A mass of people gathered around a free-style boxing ring, standing 2 meters above the ground, made from bamboo poles and black sand for its canvas. Their impatient yells rang out for the bout to begin in Kauman village, Srengat district, Blitar regency, East Java.
The bouts are free-style boxing, known locally as pencak dor. Contests are usually held in November through December to commemorate the death of an ulama [the head of an Islamic boarding school] or for a village celebration. Parking fees of spectators are used to build a mosque or other village facilities.
Finally, the wait was over, signaled by a local public figure leading the prayer and the sound of traditional music to accompany the bout. As others warmed up, fighters jumped into the ring, their hands covered in white cloth as “gloves”, vying with each other for opponents. On this night, the fighters came from areas outside and neighboring Blitar, including Kediri, Nganjuk, Madiun and Ponorogo, from martial arts or boxing clubs.
Most were aged from 14 to 20 years, a few are older. The fights are over in a matter of moments; on average, each bout takes only four minutes. Referees are village elders or respected former fighters.
“I have been fighting since the age of 16,” said Sariadi, 21. “It’s proof of my daring and also allows me to channel my hobby for fighting.”
Free-style fighting uses self-defense skills [boxing, pencak silat, wrestling and karate], from the blows, kicks, holds and throws. But use of mystical powers is strictly prohibited.
“During the pencak dor bouts, the organizers have already shielded it through special prayers, and any attempt to use mystical powers will not function when the fighters enter the arena, to ensure the fight proceeds fairly,” said one of the organizers, Katiran, 58.
If an accident occurs during the fight, such as a broken bone or sprain, the organizers treat it by rubbing it and uttering a dedicated mantra. All injuries can be cured, except for bites, and the contests must end b y midnight. To end the evening, the fighters receive a coupon for a bowl of soto [chicken soup] and rice, chatting and joking as they lick their wounds.
Even if only a plate of chicken soup is their reward, the men feel proud of their achievements and their standing within the local community. They will continue to fight as long as they are physically able.
JP/ Aman Rochman