What To Expect in Pencak Silat | A Martial Arts Overview

Pencak silat is an Indonesian martial art that has been gaining recent popularity that includes the use of weaponry.

Pencak silat is a complete martial art so you should expect to learn techniques involving grappling, striking, and even weapons. Training in pencak silat has evolved into a competitive combat sport over time so schools may differ in what parts of the martial art they focus on.

In this article, I will briefly share the history of pencak silat as well as what to expect if you decide to take classes.

A Brief History of Pencak Silat

Pencak silat originated in Indonesia. It began as a means of self-defense and evolved into a competitive sport. The word “silat” means “skill for fighting.” Pencak silat is an umbrella term for a class that includes hundreds of styles. All of these styles are combat-focused and include the use of weaponry. 

The earliest known practice of pencak silat was during the 6th century in Minangkabau Highlands of West Sumatra. The military officers of the Minangkabau were bodyguards to the king and used pencak silat to protect him. It was also commonplace for the women to know pencak silat and use it in self-defense.

What Do You Wear for Pencak Silat?

You wear a black uniform (also known as a baju silat) for pencak silat. It typically consists of a loose black shirt and pants with a belt denoting their rank.

What Do You Put on your Pencak Silat Uniform for Competitions?

The badge of the competitor’s association should be attached to the left side of the chest with the international (PERSILAT) badge on the right side. The competitor’s flag may also be worn on his or her arm alongside a sponsor logo. 

Lastly, the competitor may wear their country’s name across their back. No other accessories are permitted. Tunggal contestants may wear a headband of any chosen color and design.

Do You Wear Shoes in Pencak Silat?

Typically pencak silat training is done barefoot since it takes place on mats in indoor spaces in modern times. Competitions require fighters to go barefoot. Footwear is only worn when extra support is needed due to injury or other extenuating circumstances.

What Equipment Is Required for Pencak Silat?

Depending on the pencak silat school or organization you may require a trunk protector that functions as chest armor, particularly when you are doing weapons training. In schools that practice weapons you also may be expected to buy your own practice weapons.

Practitioners of pencak silat may use a metal golok or parang for rounds involving weapons. Goloks and parangs are types of machetes. The machete must not be razor-sharp and must be no longer than 40 centimeters (15 inches).

They may also use a rattan Tongkat (a stick). The Tongkat must measure between 150 and 180 centimeters (59 and 70 inches).

The specifics for what equipment you will need depends highly upon the individual school that you attend.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Pencak Silat?

You don’t need to be fit when you start pencak silat. While being fit might give you an advantage over opponents in competition in terms of speed, strength, and endurance, this is something you can achieve with regular pencak Silat training. 

Do I Need To Be Strong for Pencak Silat?

You don’t need to be strong to start pencak silat, but any martial artist would benefit from being stronger in order to increase the effectiveness of their training and techniques. As with any martial art, people will build specific strength and skill as they progress.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Pencak Silat?

To reach mastery in all pencak silat techniques, you will need to be flexible. There are high jumps, kicks, and turns in this martial art and having flexibility and muscle coordination help with mastery of these techniques. That being said being flexible is not a prerequisite to start.

Flexibility in the legs, arm, and body’s core is essential to master the moves in each fighting style, as being flexible contributes to your balance, another important part of learning pencak silat. 

Flexibility will also contribute to better posture and lower the risk of injuries during training. Through steady practice and dedication, you can definitely build your flexibility to a good minimal level just by attending class and doing a basic stretching routine afterward.

Is Pencak Silat Good for Getting in Shape?

Pencak Silat is good for getting in shape when practiced consistently. As a high-intensity martial art, you can build muscle and burn calories, which will improve your physique over time. 

Martial arts, in general, have been proven to promote weight loss. Pencak silat is no exception. This is because it is an enjoyable form of exercise that has a strong social component. This combined with basic dieting awareness can be a great combination to lose weight.

Is Pencak Silat Good for Self-Defense?

Pencak Silat is good for self-defense. You will learn how to defend yourself in various situations that can be adapted to “real life” in many ways. Unlike most martial art techniques, pencak silat teaches both armed and unarmed combat. 

Including both armed and unarmed combat along with a wide variety of martial arts techniques make a highly skilled pencak silat martial artist capable of self-defense.

What Style of Fighting Is Pencak Silat?

Pencak silat is a complete martial art. This means it incorporates grappling, strikes, and weaponry. Every part of the body is both subject to attack and used to attack. However, the emphasis can change depending on the pencak silat school. 

Does Pencak Silat Include Live Sparring?

Pencak silat includes live sparring. In pencak silat, sparring is referred to as bersilat or berpencak. Sparring varies according to style and school, though attacks to vital areas are always prohibited during training. 

Sparring is a great way to put your training to the test and improve your self-defense when the stakes are low. 

Are There Pencak Silat Competitions or Tournaments?

There are pencak silat competitions and tournaments. Pencak silat is included in the Southeast Asian Games and many competitions in Indonesia. Each training hall is overseen by a national organization.

These organizations include the following: 

  • Pencak silat Indonesia (IPSI) in Indonesia.
  • Persekutuan Silat Singapura (PERSIS) in Singapore.
  • Silat Brunei Darussalam (PERSIB) in Brunei.
  • Persekutuan Silat Kebangsaan Malaysia (PESAKA) in Malaysia.

Is Pencak Silat Dangerous To Practice?

Pencak silat can dangerous to practice if not trained thoughtfully. Silat is about exploiting a weakness in your opponent and then taking them down as quickly as possible. That being said, a good instructor will be able to keep their students safe. 

Pencak silat is not about honor or fame. The sole focus is causing damage and winning. It can be a vicious fighting style it even encourages blows to the groin and other sensitive areas, including the face, throat, and kidney!  

Is Pencak Silat Hard To Learn?

Pencak silat isn’t harder to learn than any other martial art that covers a lot of techniques and situations. It is due to the breadth of techniques that it can be hard to master the entire martial art.

What To Expect at Your First Pencak Silat Class?

At your first pencak silat class, you could expect to be introduced to the fundamentals of the program, including correct posture, striking drills, footwork, and self-defense application. 

A typical first class might go like this:

  • Introduction: You’ll meet your instructor(s) and team members, and you’ll be introduced to the training facility. You might also learn about the history and culture of the sport.
  • Expectations and rules: Your instructor will go over his expectations for you, along with what you can expect from the training program. He’ll also cover any rules that need to be followed. 
  • Stretching and warm-ups: You’ll likely do some warm-up calisthenics and some stretching before class begins.
  • Training: After a stretching session, you could expect to dive right into training. Beginners are usually introduces to the basics and the class will cover and drill a specific set of techniques for the lesson.

What Does Pencak Silat Cost?

Pencak silat can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 a month and this variance in price mostly related to the cost of living in the region that the school is in. It is in line with the costs of most other martial arts. 

Is Pencak Silat Good for Women?

Pencak silat is good for women as well as men. For generations, women were trained in silat to defend themselves from invaders and other tribes. Enny Rukmini was a silat practitioner who became the instructor of her father’s school and the leader of a movement that brought silat into schools.

Final Thoughts

Pencak silat is an interesting complete martial art that has a lot of potential to be fun to practice. Due to the variance in what kind of material gets emphasized at any particular school, it is a good idea to go take a trial class to find out what kind of curriculum actually happens at that school.


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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