Saturday, October 27, 2012


Let's talk about pukulan. If you are a western Javanese player, you probably know what this is. If not, it's a punching and blocking technique designed for mid-range distance.

 In bare-handed encounters, these ranges mostly are three: kicking, punching, and grappling (the last also called elbow range.) Knife works in the latter two. Close enough to punch or elbow, close enough to stab. And depending on the length of the blade and your arms, maybe reach somebody at their kicking distance.

Of course, a tall man's punch might be a short one's kick, but each fighter has his or her own measures. This far away, that tool will work, but this one won't. You have to determine what these ranges are for yourself.

Pukulan, which comes from the root word "pukul," means "hit," or "hammer." As in most Indonesian styles, there is some question about where the art comes from. One story has it that the Javanese watched the Dutch sailors fight, using their western boxing methods, and coƶpted the moves to develop pukulan as a counter. No real evidence to support this, but the style seems to have come into being around the largest seaports. Of course, on an island, there are a lot of seaports ...

Mm. Doesn't matter for purposes of our discussion. 

If you are a student of Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck, you know what it looks like. If you don't, it's kind of like an old steam locomotive's driving wheel and tie-rod. The punch/block–it can be either or both, is a reciprocating piston. One hand goes out, the other comes back in concert, and the hit or block tends to arrive on one line, retract, then cycle back on the other line. Not always, but the motions are tight half-circles in which the extensions impact on an opponent's body. 

One high, one low, one near, one far.

If you take a snapshot of a typical pukulan sequence midway, you'd be hard pressed to tell whether the model is striking or blocking, and in fact, once cycle will do both with both hands.

So the reason it works at punching distance? Because it is punching. And if you are one of our students, you know that if you are hanging out at pukulan distance, you have screwed up. You should either be going in for the finish, or backing out to reset.

But there is that transition, and the reason for learning pukulan is because you might get stuck at that range. Could be because that's were the fight started. Guy next to you at the bar just hauls off and lets a fist fly your way. Or maybe as you closed, he danced back just enough to keep himself at a range he likes. If he's a boxer, that's where he wants to be, and if he's a good boxer, you don't want to stand there and play his game as he unloads his combinations your way. You need something designed for his distance to protect yourself just long enough to get in or out and not eat a lot of his punches in the process. Which means you have to do it quick, catch up, and either close or step off.

Not to say you can't deck somebody with pukulan, certainly you can, but for us, it's another one of those Oh, shit! techniques you need for when you started out crooked or got that way because something went south as you engaged.