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Indonesia's oldest pencak silat fighter proves that age is just a number

Channel News Asia - March 27, 2021

Kiki Siregar, Jakarta – "Daasshh!" Mr Zakaria, a 90-year-old Indonesian pencak silat master exclaimed as he kicked his right leg high into the air, showing off his martial art skills.

Mr Zakaria, who goes by one name, is the oldest pencak silat fighter in the archipelago, as declared by Indonesia's World Records Museum last August.

"I was shocked. It was so sudden," he recalled the moment when the museum called him. "They asked me for certain things and wanted proof so I could be announced as the oldest silat fighter," he told CNA.

In Indonesia, pencak silat is a traditional martial art performed in many of its 34 provinces, although it comes in different styles.

It is a full-body fighting form that entails strikes and grappling. Some styles also use weaponry.

Before Indonesia's independence in 1945, pencak silat was used in Jakarta by local champions to defend the commoners from thugs or colonial soldiers. But to Mr Zakaria, pencak silat is more than just a defence mechanism.

"It is a sport, so it's good for your health. Once when I was in Malaysia, people were blown away when they saw what I could do at my age," he told CNA.

"With pencak silat, I also gain lots of friends. I have thousands of students," said Mr Zakaria.

Influenced by Chinese martial arts

Born in Jakarta in June 1930, Mr Zakaria started learning the martial art at the age of 15 from his grandfather Muhammad Djaelani, who established pencak silat school Mustika Kwitang in 1945.

Mustika Kwitang is a Betawinese silat style developed in the Jakartan subdistrict of Kwitang where Mr Zakaria has always lived. Betawi is the native ethnic group of people living in the city.

But Mustika Kwitang distinguishes itself from other styles of Betawinese silat as it is an acculturation of local pencak silat influenced by Chinese martial arts.

In the 19th century, Mr Zakaria's great-great-grandfather once fought with a Chinese trader named Kwee Tang Kiam, who was also a martial arts master.

It is not known who won the battle, but after the duel, Mr Kwee taught Mr Zakaria's great-great-grandfather the martial art he mastered. It is believed that this was how the Mustika Kwitang style was developed and later evolved over time.

It entails evasion techniques as well as open-hand strikes but Mr Zakaria said its strength lies in its powerful punches.

Jakarta's subdistrict Kwitang is believed to have derived from Kwee Tang Kiam's name.

Performing at the Presidential Palace and around the world

In 1948, Indonesia held for the first time a national multi-sport event known as The National Sports Week (PON). Mr Zakaria participated in the competition and caught the spectators' attention.

"In 1950, I was invited for the first time by president Soekarno (Indonesia's first president) to perform at the palace," Mr Zakaria said.

When the second PON was held in 1951, Mr Zakaria won a gold.

In 1952, Mr Zakaria's grandfather wanted him to teach and head the pencak silat Mustika Kwitang school.

A few years later, Mr Zakaria was invited to the palace again, but this time to teach the presidential bodyguards pencak silat.

During that period, the silat guru also demonstrated his skills in front of Shotokan master Masatoshi Nakayama and Donald Draeger.

"There were many foreigners who wanted to learn pencak silat," said the silat master who has 14 children, 60 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.

Since then, Mr Zakaria has travelled to at least 11 countries to teach pencak silat, from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore to countries in Europe such as France and the United Kingdom.

Many disciples throughout Indonesia

As Mustika Kwitang's style emphasises strong punches, Mr Zakaria said one must have a strong will in order to master the moves.

He has had students who mastered Mustika Kwitang pencak silat in four months, but also had pupils who after four years were still struggling.

"It all depends on the student. And if you have mastered the moves, you will gain confidence," the guru said.

Today, Mustika Kwitang pencak silat school has seven branches throughout Jakarta. Mr Zakaria has many disciples in Medan, Makassar, Pekalongan and other places.

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic the classes have been held online. At the moment he has around 200 active students aged between six and early twenties.

"I am happy because the students I teach are healthy and well. "Hopefully these students will lead the nation and states to the right path." (CNA/ks)

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-oldest-pencak-silat-fighter-90-mustika-kwitang-1447797