The trouble with pencak silat: rivals spar over martial art

Alice PHILIPSON
Although pencak silat's Asiad debut was an undeniable success for Indonesia's medal tally, it's less clear whether the martial art was a force for good at the Asiad

A fist-sized hole in the wall, an illegal kick in the back, a cry of biased judging -- as debuts go, martial art pencak silat's first Asian Games appearance was a little rocky.

The ancient Indonesian sport -- which allegedly originates from when a woman copied the techniques of a tiger to fight off a group of pestering men -- has ended up riling athletes and fans, and stirred old tensions among South East Asian nations.

Controversy began when Malaysia's Muhammad Robial Sobri took aim at Singapore's Sheik Ferdous Sheik Alauddin, powering a hard kick into his back as he lay on the ground.

That was followed by a protest from Mohd Al-Jufferi Jamari -- also a Malaysian, as well as the 2016 world champion -- when he withdrew seconds before the end of his final against Indonesia's Komang Harik Adi Putra, accusing judges of bias.

"I'm mad because the jury didn't give the point fairly," Al-Jufferi said, shortly after punching a hole in a nearby wall.

Although its debut was an undeniable success for hosts Indonesia's medal tally -- they bagged 14 of the 16 golds in Jakarta -- it is less clear whether the martial art was a force for good at the Asiad.

Videos of the incidents were shared widely on social media, and Indonesian spectators watching a clash between Malaysia and Vietnam in the 90-95kg final cheered loudly for the Vietnamese.

Erick Thohir, head of Games organising committee Inasgoc, said the sport had stirred tensions among neighbours.

"Especially regarding pencak silat there are complaints from the countries which lost," he told AFP. "Funny when Indonesia achieved so well, we get complaints."

"It's very unfortunate if other countries complain, especially, pardon me, Islamic countries which we or neighbouring Southeast Asia countries have good relationships with or often meet," he added.

Indonesia and Malaysia have long seen tensions in their relationship. Disputes have erupted over everything from the ownership of islands and the alleged poor treatment of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, to the origins of traditional dances and songs.

At the opening ceremony, Malaysian athletes were booed as they paraded through the stadium.

Neither is it the first time the two countries have been at loggerheads over pencak silat. At the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia accused Malaysia of cheating in the men's doubles by inflating the score of the home athletes.

That accusation came after Malaysian Games organisers mistakenly printed Indonesia's flag upside-down in a commemorative magazine, prompting protests in Indonesia and revenge hacking attacks.