An Overview of Silat Cimande

First of all, I’d like to point out to that the Cimande style is one of the most famous in Indonesia and along with such styles as Minangkabau, is certainly one of the oldest. Many of the « newer » styles have historically drawn their inspiration from Cimande or have incorporated its techniques to some degree. The influence of Cimande is clearly recognized in many pencak silat styles in Java and Sunda. With this in mind, let’s specifically discuss some Cimande history.

It is important to know that most of the data pertaining to the origins of Cimande, its founder, and influences, has been handed down for centuries via an oral tradition. The founder of this style did not leave an « official » history in written form. With this in mind it seems very unlikely to say that this -or any – version is to be considered the ultimate truth.

We can only say with certainty that this-or-that version is accepted by a particular school, or a particular region, or village. Without any designs on proclaiming the « One Truth », it is interesting to examine the different versions in order to get a broad idea of the style, its founder(s), its ancestors. To that end, I offer several translations from reliable sources that I have gathered amongst various teachers while traveling in West Java.


The life of Pak Kahir (excerpt from Gema Pencak Silat Vol.3 No. 1:18-19)

The creator of the style of Pencak Silat Cimande, Pak Kahir, was known as pendekar respected around 1760, when he first presented his « jurus mem’po Cimande » to his students. It was these same students who later spread his art in the surrounding districts like Batavia, Berkasi, Cikampek, Cianjur, Bandung, Tasik Malaya, Garut, Sumendang, CIAM, Cirebon and Kuningan.

As a merchant of horses, Pak Kahir regularly traveled away from his village of Cogreg Bogor. It was during these business trips that he was sometimes accosted by bandits and thieves. Through his mastery of combat, he was never hurt or robbed. During his many trips to the cosmopolitan port of Batavia, he met and exchanged ideas with fighters from Minangkabau land and China as well as local teachers in the region. He used these opportunities to share knowledge and test his skills with them. The interaction with fighters from different cultures enabled him to assess the effectiveness of his art.

During one of his visits to Cianjur, he met Raden Adipate Wiratanudatar (1776-1813) the sixth Regent of Cianjur. Shortly after this meeting, Pak Kahir decided to settle near Cianjur in the village of Kamurang. When the regent learned that Pak Kahir was an expert in martial arts, he asked him to teach his art to his family. In order to test Pak Kahir’s skill, the Regent arranged for him a fight with an expert of Chinese Kuntao from Macau. The battle took place on the esplanade of Cianjur and was won handily by Pak Kahir. His victory against the fighter Kuntao made him even more popular in the region of Cianjur.

In 1815, with his 5 sons, Endut, Ocod, Otang, Komar and Oyota, Pak Kahir to Bogor. The 5th son later spread Cimande in « Pasundan Tanah » (Sunda Land). Meanwhile, another student – Ace – continued the spread of Cimande in Bogor. The descendants of Ace are currently living in Tarikolot, teaching what is known as the « old system » which is referred to as « Cimande Tarikolot Kebun Jeruk Hilir. »

The early nineteenth century was the golden age of Cimande. It became the most popular style in West Java.

Pak Kahir died in 1825. His fighting art continued to be appreciated by the people of West Java. Other styles based its teachings were developed by students such as Pak Sera and Haji Abdul Rosidi. Haji Abdul Rosidi created his own style called Ciwaringin, changing some of the Jurus Cimande. But even with these changes, it is not very far from the original form of maen’po Cimande.

Today, Cimande is practiced around the world in one form or another. As Pak Kahir did not leave any written record of techniques, there are many diverse groups of Cimande relying heavily on oral tradition to establish history and method.


(Courtesy of Eric Chatelier) From a historical novel Pangeran Sundanese Kornel
written by Raden Memed Sastrahadiprawira

The paragraph below gives a clear description of Abah Kahir (also known as Embah, or Ayah Eyang Kahir) the legendary creator of Pencak Silat Cimande. Of all the styles of Pencak Silat from Indonesia, Cimande is perhaps the most well known, oldest and most influential.

There are a number of versions on the life of Abah Kahir dealing with the origins of Cimande, sources of inspiration, and lineage. According to a popular version in the community of Pencak Silat Banten, Abah Kahir was a Badui, an ethnic group inhabiting the mountainous regions of southwestern Banten. According to legend, the Baduis are descendants of the soldiers (Ind.: bala Tentara) of Ratu Pucuk Umum, the last king of the Hindu kingdom of Pajajaran who was at the time the location of the current Bogor.

When Ratu Pucuk Umum abdicated before the Muslim armies led by Molan Yusup (Banten regent 1570-1580) in 1579, a concession was granted by the court stating that the king would be spared if they agreed to isolate themselves in this region. The tradition of the martial arts of Pajajaran was preserved and transmitted through the ages.

According to this version, Abah Kahir, who was from the Badui region of Cikeusik, was known as an expert in Badui Ulin (Silat Badui). His reputation soon spread beyond the Badui territory and several Pencak Silat exponents dared to test his skill. These challengers all died at the hands of Abah Kahir. The fact that blood had defiled the sacred land of Baduis was considered to be serious misconduct according to traditional laws. Among the Badui such misconduct could not remain unpunished. The elders decided to banish Abah Kahir from the Badui land.

To ensure that such incidents would not happen again, Abah Kahir adopted a code of silence during his sojourns regarding the Badui and their martial arts. It is said that this code of silence still exists in the present day.

Leaving his native land, Abah Kahir worked as a porter for a Chinese merchant. The merchant was a hard man, who was also a practitioner of Chinese Kuntao. One day Abah Kahir decided to take a rest from his work. The Chinese merchant became furious and ordered him to return to work immediately. The altercation quickly escalated into a fight which resulted in the death of Chinese merchant.

As a result of this incident, Abah Kahir was left with the feeling that through his lack of self-control, he had literally killed his livelihood. He vowed that from this moment, he would use his art only to serve humanity. It was shortly after this event that the term maenpo was created to refer to the Pencak Silat of the Sunda region.

Abah Kahir blamed himself because of its lack of self-control, he realized he had killed the source of his « livelihood « . He therefore sware that from this moment, he would use his art only to serve humanity. As Wessi pointed out, the Badui « Code of Conduct » has symbolic importance in Sundanese culture as a sort of Moral Compass. Owing to their isolation from the modern world and the minimal influence of Islam in this era, the Badui have maintained traditions that are no longer found elsewhere in West Java and therefore are regarded as more pure, or authentic. In the same vein, the Kingdom of Pajajaran is often mentioned as a symbol of pure Sundanese culture. There is even a belief which holds after his death a Sundanese becomes a « resident of Pajajaran » in the form of a tiger.

In the field of contemporary ethnography, the many legends surrounding the figure of Abah Kahir express two main themes: first they « nature-ize » the Cimande style by ascribing its creation to various phenomenon in the physical environment; and second, the legends refer to some form of Divine Inspiration on the part of the founder.

The influence of Pencak Silat Cimande in West Java is constantly expanding. The majority of schools that are found there today trace a link with Cimande either from a technical, philosophical or historical perspective. It’s almost become a rule for schools to express a tribute even if merely symbolic to Cimande. This style is also recognized in West Sumatra as one of the oldest, due to the fact that the word Mande means « mother » in the language of the Mingkabau.

In Kampung Babakan Tarikolot village, the current descendants of Abah Kahir adhere to their precious tradition. Here Cimande is still taught in the same manner as in the past, without any influence from other styles or other modern innovations. According to some village sources, Abah Kahir is not considered to be the creator of Cimande, but rather the first teacher of this style. According to a family tree held sacred by Ace Sutisna, – current leader of the family of Cimande (Keluarga Besar Cimande Pencak Silat) – Cimande begins with Embah Buyut, which translates literally to « great-grandfather » but in Sundanese means rather « founding ancestor ». It is not clear whether this term is linked to a particular individual or if it is used as a generic term that is related to founding ancestors generally.

According to Pak Ace, « from generation to generation descendants of Cimande use the name ». The silsilah traces 7 generations, which pak Ace considers to span for 350 years. If Embah Buyut was a historical figure it would mean he would have lived between the middle of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. This corresponds to the dates when Abah Kahir is supposed to have started teaching, circa 1760, making him a practitioner of the second generation of Cimande and the first generation as a teacher. In each generation there have been several teachers considered official representatives:

1. Abah Kahir
2. Abah Rangger
3. Abah Ace Naseh
4. Abah Haji Abdulshamad
5. Abah Abah Haji Idris and Haji Ajid
6. Zargasih Abah Haji, Haji Niftah, Haji Gaos, Ace Sutisna (currently)

The silsilah is incorporated into the structure of Cimande training. At the beginning of a latihan (training), a kind of prayer invoking the name of Amalan Tasawal is recited: These are excerpts from the Koran with a list of past teachers. The prayer has two functions: it is a way of expressing respect and is also a petition to receive spiritual blessings (ind.: berkah) from past masters. Expressing respect is an important part of Silsilah, it would be wrong to interpret this as a mere recitation of pedigree. The invocation of these names authenticates and blesses practice today.

The grave of Buyut Abah and his son Abah Rangger are found to the west of Kampung Tarikolot. Between the twelfth and the fourteenth day of the Muslim Maulud month, the graves of Buyut Abah, Abah Rangger as well as Ace Naseh Abah Abah and Kahir are visited by pilgrims, most of whom are from local Cimande and various communities of Pencak Silat in West Java. Many seek these tombs in the hope of receiving a blessing. According Pak Ace, Abah Kahir, was a simple farmer who spent his entire life around the villages of Cimande. The wide black pants (Sundanese: sontog or pangs) and the jacket off (Ind.: Baju kampret) worn at the time by Abah Kahir and other people of the village are, over time, becoming the official « uniform » of Pencak Silat.

This particular legend varies from the one that can be found in Cianjur.. It is said that Abah Kahir was born in the village of Kamurang in the district of Mande, Cikalong Kulon, part of the regency of Cianjur. In the tradition of Cianjur, it is said that Abah Kahir earned his living as a merchant of horses and traveled regularly to Batavia (Jakarta) and in other parts of West Java. During his travels, he often encountered problems with wild animals such as tigers and jaguars and also with thieves. It is through these experiences that Abah Kahir developed a formidable system of self-defense. At Batavia, he met followers of martial arts from China and West Sumatra who helped refine his art. When Raden Aria Wiratanudatar VI (regent of Cianjur / 1776-1813) became aware of the reputation of Abah Kahir, he hired him as a Pamuk – the Sundanese term for a master of Pencak Silat used by aristocrats. From this period, it is said that he taught only the family of the Regent, and eventually he himself became part of the Royal Court.

Abah Kahir had five sons: Endut, Otang, Komar, and oyota Ocod who developed Cimande from Bogor to Bandung in Cianjur and throughout West Java. Shortly after the death of Wiratanudatar in 1813, Abah Kahir setteled at Kampung Tarikolot, Cimande, where he remained until his death in 1825.

Pak Ace, reflecting back on the many stories of Abah Kahir’s combative exploits, considers them « stories of tough guys » (ind.: kisah jagoan). As far as Pak Ace is concerned, these words convey a negative image of Abah Kahir, making him out to be an aggressive man at odds with the spirit and philosophy of defense as the foundations of the Cimande style. « This gives a bad example, carrying loaded incidents of violence, focusing on the arrogance and other defects in the order of the ego, that are the anti-thesis of the fundamental values of Pencak Silat Cimande. »

In terms of technique and philosophy, Cimande is defensive and it is strictly forbidden for a student to engage in combat. As stated by one practitioner « Why fight? It’s exhausting! If you can avoid it, that is the best way ! ». Pencak Silat supports religious teachings, but it is not a substitute for religious obligations . Students are asked to follow their religious duties seriously.

According to Pak Ace, Jurus Cimande are inspired by everyday life according to the Sundanese tradition of farming, tending the fields, carrying firewood, cutting grass, a mosquito hunt, and sitting cross-legged in the mosque after prayers. Natural phenomena are supposed to reflect universal laws, and so human culture also reflects universal principles. Abah Buyut and Abah Kahir had the talent necessary to transform these simple movements of everyday life into techniques of self-defense (Ind.: beladiri): « The ability for introspection is given by God to all creatures, so self-defense is a creation of man, inspired by God. Since the principles of Cimande techniques are included in everyday action. » It is believed that instinctively, everyone possesses jurus Cimande … Pencak Silat is practiced by everyone, even if they do not realize it as such. » Physical techniques are specific to a place and time, while the logic of the body behind these movements is universal. The names of some jurus Cimande are a natural reflection of the actions of everyday life as shown in the Sundanese term batekan (to release a seizure) and guarana (to open something and observe what is to inside).

The ancestral Cimande taught at Kampung Cimande Tarikolot consists of:

33 jurus – 13 pepedangan – 1 ibing
The 33 jurus are performed seated and standing, single- or by twos.
The 13 pepedangan are forms utilizing a stick (of the palm to the armpit length). They are made to replace the Golok. It is easier to train with a stick (and it is less dangerous …). Once you develop control with the stick, you can then practice with a Golok.

The ibing is a dance in which one seeks to focus power in various parts of the body (wrists, shoulders, etc.) working with rhythm and music.

Information obtained from various sources
Many sources state that Abah Kahir had no children (by blood) but he did have disciples. Present day descendants at Kampung Cimande Tarikolot trace their lineage to Abah Rangger and not Abah Kahir.

There is a grave of Abah Kahir in Bogor that one may visit. However it is said by some the « real » tomb of Abah Kahir, is actually located in another village

Some also posit that Abah Kahir was not from Indonesia but came from an Arab country and that his real name was Abah Kohir (kohir meaning pray in Arabic), and together with Abah Rangger created Cimande.

A strongly held belief by the Kampung Cimande of Tarikolot is that Cimande is not for aggressive fighting but only to defend oneself and there are technically no « lethal » Cimande techniques.

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