasing scepticism amongst the urban middle class to traditional mystical practices. However the types of ‘scientific’ explanation and terminology used by inner power schools to describe the phenomenon were by no means drawn from conventional mainstream science.
Common descriptive terms for inner power such as ‘bio-electrical vibrations’, ‘psycho-nuclear power’, ‘inner radiation’, seem to have more in common with popular science fiction and the New Age movement than the classic Newtonian physics taught in Indonesian schools. The new language of inner power acts more as a language of enchantment, portraying the inner reality of the body as a mysterious yet knowable resource of seemingly limitless potential. Rather than being reductionist, the discourse of science is seen as expanding the horizons of the body. It found a new language, a process described by Bourdieu:
Certain practices which had been experienced as a drama for so long as there were not yet any words to say them and think them – none of those official words, produced by authorised people, doctors or psychologists, who make it possible to declare them, to oneself and others – undergo a veritable ontological transmutation by virtue of the fact that, being known and recognised publicly, named and authenticated, they are made legitimate, even legalised, and may thus declare and display themselves.
Many inner power practitioners, especially university students, take an active interest in modern speculative physics such as quantum and chaos theory, as well as the works of David Bohm and Niels Bohr. Organisations such as Inner Radiation situate themselves as the ‘exploratory vanguard’ of the new physics. According to the school’s founder, “we always check the compatibility of a scientific concept with experience. If it matches, then we will use it”.
In 1950 Paryana Suryadipura, the former chief surgeon of Semarang General Hospital, published a book entitled ‘Domains of Thought’ (Ind: Alam Pikiran). Considered ground breaking at the time in kebatinan circles, the book gives a detailed explanation of inner power and self-realisation via theories drawn from mainstream Western science as well as fringe sciences such as parapsychology, electro-physiology. There are close parallels with the discourse of inner power found amongst contemporary inner power groups, most notably the equation of ‘life force’ with electrons and electricity. One section reads: “The energy which enters our body via the five senses…is living electrical energy or bio-electriciteit, which is stored in the brain… the spirit is structured by living electrons which radiate from the physical”. A similar description of inner power as ‘bio-electricity’ was made over 40 years later by Maryanto, the founder and head of one of the largest and most influential contemporary inner power groups in Indonesia, Satria Nusantara:
Humans can speak, move, think, their heart beats along with other occurrences in the body that constitute electrical events. All the parts of the body in performing their functions always have a connection to electricity, especially the muscles and nerves, to the point that it can be said that humans constitute a unique bioelectrical system.
None of my informants ever made reference to Alam Pikiran, so it is difficult to determine to what extent the book may have influenced contemporary inner power discourse. However the similarities in terminology suggest that there was a gradual dissemination of these metaphors. More generally the linking of electricity and life force shows parallels with what Davis refers to as the “electromagnetic imaginary”, the romance of electricity and animism that first emerged in the Western imagination in the seventeenth century.
Whilst New Order government rhetoric espoused the importance of economic and social development and a militant nationalism, inner power organisations adopted an experiential and intensely individualistic approach to the project of pembangunan. New Order slogans such as manusia seutuhnya, sumber daya manusia took central importance as ideals for individual growth and realisation. Discussing the Indian wrestler’s ideology of Pahlawani, Alter states, “the ideology centers on the importance of the body as a psychosomatic whole which needs to be built up and maintained in balance with the larger socio-political environment”. Similarly, inner power practitioners articulate a holistic perspective focused upon the individual body and its relationship to society.
Power, for inner power practitioners, is not an end in itself, nor morally ambiguous. Concepts of ‘inner power’ within tenaga dalam schools are part of a complex discourse of ‘bio-morality’. Practices generally involve a variety of different breathing techniques that are fused with simple physical movements that require varying degrees of exertion. The basic theory is that the human body contains huge reservoirs of ‘bio-electrical energy’. By employing the specialised breathing techniques this untapped energy can be activated and channelled to various parts of the body where it can be utilised for a number of positive purposes, such as healing oneself and others, repelling those with ill intent, detecting missing objects, telepathy etc. The scientific discourse of ‘bio-electricity’ is meshed with a moral interpretation of supposed biological realities. In this discourse ‘intention’ manifests at the biological level as a particular form of energy. Those who harbour ill intent towards others, or are motivated by anger, greed, lust or other ‘negative’ emotions similarly generate a ‘negative current’ of energy. In contrast, those who practice inner power generate ‘positive energy’. This energy is believed to be capable of physically repelling negative energy in the same way that the matching poles of two magnets will push each other away. Framed in this way inner power can be used only for ‘good’, making it conceptually different from the idea of power articulated by Anderson. The body is generally seen as the only pure source of energy in the material world. Forces external to it are of a negative, or at least ambiguous, moral quality and must be treated with caution, lest a dependent relationship develop.
There are two ways in which power is conceptualised. These are being “filled” (Ind: diisi) and “opened” (Ind: dibuka). Practices involving being ‘filled’ are linked to concepts of spiritual potency similar to those outlined by Anderson. Power is accumulated in certain individuals or objects that can ‘fill’ others with it at will. Sociologically such a conception is intimately intertwined with hierarchical and authoritarian social structures. Within the context of silat culture this manifests in cult like groups that often centre on a charismatic leader or a particular sacred heirloom. The leader or heirloom, most commonly a sword of dagger, ‘radiates’ energy, filling the followers with it. The greater one’s proximity to the source of power the greater one’s own.
In contrast, the concept of being ‘opened’ suggests a more ‘egalitarian’ model of power. Rather than being the preserve of particular potent individual, power exists as a potentiality present in every person. To be opened refers specifically to the process whereby one who has already activated their ‘inner power’ assists another in doing the same. Consequently contemporary inner power groups such as Nampon, Prana Sakti, Hikmatul Imam and Satria Nusantara exhibit more democratic forms of social organisation, with a greater emphasis upon individual effort and achievement. The role of the guru is more that of a guide. The focus upon individual achievement, explanations couched in scientific terminology, and a self-conscious concern with religious orthodoxy help to explain why inner power groups have gained so much popularity amongst the educated urban middle-classes. Inner power groups frequently refer to the practice as a new model for social interaction.
For others however even the concept of being opened is suggestive of an external influence that potentially ‘pollutes’ the nature of the energy activated. Debates regarding the purity’ of inner power draw references and explanations from the Quran and popular Western medical knowledge regarding cardiovascular and neurological activity. Muhammad Ali Syhaid, the head of the Nur-Mulkaillah pesantren and the Padjajaran Nasional pencak silat school uses a healing method that involves writing verses of the Quran on sirih leaves. One leaf is fed to a goat and the patient eats another. Digesting the sacred verses creates an ‘energy link’ between the two that allows the disease to be transferred from the body of the patient to that of the goat. I observed such a procedure performed on a young man suffering from a severe liver complaint. During the evening Ali as well as the patient recited the Quran. The following day the goat was slaughtered and its internal organs examined for signs of disease. When the goat’s liver was cut open a white discolouration was discovered. It was agreed that this was proof that the offending illness was no longer in the man’s body. Satisfied, yet obviously still ill, the young man and his family returned to Jakarta.
According to Muhammad Ali Syhaid, “every letter in the Quran contains powers, contains a laser”.For example the verse al-Besi (‘Iron’) is believed to convey the ability to break hard objects such as rock or iron when written on the skin.When written on the skin the letters of the appropriate verse radiate power into the person, neutralising their illness or bestowing them with superhuman powers. For the verse to take affect the one who writes it must be ritually clean and understand the relations between sections of the Quran: “there are certain specifications. After a certain verse has been written it must be ‘closed’ with another. It’s like someone making medicine to cure a headache, they must know the appropriate chemical composition”.
Despite its clear links to yogic and Chinese concepts and practices, inner power has generally been accepted and accommodated within orthodox Islamic theology and practice in Java. However discourse regarding the religious status of invulnerability, ilmu kebal, continues to be polarised between two opposing positions, despite historically close links to established Sufi orders such as Qadiriyah and Rifa’iyah.Religious modernists consider it to be syirik (polytheism) mainly due to the fact that ilmu kebal is often seen as being drawn from forces external to the individual, bringing it into a highly sensitive area of Islamic discourse.One other common accusation against invulnerability practices is that it encourages personality cults focusing upon the figure of the guru. In Java such groups have often been the source of millenarian movements claiming the imminent arrival of a Ratu Adil (Just King).For example Kartosoerwirjo, the leader of the Darul Islam rebellion, gained much support from villagers in West Java and other regions due to the popular belief that he was invulnerable to bullets.
Practices such as visiting the graves of those who were sakti in order to make contact with and absorb some of the power they possessed when they were still alive are a common means of seeking invulnerability. Conscious of the criticism by religious modernists, some modern day practitioners have ‘rationalised’ the practice via the explanation that what is invoked is not the actual spirit (Ind: nyawa) of the deceased. This would be a clear instance of syirik. Rather what is ‘absorbed’ is the residue or ‘vibrations’ of their power that continue to exist after the physical body has long since passed away.One invocation in Arabic used extensively in Banten, believed to endow one with invulnerability to sharp weapons and the ability to move reflexively, reads as follows:
In the name of Allah the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate. Oh my lord, Sheikh Abdul Qodir Jilani, be present, be present, be present, not dead, not dead, not dead, except with the permission of Allah. There is no power and effort apart from that which is permitted by Allah, the Most High and Most Great.
What is of crucial importance to the arguments of both the pro and anti invulnerability camps is the spiritual source of ilmu kebal, and the means by which it is obtained. Specific procedures are required to obtain invulnerability that varies depending upon local tradition. There are several distinct methods that can be practised separately or combined in order to increase the efficacy of the ilmu. For example, in the Serang region of Banten, an area renowned for its powerful esoteric knowledge, seekers of invulnerability to sharp weapons are required to fast for a period of 40 days, as well as abstaining from sleep and sexual intercourse.According to one debus teacher from Banten, the prohibitions placed on those seeking invulnerability are no different to those imposed by orthodox Islam:
Because the ilmu that I possess is a part of the Qadiriyah tarekat, the method for refining it is identical with Islamic ritual obligations, such as reciting passages of the Quran after obligatory prayers, and heeding other prohibitions, that is to say everything forbidden by Allah is also forbidden in debus.
During May 1999 numerous articles and commentaries began to appear in the local and national press regarding the increase of interest in invulnerability in urban centres such as Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya.Placed alongside graphic reports of riots in Aceh, Ambon, Banyuwangi and Ciamis, as well as gloomy predictions of violent social upheaval, in the lead up to the general elections in July, commentators generally concluded that this upsurge of ‘irrational’ belief was the product of uncertain times.Not surprisingly media commentators did not reflect upon their own role in reproducing this atmosphere of anxiety regarding the nation’s future. Aside from the usual clients, such as soldiers heading to areas of conflict such as East Timor or Aceh, paranormals, inner power masters, religious teachers and others considered sakti were swamped by members of political parties (most notably the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party, National Awakening Party and Golkar), students, local security forces, as well as large numbers of members of the general public. In some instances the situation occurred where members of the security apparatus and students sought protection from each other from the same
Street vendors in Bandung and Jakarta, always quick to perceive popular trends, began stocking jackets and vests emblazoned with political party logos that were said to have been ‘filled’ with invulnerability magic, the going price being around 200,000rph ($40 Aus). Shopping malls such as Bandung Plaza hosted ‘paranormal festivals’ where hundreds queued to consult with fortune-tellers. Newspapers and tabloids were filled with advertisements for ‘instant’ mail order invulnerability, usually in the form of a talisman that was required to be worn at all times after being ‘activated’ by a period of fasting or sleeplessness. Invulnerability in effect became a highly valuable social commodity, a kind of ‘supernatural capital’ necessary for survival in an increasingly hostile and dangerous social environment.[xlii] Whereas inner power constructs a theory and practice that looks inwards then moves outwards, kebal closes and seals the boundaries between the self and others. One must literally become as hard and impervious as rock. As one mantra for obtaining invulnerability from Banten intones, “my head is black rock, my forehead is coral“ (Sd: hulu aing batu wulung, tarang aing batu karang).
As Van Bruinessen has noted, during times of instability the acquisition of talismans, invulnerability training, inner power, silat and supernatural strength become some of the dominant aspects of pesantren life.Throughout Indonesian history revolutionaries, rebels and peasants have flocked to Sufi sheikh, magicians and pencak silat masters renowned for their supernatural power in preparation for, or in anticipation of, upcoming upheaval. Traditional silat schools along with tarekat have also always been a strong basis for revivalistic and millenarian movements in Java. Within this context invulnerability was a manifestation of a divine mandate, distributed to members via talismans or transferred directly. With the spread and accessibility of what was previously exclusive knowledge to the broader population, the demand for ilmu during periods of social upheaval has increased substantially. In the words of the head of the Budi Suci school, Ki Singa Lodra, “the cause of violent behaviour is often due to social jealousy. Consequently, many of the middle and upper class need to equip themselves with magical power. This can be in the form of ilmu kebal”.In times of social and political upheaval where fears emerge regarding the maintaining of personal and social boundaries, belief in invulnerability practices continue to remerge, as a last line of bodily defence against social breakdown.
Origins and Ideology: Sunan Gunung Jati and the Syncretic present
The historical origins of inner power techniques, like those of pencak silat, are shrouded in myth. Practices similar to those found in contemporary schools have undoubtedly existed for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Similarities with Indic and Chinese breathing techniques and internal martial arts (such as qi gong and tai chi) are indisputable. Considering the eclectic nature of inner power techniques and theory, it is perhaps not surprising that one of the most commonly cited sources of inner power techniques is Sunan Gunung Jati and Sunan Bonang, two of the Wali Songo or Walliyullah, the nine saints believed to have spread Islam throughout Java. There are a number of conflicting accounts regarding the origins of the two. According to Slamet Mulyana, Sunan Gunung Jati (also known as Tagaril, Toh A Bo and Hidayat Fatahillah) and Sunan Bonang were of Chinese descent. According to Zaenal Abidin Sidik, head of the Budi Suci school, inner power practices that involve long distance strikes (Ind: pukulan jarak jauh) were developed by Sunan Gunung Jati who passed them on to his son Nyai Mas Gandhasari.Some believe that inner power techniques were brought to Java by the invading Mongols in the 13th century. One account produced by the Nampon pencak silat school of Bandung states
The Tartar, Patan and Mongol peoples of China possessed several types of silat that could knock a person down from a long distance. Well known Mongol silat includes Shurulkan, which means ‘deceitful tricks for kings’, consisted of 12 jurus created by Taymor Lathep Barber (1450-1520).
According to the ancient Zhodam text that records the history and techniques of Shurulkhan, the style was created by an aristocrat from the Tayli ethnic group of East Turkistan named Jenan who was renowned as an expert in syariah religious law.The style combined Shaolin kung fu together with the martial arts of the Muslim Namsuit and Wigu tribes of East Turkey and Mongol, Tatar and Saldsyuk wrestling.Practised primarily in Turkistan religious boarding schools, the style was ‘cleaned’ of any ritualistic aspects considered to be non-Islamic. Current Indonesian practitioners of the Shurulkhan sub-style Thifan, state that it was brought to Indonesia in the 16th century by Turkish experts sent by the Ottoman empire to aid the Lamuri and Pasai kingdoms of North Aceh. According to Portuguese records, this was the birthplace of Sunan Gunung Jati. This leads one to speculate that Sunan Gunung Jati may have brought Shurulkhan derived techniques to Java from Pasai.
The Prana Sakti Jayakarta inner power school, for example, claims that its techniques have been passed down by students of the nine saints.The founder of Prana Sakti, Pak Dan, studied under the founder of the Margaluyu school, Andadinata. Prana Sakti’s genealogy begins with Prabu Kian Santang, son of the legendary Sundanese king, Prabu Siliwangi. Under the guidance of Sheikh Datuk Kahfi, Kian Santang converted to Islam and is said to have learnt “pure” Islamic breathing techniques that he combined with indigenous pencak silat. According to Yoseph Iskandar, Syech Datuk Kahfi was a teacher of the Qadiryah sufi order who established the second oldest pesantren in West Java.Due to the secretive nature of the teachings, the genealogy was ‘invisible’ for several hundred years until it re-emerged with Andadinata. The movements and the resulting energy produced are said to form asma-asma Allah, some of the 99 divine names of Allah, though only senior members who have had the experience of waskita (presentiment) are able to comprehend which names. The suggestion that Sunan Gunung Jati was of Chinese origin is interesting considering the similarities between Javanese and Sundanese inner power practices and the Chinese internal martial arts of tai chi and qi gung. A document produced by the Nampon school supports the possibility of a link:
In China there were several types of silat which used inner power, including Ging Kang (the science of lightening the body) which could be used for leaping great distances, jumping great heights, or walking on water. Keiw Kang and Wei Kang were almost the same, their differences being only in the first jurus. Wei Kang was known as the ten jurus, and these jurus spread throughout Vietnam, Campa, Malaysia and Indonesia. There they developed into several styles, for example silat Mandar from South Sulawesi, Silat Timpung from East Java and Silat Nampon from West Java.
The multitude of contradictory yet inter-woven accounts of the history of inner power techniques points to an ongoing dynamic process of cultural reproduction. The lineage of a single school may span a period of over 500 years, invoking several epistemic eras. The most likely explanation regarding the origin and evolution of inner power practices is that there was an ongoing process of syncretisation, an integration of new practices that continues into the present.
What is perhaps more significant than the historical validity of the connection is the fact that it is made at all. The invocation of the names of Sunan Gunung Jati and Sunan Bonang as the creator of inner power techniques could be seen as a means of legitimising pre-Islamic practices, in the same way that other saints did with various elements of local culture. As a symbol of cultural integration, Sunan Gunung Jati becomes a validating metaphor. As McKinnley has noted, myth and the genealogies that grow from them can be interpreted as a dialogue between a current ideology and an earlier one.In the ethnographic present the relative historical importance of tracing a lineage from the Islamic saints or Hindu kings invariably depends upon the orientation of the group in question and “syncretic forms are liable to reconfiguration and re-evaluation in the light of changing socio-political tensions”. For schools such as Prana Sakti, the connection is of special significance due to their self-defined mission of spreading ‘true’ Islam.
Margaluyu: The Path of Harmony
What we do must have meaning. We must think about what we do and be cautious before we do it, and push all bad thoughts aside’ (Sd: sarigig kudu djeung harti, sarengkak reudjeung pikiran memeh prak sing ati-ati, mun sidik goreng singkiran).
The two oldest inner power schools in West Java that are still active are Margaluyu and Nampon. Margaluyu, taken from the Sundanese words marga (path) and luyu, or seluyun (balance/harmony), was formally established as an organisation in 1930 by Andadinata (1891-1969) and Suhandi (? – 1984). According to oral accounts, during the early 1900s Aki Suhandi was a renowned jawara who was feared throughout Bandung.An expert in Cianjur pencak silat, which incorporated the Cikalong, Syahbandar, Kari and Madi styles, he had challenged all of the jawara in Bandung to one-on-one tests of their martial skills and had emerged undefeated. Hearing of the unsurpassed skill and power of a jawara named Andadinata, who lived in the Majalaya district of Bandung, Suhandi could not resist going to test him out as well.
Andadinata was a descendent of the menak of Sumedang. As a young man he had travelled widely throughout Java, studying religion and pencak silat. Making his living as a trader, he settled temporarily near the home of an unnamed guru, from whom he studied a variety of different esoteric knowledge such as kadugalan (invulnerability) that made him able to physically withstand fire and blows to the body. Alongside of this ‘external knowledge’ (Ind: ilmu lahiriah) he also learnt esoteric religious knowledge, Arabic calligraphy, and memorised the Quran, following a path of initiation into adulthood common for young men of his lineage. On arriving at his home, Andadinata came out to greet his young guest. Suhandi, who was eager to prove that he was the ‘toughest’, immediately adopted a stance in preparation to launch an attack. However to his surprise he discovered, that for no apparent reason, he was totally unable to move and could not even muster the strength to take a step. At that moment Suhandi realised that Andadinata possessed knowledge far greater than any he had ever encountered before. He humbly accepted defeat and asked to become Andadinata’s student. Suhandi soon became Andadinata’s most prized pupil.
After the proclamation of the ‘youth pledge’ (Ind: sumpah pemuda) by young Indonesian nationalists at a Youth Congress in Jakarta in October 1928, numerous pencak silat schools began to emerge in a wave of nationalist sentiment. At that time the techniques taught by Andadinata were known simply as sepor (Sd: sport, physical movements). In order to differentiate his knowledge from other pencak schools, and on the advice of Suhandi, in 1930 Andidinata established the school Marga Rahayu, the ‘path of peace’, that was later changed to Margaluyu, the ‘path of harmony’. Combining his esoteric knowledge and martial abilities, Andadinata formulated a ‘path of harmony’ between the knowledge of “this world and the next”, combining the teaching of pencak silat with inner power and spiritual development (Ind: pengolahan batin).In its early years the majority of Andadinata’s students were peasants and street traders. Training sessions were held anywhere with a flat earth surface, and usually lasted around one hour. After Andadinata’s death in 1969, Suhandi took over as head of the school until his own death in 1984. Yuyus Rustaman, Suhandi’s grandson, then led the school. He registered Margaluyu with IPSI in 1988. Whilst the school now employs an administrative structure similar to those used by many pencak silat schools, Sundanese is still the main language of instruction. This is in contrast to most contemporary schools that use the national language of Indonesian. Students are not required to pay any fees. With few financial resources, and with little desire to promote itself, the school has remained small scale with the majority of branches in and around Bandung.
The foundation of Margaluyu training consists of learning 24 jurus, which are combined with breathing techniques.The first 10 are the creation of Andadinata whereas the other 14 are drawn from the Kari, Madi and Syahbandar styles. Margaluyu is widely considered to be the ‘founding ancestor’ (Ind: cikal bakal) of the most widespread ‘family’ (Ind: rumpun) of inner power practice in Java. Characteristics of this family include sliding step patterns, and a ‘triangular’ breathing pattern (inhale-hold-exhale) in which the inhaled breath is ‘held’ just below the navel. The jurus can be used as physical self-defence techniques, or with the addition of inner power in which case they can be employed without making physical contact with an opponent. The physical exercises of older schools such as Margaluyu and Nampon have both an inner and outer function: they are a practical form of physical self-defence as well as being a means, when coupled with breathing techniques, towards cultivating inner power. This supports the theory that internal training was an integral part of traditional pencak silat. The physical movements of contemporary schools that focus exclusively upon inner power are generally ‘abstracted’ in the sense that the movements no longer have any ‘external’ function as a form of self-defence. Whilst martial elements can be observed in the jurus of schools such as Prana Sakti, Satria Nusantara and Radiasi Tenaga Dalam, they are no longer clearly articulated or applied. The external physical movements are a means towards activating energies within the body and directing it outwards.
According to Ichad, the current general secretary of the school, Margaluyu trains and develops the ‘extra power’ (Ind: tenaga ekstra) stored in the body in order that it can be utilised at will.Every individual possesses inner power, but it is only through training that it can be utilised when required. In order for the training to be successful there must be a ‘harmony’ between movement, breath and thought. After a student has successfully mastered the 10 jurus they undergo an examination known as a harkatan in which the instructor helps to stimulate the inner power within the student. The inner power activated by Margaluyu techniques can only be used defensively in response to an attack or ill will directed at them. Whilst at a certain level of attainment practitioners can direct inner power at will, it is strictly forbidden to use it for extracting revenge or intentionally harming another. More advanced training involves developing the astral body, extra-sensory perception and opening the crown chakra. At this stage students are encouraged to undergo fasts as well as perform specific prayers drawn from the Quran.
Uwa Nampon was born in the Ciamis region of West Java in 1844. Like Andadinata, as a young man he is said to have studied many different styles of pencak silat, and is believed to have been taught directly by Raden Haji Ibrahim, the founder of the Cikalong style.In Cianjur he is also reputed to have studied penca gebreg, a form of inner power generated by a sharp contraction of the muscles in the lower abdomen, which draws heavily from the Syahbandar style.In internal Nampon documents it is said that he also studied with Mama Kosim, Syahbandar’s founder. During the early 1930’s he worked at the railway station in Ciamis. After losing his job due to his involvement with the Indonesian nationalist movement, he travelled throughout the Padelarang region before moving to Bandung in 1937 where he lived in the home of one of his students, Tamim Mahmud. Uwa Nampon’s close links with the nationalist movement brought him under suspicion by the Dutch colonial government. According to Yoesoef Tamim, the son of Tamim Mahmud, beginning in 1928 Uwa Nampon spent several short periods in jail due to his alleged activities in the independence movement, together with one of his first students Setia Muchlis. There he is said to have met with several pencak silat masters under whom he studied. He was released in 1932. In 1938 Uwa Nampon and Mahmud established the organisation “Three Feelings” (Ind: Tri Rasa), the three referring to culture, physical exercise and art.
Like Suhandi, Mahmud was already an accomplished martial artist when he heard of the strange power of Uwa Nampon. As was the tradition amongst silat practitioners at the time, he travelled to Padalarang to ‘test the strength’ (Ind: ngadu kekuatan) of Uwa Nampon. His experience was similar to that of Suhandi. Each time he tried to attack Uwa Nampon he was flung to the ground before making any physical contact. He soon accepted defeat and became Nampon’s student. At Mahmud’s home in Jalan Kopo, Uwa Nampon continued his involvement with the growing nationalist movement. He trained many students from OSVIA (administrative training school for indigenous officials in the colonial government), the Bandung technical school, which was later to become the Bandung Institute of technology, and other schools established by the Dutch for the indigenous elite as part of their ‘ethical’ policy. Like Margaluyu, Nampon practitioners also claim that Indonesia’s first president Sukarno was a student. It is said that he studied directly under Uwa Nampon during his time at the Bandung technical school, and is supposed to have reached the stage of realising his inner power.
The large turnover of students during the 1930’s period resulted in ‘ilmu Nampon’ quickly spreading through out Java with small groups of practitioners forming in Tegal, Semarang, Pekalongan and Cilacap in Central Java, as well as Surabaya in East Java. The wide dissemination of Nampon’s teachings also resulted in several different opinions regarding the origins of Nampon’s ilmu. A commonly held belief amongst pencak silat practitioners in Central Java is that Uwa Nampon was a descendent of the founders of the Majapahit kingdom. The Raga Jati pencak silat school in Central Java invokes a different genealogy again by suggesting that Nampon’s ilmu originated from the Wali Sunan Bonang who then passed it onto Sunan Kalijaga, the Javanese archetype for cultural and religious syncretism. This ilmu was in turn perfected by Mama Kosim, the creator of the Syahbandar style, and passed onto Uwa Nampon, presumably during the period he spent in Cianjur.[lxvii] This seems to suggest a ‘Javanization’ of Sudanese culture, with Sunan Kalijaga and the Majapahit kingdom replacing the more ‘Sundanese’ Sunan Gunung Jati and Pajajaran kingdom. In some cases the ilmu itself was altered.This was especially the case after Nampon died in 1962.
The first few years after the death of a master are crucial in determining the future direction of the system that they taught. If a successor was appointed before their death then the ilmu generally continues to be transmitted in the form in which it was originally taught, with minor variations, through a clearly defined line of transmission. However in the case that a master dies unexpectedly or does not appoint a successor, a process of generative diffusion is unfolds, with various students establishing their own networks of pupils and so forth. Each of these students may have learnt only a portion of their master’s ilmu, which they then teach to others, resulting in an ‘impoverishing’ and gradual diffusion of the system. In other instances practices may be significantly modified and revised, or integrated to varying degrees with elements of local practice. Where no clear organisational structure or line of transmission has been established elements of a system or certain techniques may be lost. The secrecy of traditionalist groups in part stems from the concern that specific knowledge may leak to the uninitiated. Mixing practices is considered to be courting permanent physical and psychological damage. It is common for schools to require a new student to sign a pledge that they will not study any other system while they are practising. In the case of Nampon, elements of Nampon’s teachings have transformed into a spiritualist cult that focuses upon contacting and drawing power from his spirit.
As has been mentioned, Mama Kosim was a student of Ajengan Cirata, a teacher of the Naqsyabandiyah sufi order in Cianjur. Ajengan Cirata in turn learnt silat from Mama Kosim, as a result of which it became popular amongst local religious leaders and tarekat followers. Basic Naqsyabandiyah spiritual techniques include ‘conscious while breathing’ (Ar: hush dar dam) and ‘watching step’ (Ar: nazar bar qadam).‘Conscious while breathing’ involves focusing attention upon the inhalation, exhalation and holding of the breath. The purpose of this exercise is to receive spiritual power from God. ‘Watching step’ is a technique whereby the aspiring sufi must pay careful attention to their steps and focus their gaze straight ahead. The spiritual purpose is not allowing themselves to be distracted by irrelevancies.Considering Mama Kosim’s devotion to Ajengan Cirata (he followed him to Purwakarta) and that Cirata himself studied Syahbandar, it is possible that a fusion of physical and spiritual techniques took place. Techniques such as hush dar dam and nazar bar qadam could easily be applied to pencak silat practice. In Pandeglang, Banten, Ace Setrawijaya teaches a form of Syahbandar known as Ageman Syahbandar. The 24 physical jurus (the same number as found in Margaluyu) taught are thought to symbolise each of the 24 letters that make up the kalimah sahadat (Islam’s testimony of faith).Training consists of five stages, the numeric symbolism taken from the five pillars of Islam. Concentration exercises also include concentrating upon the Arabic letter alif.
Despite variations in breathing technique, both Nampon and Margaluyu, as well as newer inner power schools such as Prana Sakti and Rajakawasa, draw the majority of their physical movements from the Cimande, Kari, Madi and Syahbandar pencak silat styles. The combination of Cikalong, Cimande and Syahbandar movements and self-defence techniques, along with the ibing penca taught by Nampon, were already common throughout West Java. It was the perception, and application of the force underlying these movements that was unique to the style. The breathing technique of Nampon, unlike that found in schools from the Margaluyu family, holds in the breath in the chest rather than the lower navel. According to Adjat Sudradjat Hando, the current head of Nampon, breathing techniques that involve holding the breath in the chest derive from the Cirebon area of West Java and are Islamic in origin. The technique uses what is known in inner power circles as a triangular pattern, of inhaling, holding, and exhaling. In Adjat’s opinion techniques that involve a ‘square’ pattern (inhaling, holding, exhaling, holding) and focus upon the solar plexus derive from ascetic Hindu yogic practice. Perhaps due to the number of Dutch educated students taught by Uwa Nampon, inner power in Nampon came to be referred to by the Dutch word spierkracht:
The martial arts taught and spread by Nampon place an emphasis upon the science of inner power or spierkracht. Kracht is the energy that accumulates via physical exercise accompanied with breath training. Breath and movement are regulated by the centre for breathing in the brain, which possesses a kracht stimulant that is full of carbon dioxide. If there is no carbon dioxide in the blood, then the brain will not be stimulated, resulting in a force that is named sandi. This is not dangerous for the body as the blood has an adequate supply of oxygen. After kracht has accumulated in the muscles (specks of kracht consist of specks of bio-electricity).
There are two types of jurus taught within Nampon, jurus gebreg (Ind: gerakan bersama regenerasi; collective regeneration movement) and jurus leuleusan (Ind: lemah gemulai: ‘graceful’) both consisting of five separate jurus. Close range hands-on fighting techniques known as rapetan (also known as usik or maenpo) are also taught along with ibing penca and harkatan, the method for utilising the inner power generated by the jurus.
After Uwa Nampon passed away in 1962 his students and children continued to teach, initially within the confines of close family and friends. After the alleged coup by officers aligned with the Indonesian Communist Party on 30 September 1965, and the subsequent mass killings of suspected communists, Nampon’s teachings became popular amongst Bandung students aligned with the anti-communist Indonesian Students Action Front (Ind: KAMI; Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Indonesia).From that point on larger numbers of people outside of the family circle began to study. Initially latihan were conducted in the evening in a small room in Uwa Tamim’s home.The latihan were not open to outsiders as it was worried that they may disturb the concentration of those practising or try some of the techniques at home, risking injury to themselves and others.
Nampon was not the only school inundated with during this period. The years preceding the alleged coup were formative ones for many inner power and magically- orientated pencak silat schools. The desire for instant martial ability coupled with the wave of anti-communist sentiment resulted in an increase in those asking to study. The then common association between inner power and pre-Islamic spiritual practices in the minds of many Indonesians took on a political significance in the denunciatory climate of the time. This prompted a process of ‘purification’ amongst many schools. For example, in the late 1960’s Asfanuddin Panjaitan, the founder of the Prana Sakti self-defence school, consulted with religious scholars such as Buya Hamka, Haji Ali Maksum and Haji Fachruddin who offered criticism and suggestions on how to “clean and purify the techniques developed by Asfanuddin Panjaitan of non-Islamic elements that smelt of polytheism”.
It was not until November 1993 that the informal groups of Nampon practitioners officially registered as a school. Branches such as Kiwari in Soreang still practice the program of study developed by Uwa Nampon that involves traditional self defence applications, ibing penca and, finally, inner power training. The Jala Sutra branch in Bandung however places a greater emphasis upon inner power training, in part due to the student’s lack of interest in the practical self-defence and art aspects. According to Adjat Sudradjat, the greater emphasis upon inner power is in “accord with the times”.A commitment to “helping others” rather than self-defence characterises what Adjat refers to as the “development era” (Ind: era perkembangan) of Nampon training. In his words, “the best form of self-defence in the modern world is human rights and communication amongst people”.This sentiment is shared by other inner power schools such as Satria Nusantara and Kalimasada, that in recent years have replaced self-defence training, in the form of long distance strikes (known in Nampon as ampal-ampalan) with an increased emphasis upon the achievement of personal well being and the healing applications of inner power.
The weekly training sessions at the Muamalat Bank unit of the Jala Sutra branch of Nampon begins with a brief prayer led by the head trainer. Around 30 students of varying degrees of ability and experience meet on a weekly basis. Held in the lobby of the bank, the latihan provides a space were the hierarchies of everyday life are relaxed. Bank managers and university lecturers join together with security guards, becak drivers and high school students for the two hour long session. The prayer is followed by some loose stretching, and some preliminary breathing exercises combined with slow, circular arm movements that are done in a cross-legged position. On the direction of the trainers, who usually number between three to four, the students then line up in rows of five and begin to perform jurus, starting with jurus one. The step pattern for each jurus is a simple forward sliding motion of the back leg, done in conjunction with varying arm and torso movements. At the beginning of each jurus the breath is inhaled deeply, then held. Each jurus is performed ten times in succession at the end of which the breath is exhaled slowly. Within each jurus there is a climactic point. At that moment the eyes and the muscles of the upper body are tightened in a jolt, then relaxed. The intention is to channel inner power to these parts of the body. After performing the basic jurus for around 30 minutes the next stage of the latihan is referred to as tembakan (‘shooting’). One by one students stand around two metres in front of their trainer and begin to move forward, performing the first jurus. The trainer then ‘shoots’ energy towards them. During the early stages of practice the goal is to be knocked over by inner power, referred to as kracht pangkat, which is shot by the trainers. Being able to be knocked over means that one is sensitised to inner power.
Harkatan comprises of learning to focus the energy produced by the jurus. The direction and impact of the energy depends upon the type of jurus. For example a stabbing type jurus will ‘shoot’ energy straight at an opponent. The effect of the harkatan jurus is the same as those of physical jurus, but it occurs without physical contact. The distance a student can ‘shoot’ inner power depends upon the degree of their power relative to their opponent as well as their accuracy at “shooting”. Nampon students described the sensation of being shot with inner power as being as similar to a forceful sensation of being pushed, or a “magnet” pulling them involuntarily. The sensation of inner power itself within their own bodies was described as a type of “vibration”, or an intense tingling feeling accompanied by a sense of vitality.
The atmosphere at latihan is convivial and supportive. During the one-on-one ‘shooting’ sessions betweens students and their trainers, those watching shout words of encouragement and joke and clap with enthusiasm when their friends are knocked down. Trainers are addressed politely but informally, and many socialise with each other outside of the latihan. Students are required to bring an attendance book that is signed by their trainer after each latihan. The purpose of monitoring attendance is to aid the trainers in assessing when a student is ready to learn a new jurus or be allowed to undergo harkatan. A student is required to perform each jurus for a minimum of 15 hours before they are taught the next one. They are encouraged to practice jurus at home, though it is expressly forbidden to ‘try them out’ on non-members. After an initial period of basic training lasting several weeks, students must obtain a written recommendation from their trainer before they are allowed to progress to the next level. This is to ensure that students don’t slip through to more difficult aspects of practice.
In her study on the growth of Qi gong inner power practices in contemporary China, Nancy Chen notes the way in which such practices ‘re-humanised’ social space:
‘The inner experiences and social networks generated by such practices shape public arenas such as parks, gymnasiums, and buildings into zones of personal practice and cultivation. At the same time that individuals are aware of the physical landscape of the city, they are also producing mental spaces of an alternative order within this landscape’.
Dr Ian Wilson, specialises in the cultural politics of Indonesia. His interests cover: the sociology of gangs and paramilitary groups, criminality and its links with state institutions; the politics of Indonesian martial and performing arts, and the anthropology of the body, especially ‘embodied’ forms of nationalism and state instituted disciplinary regimes. Ian completed a BA in Asian Studies with first class honours at Murdoch University in 1997. His Ph.D. thesis, ‘The Politics of Inner Power: The Practice of Pencak Silat in West Java’, was granted in December 2003. He has published on the cultural politics surrounding Javanese performing arts as well as political violence in Indonesia. He has taught in the Asian Studies and Politics and International Studies Programmes at Murdoch University and has worked as a translator for AusAID in East Timor on the Health Sector Rehabilitation Program.
Research Associate, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch WA 6155. Email: I.Wilson@murdoch.edu.au