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The politics of inner power: the practice of pencak silat in West Java

Wilson, Ian Douglas (2002) The politics of inner power: the practice of pencak silat in West Java. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Pencak silat is a form of martial arts indigenous to the Malay derived ethnic groups that populate mainland and island Southeast Asia. Far from being merely a form of selfdefense, pencak silat is a pedagogic method that seeks to embody particular cultural and social ideals within the body of the practitioner. The history, culture and practice ofpencak in West Java is the subject of this study.

As a form of traditional education, a performance art, a component of ritual and community celebrations, a practical form of self-defense, a path to spiritual enlightenment, and more recently as a national and international sport, pencak silat is in many respects unique. It is both an integrative and diverse cultural practice that articulates a holistic perspective on the world centering upon the importance of the body as a psychosomatic whole.

Changing socio-cultural conditions in Indonesia have produced new forms of pencak silat. Increasing government intervention in pencak silat throughout the New Order period has led to the development of nationalized versions that seek to inculcate state-approved values within the body of the practitioner. Pencak silat groups have also been mobilized for the purpose of pursuing political aims. Some practitioners have responded by looking inwards, outlining a path to self-realization framed by the powers, flows and desires found within the body itself. Others have developed styles that reflect the demands made upon them by their immediate environment.

Viewed historically these changes in the practice of pencak silat provides insights into the impact of broader processes of social and cultural change at the level of individual bodies and the institutions through which they are constructed; a politics of the body, its potentialities, limits and 'legitimate' use.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Asian Studies
Supervisor(s): Stange, Paul
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