Mepantigan: The muddy, martial art of Bali

by Peni Widarti on 2012-05-04

Victorious: A male martial arts practitioner stabs his female opponent with a wooden kris in the stylized and choreographed combat of Mepantigan. BD/Anggara MahendraVictorious: A male martial arts practitioner stabs his female opponent with a wooden kris in the stylized and choreographed combat of Mepantigan. BD/Anggara Mahendra

Since 2006, patrons staying at Pondok Batu Alam in Batubulan, Gianyar, have been able learn a unique traditional martial art that combines Balinese-style wrestling, a traditional musical ensemble and dances, local folklore and a genuinely muddy rice field.

Called mepantigan, this martial art-cum-performing art was created by Putu Witsen, who has extensive training in Korean taekwondo.

“I saw the lack of aesthetic expression in martial arts and that motivated me, as a Balinese, to create a martial art that reflects the richness of our traditional arts,” he said.

 Witsen took elements from taekwondo, Japanese judo, Brazilian capoeira and Balinese silat and combined them to form the basic structure of mepantigan.

 In the initial stages, he trained and performed on the beach. Wearing nothing but the simplest Balinese loincloth, the mepantigan practitioners rubbed coconut oil all over their torsos before performing the martial art to the accompaniment of the loud and dynamic bleganjur gamelan ensemble.

“That was back in 2003. Later on I explored the idea of integrating more performing arts into it, which is the nucleus of the present mepantigan demonstration, a collaboration of dance, music and contemporary performing arts.”

Mepantigan moved from the warm sands of the beach to the cold mud of the rice field. Witsen saw it as a symbolic gesture, trying to get closer to the roots of Balinese men.

“It is in this muddy rice field that the rice can grow and eventually sustain our lives. We show our respect to the rice and rice field by presenting an offering to Sri, the Goddess of Rice, prior to our performance,”

 MepatinganWhile performing mepantigan, the practitioners are not allowed to strike or kick the opponent’s vital parts. Biting is also prohibited.

The performance has various storylines inspired by local folklore, as well as stories of great prophets, such as Muhammed and Buddha.

The performance has drawn the attention of a large number of foreign tourists, some of whom later decided to study the martial art. At present, the number of active practitioners of mepantigan has reached 123, of which 53 are foreigners.

Mepantigan groups have been established in the Bali International School, Green School, Bali Diving Jimbaran and Ubud Survival Adventure.

For US$ 12.50, people can learn this art during a weekly course offered at Pondok Batu Alam, a compound of bamboo villas set amid lush rice fields. Regular performances of mepantigan are held every Saturday evening with an entrance fee of US$ 35 per person. The compound lies in Jl. Pasekan, Tubuh hamlet, Batubulan.

— Photos By Anggara Mahendra

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