Pukulan Pencak Silat Italia

Bukti Negara: from its origins to today

To expand upon previous articles: The name Pencak Silat today is a generic way of defining Malayan martial arts (Indonesian, Malaysian, Brunaian, and Singapore) and contains an infinite variety of styles, more or less known and more or less widespread. Each style has its own peculiarities, its own history and origin, a founder and/or  teachers representing it, as well as its own techniques, methodologies, and practices that characterize it and make it distinct.

In fact, it is not uncommon in the world of Pencak Silat schools that you’ll find techniques or jurus (forms, the Indonesian equivalent of Japanese kata) which are very similar to each other but interpreted and applied differently, depending on the style or school of reference. Because not only every style, but also every teacher and/or school leader has given their own interpretation to the jurus, based on their understanding of the art, on their martial and life experience. And it is precisely this modus operandi that has allowed certain styles to grow and new styles to be born, evolve, and improve over time, adapting and becoming accessible. 

Bukti Negara is one of these styles of Pentjak Silat, created and developed by Paul de Thouars starting from 1985. This style that was formed 35 years ago, actually has its roots in ancient tradition and is the result of incredible knowledge and skills acquired by its founder. We feel honored to be students and practitioners of Bukti Negara, a style whose teaching and tradition is carried on through the Naga Kuning Institute.

Indonesia Rice Field
Rice Fields in Java (Indonesia)

A Family History

As often happens, the birth of a martial art has a family history behind it. If we remember the action and martial arts films of the 80s, from the American ones featuring Karate to the Hong Kong productions that spoke to us about Chinese Kung fu, we will also remember that very frequently there was a story behind the current master. Often the style he practiced had been transmitted to him in a secret and/or exclusive form — by his father, by his uncle, or in other cases perhaps by a passing monk or in a temple. Whatever the formula, there has always been a great emphasis on the secrecy and exclusivity of the training because certain martial arts were so lethal that they had to be transmitted only to relatives, close friends, or particularly deserving and trusted students (like Daniel-san in ” The Karate Kid “ if you like).

We all are now used to today’s schools, gyms full of students, and public signs, it can be difficult to think that this is something more than a film script. It is sometimes difficult for us to believe in the existence of these “secret” styles, of their exclusivity. But as often happens, and as we will see in this article, reality can outdo the fantasies of cinema.

The story of Bukti Negara begins in the attic of a house in Amsterdam. An environment far from prying eyes where Oom Paul de Thouars (“Oom”, from the Dutch for uncle, is a common family title given to elderly practitioners of art) began his practice in Serak (a style of Pencak Silat) with his uncle John de Vries. This practice continued uninterrupted until his departure to the United States in 1960.

Serak (or Sera) is one of the traditional styles of Pencak Silat from the west of the island of Java, whose origin is linked to the Sunda ethnic group. Today there are several branches of this style, some even very different from each other. For some of them, including those we will discuss in this article, public teaching and receiving a fee for lessons is prohibited. These Serak styles, also the ones taught by Paul de Thouars, must be taught exclusively behind closed doors (i.e. privately) and only to trusted people such as friends and relatives.

Perhaps today, in the world of the internet, this insistence on secrecy may seem excessive, but we must not forget that we are talking about warrior arts, born and developed to allow the practitioner to survive in combat. Consequently, teaching was not taken lightly, both because a practitioner in possession of that knowledge had the responsibility not to use it for the wrong purposes, and because the secrecy of the style was an undoubted advantage towards a potential opponent.

Upon his arrival in the United States, therefore, Oom Paul found himself faced with a dilemma: on one hand he could not break the promise made to his teacher (and uncle), but on the other, he did not want to kill the art he had practiced by keeping it only for a few and without being able to compare himself with what is in the outside world.

In fact, where once there was no lack of opportunities for confrontation outside or inside the villages in Indonesia, nowadays the main contact with other martial arts practitioners can only be had when you open up showing what you know and compare yourself with others.

To solve this dilemma, Bukti Negara was born.

Oom Paul, being very religious, said he asked the Lord for help and received as an answer a dream concerning a verse from Genesis. From that dream, he began to build his Bukti Negara starting from the Serak he had learned from his uncle John de Vries.

The Bukti Negara

Bukti Negara literally means “evidence of a continent”. It is therefore the union and the gift that Oom Paul brought from his country of origin, Indonesia, to the nation that had welcomed him, the United States of America, showing and sharing some of the precious knowledge he had brought with him from Holland.

For this reason Oom Paul is often called “Pendekar”, that is the founder of the style, a name at which he himself laughed and which had been given to him by his students. [Personally, I like to remember him with the image of how I met him, together with other elderly practitioners: a passionate practitioner, never tired of learning and sharing, exceptionally creative and humble.]

Bukti Negara underwent an evolution over time, both technically and didactically. This style had to contain the principles of Serak, but in a shorter and more compact format. It had to be learned by people who had neither the time to train every day, nor possessed the patience and  train in the old way, where the explanations by teachers were few and far between, and the practitioners had to find the answers to their questions by themselves through practice.

In the traditional context, we often hear people say “Train, and you will find the answer. If I told you, it would be useless.” This was, in fact, the way to teach a martial art according to the Indonesian and Indo-Dutch mentality. Bukti Negara, by contrast, meets the needs of the modern man (or perhaps only “Western”) to have answers and principles that can be easily assimilated through exercises and explanations, while maintaining the structure of its origin.

Ottavio Tramonte Stefano Chiappella Sepak Bunder
Sepak Bunder

The spread of Bukti Negara

Bukti Negara became very popular in the 1990s, a period in which Oom Paul de Thouars and some of his students began to travel around America and Europe, promoting it through internships open to all martial arts practitioners. Dan Inosanto helped greatly with the promotion of Bukti Negara. A prominent figure on the world martial scene, a student of Bruce Lee, and a great popularizer and skilled practitioner of Filipino martial arts.

Dan Inosanto saw in the art of Oom Paul a precious gem that he had never found in other martial arts. His articles appeared in the International Black Belt Magazine where he says he found the art for the masters, meaning that what he had learned from Paul de Thouars was so sophisticated and deadly that it would appeal to both new practitioners, and people with decades of martial arts experience.

The popularity of Bukti Negara, however, made for a quick parable. As quickly as it had become popular, it returned to being a niche martial art kept alive by a few dedicated practitioners, mostly in the United States with a few exceptions in Europe. The cause of this collapse, as unfortunately often happens in the martial arts world, was mainly due to internal quarrels and disagreements that led to the separation between Oom Paul and some of his students.

At the same time in Holland, a generation of Serak students and practitioners grew up training with Oom John and Oom Vetje (Ernest) de Vries. These contemporaries of Oom Paul, his cousins and friends, continued to train at home, far from the international circuits but without lowering the quality level of the practice.

The rebirth of the Bukti Negara began in 2011, when Walter van den Broeke, a pupil of the de Vries family, reunited Oom Paul de Thouars with the remaining heirs of the de Vries family in Holland, and in particular with Oom Dolf de Vries, considered the head of the family as regards the continuity of the Pukulan Serak style transmitted by his father Oom Ventje (Ernest) de Vries, brother of Oom John, the teacher of Paul de Thouars.

This union, commemorated with a signed agreement written by the members of the two families present, led to the creation of a unified curriculum that we now practice and call Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara – The Unified Art. Thus representing the union of the Bukti Negara from Oom Paul de Thouars and Oom John de Vries with the Pukulan from Oom Dolf de Vries and Oom Ventje de Vries, his father.

Exercises were then added and movements modified to represent both ways of practicing, one more aimed at controlling the opponent and his imbalance (the permainan, literally “game”, by Oom John), one more aimed at percussion blows. and to attack (the pukulan, literally “to strike with the hand”, by Oom Ventje).

uncle Paul and uncle Dolf
uncle Paul de Thouars and uncle Dolf de Vries

In Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara – The Unified Art -, those who have eyes to see them will find the sources from which it was born through the movements and lines. Those who want a complete and fast self-defense system will find a system that is integrated, dynamic, and effective, which deals with standing fighting, ground combat, and the use of weapons.

Coinciding with the birth of the unified curriculum, the institute we proudly belong to was also born: the Naga Kuning Institute.

The institute’s mission is promoting and safeguarding the styles of Pentjak Silat and Pukulan that have been transmitted to us by the practitioners who preceded us. The founder of the institute is Walter van den Broeke, appointed as board member and technical advisor by Oom Paul de Thouars and a pukulan practitioner for 40 years, who has collected, trained, and documented various curricula by practicing with many experts in the field for years.

The goal is to create an institute to safeguard the quality of the practice. We raise the level of what nowadays has become a sort of martial arts fast-food: short courses with easy diplomas that satisfy the ego, but that bear little to no resemblance to true martial practice.

Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara – The Unified Art – is the martial art that is publicly trained and promoted, the union of the main sources of teaching and styles practiced by Walter van den Broeke.

Alongside this reality, and as tradition dictates, the original methods and curricula of the four branches that have been handed down to us are still taught behind closed doors and only for those who have shown themselves to be people with the right mentality and attitude.

Walter van den Broeke Ronald Harthman - Angkat
Walter van den Broeke Ronald Harthman - Angkat

The institute is now present in Europe and the USA with dozens of active groups who practice and share their passion. Public seminars, annual gatherings and summer camps are also organized to train and spend time together, as well as of course weekly training in the various local offices.

The aim is the preservation of this unique art, a heritage that was in danger of being lost and which today, thanks to the incessant research (and practice) of Walter van den Broeke, is alive again and ready to welcome new generations of passionate and dedicated practitioners.

Stefano Chiappella

NKI Technical Board Member