History of Pencak Silat Al-Azhar
Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri was founded on April 20, 1970 at Masjid Agung Al-Azhar, in Jakarta Indonesia. Members who have already registered with this pencak silat school exceeds over one hundred thousand. Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri was founded by Muhammad Sufiyono and Djauharul Abidin Bakir.
In the early stage of this pencak silat school, it had no name and by the request of one the top religious leader at that time, Buya Hamka, this school formalized and became an official organization. Buya Hamka asked to put the "Al-Azhar" word in the organization name. Muhammad Sufiyono finally named the pencak silat school as Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri. Therefore, Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri owned its own pencak silat style which is based on its aim and symbol, namely Al-Azhar pencak silat style. One of the distinctive features of Al-Azhar pencak silat, in terms of spirituality is that it is clean and free from any magic or superstitions. While In terms of techniques, the origins of pencak silat Al-Azhar derived from East Javanese pencak silat.
East Javanese pencak silat is not as popular as West Javanese pencak silat. However, this style of pencak silat is one of the oldest style and has given significant contribution to national pencak silat development. History recorded that the establishment of the National pencak silat organization in Indonesia (IPSI), was influenced by some of East Java's pencak silat organizations such as Setia Hati, Setia Hati Teratai and Perisai Diri.
The roots of pencak silat Al-Azhar started from a respected warrior/pendekar (master) of pencak silat named Syahirudin, who lived at the end of 18th century in Situbondo, East Java. Syahirudin had two disciples: Ismail Fadhilah and Mat Jami. Traditionally, Pedekars would not give all their ilmu (knowledge) to one student. Ismail Fadillah was given the bela diri (self-defense) ilmu and Mat Jami was given the tenaga dalam (inner power) ilmu.
In addition to receiving the bela diri ilmu from Syahirudin, Ismail Fadhilah also learned from other martial arts masters. Ismail Fadhilah was a well known and well respected pencak silat pendekar in Situbondo. In 1967 he one won the national championship held the by Tapak Suci pencak silat school. It was not surprising that Tapak Suci recruited him as a prime pendekar in their school. Pencak silat became one of Ismail Fadhilah's life identity. He trained in pencak silat until the end of his life. He also had a high taste for the arts and was willing to learn traditional dances to enrich his pencak silat style including serampang 12. Eastern Javanese pencak silat style has often been derided for its lack of rhythm and stiffness, but it became more artistic with his influence.
Ismail Fadhilah had very tough training methods. Although he had many students, only few students achieved the instructor/pendekar level. He also had partnership and team work concept in teaching his students. He did not accept students who wanted to learn alone. He required two persons, so the students can practice together. One of Ismail Fadhilah's greatest strengths was in the bela-diri (self-defense) aspects. Whenever he trained in submissions or joint locks, he was never able to be stopped or defeated. Whenever he was put into a lock, he would execute a counter-lock utilizing his arms or legs. His mastery in self-defense were passed down to his students who become champions in pencak silat self defense category.
While many martial arts practitioners only utilize the feet as a tool to kick, Ismail Fadhilah utilizes the feet as another self-defense tool to lock and counter lock the opponent. Even though today there other martial arts that use lock and unlock techniques, through Ismail Fadhilah's training, we can see significant differences between pencak silat and other martial arts. In pencak silat, we don’t need to exert a lot of power to perform the techniques. We emphasize on using the opponents movement and power and realign it to our advantage. Ismail Fadhilah was also a specialist in weapons. He was able to use various weapons, from a chain, knife, stick, celurit (tradional weapon from Madura), golok (traditional weapon from Jakarta) and sarong (traditional clothes). He also had the talent to use any weapon that he was given and instantly developed movements using pencak silat techniques. One of his most interesting capabilities was to use a sarong to destroy deadly bladed weapon attacks. He was also spectacular in choreographing pencak silat performances. One of his choreographs involved using objects that surrounded him such as a chair or table (nowadays, it resembles Jachie Chan movies). If performing an animal style, he would ask his students to wear a mask that resembles the animal being performed. Ismail Fadhilah was a very spiritual person and a good Muslim. He had high social empathy and concerns for the environment surrounding him. He also loved to contribute his knowledge to the community, and shunned any pompous attitude such as showing off the knowledge that one possesses.
Ismail Fadhilah later had two disciples, Muhammad Sufiyono and Djauharul Abidin Bakir. Among all of his students, two of the best were Muhammad Sufiyono and Djauharul abidin Bakir. Both of them started practicing with Ismail Fadhilah from the age of 10 to 18 years old. Thereafter, they went to Jakarta and established the pencak silat school named Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri. Incidentally at that time, Djauharul Abidin Bakir had to go back to Situbondo, while Muhammad Sufiyono stayed in Jakarta and developed Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri.
Like many other warriors, Muhammad Sufiyono did not only learned from one teacher, but he also studied from other martial artists and masters. However his style, character and technique was mostly influenced by Ismail Fadhilah. Muhammad Sufiyono was an ambitious man with a very strong vision. If his students were unable to complete a task, he would do the task by himself in order to finish the project. He was an excellent communicator, and with that leadership he was able to lobby all parties related to pencak silat school, either from the government or people surrounding him. With good communication skills, he received tremendous support and many instructors from other martial arts were also willing to join Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri pencak silat school. In regards to communication, many people today speak of "multi-level marketing". In 1970, Muhammad Sufiyono had already developed this kind of model. He asked the members that already registered in the school, to ask their friends, siblings, family or anyone they knew to join the school. His high vision was coupled by fast action and open-mindedness. If any of his students wished to open a branch (granted they were ready), he would immediately make a letter of appointment and approve the student to become an instructor. In a short period of time, Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri had open branches througout Indonesia (Bengkulu, Tasik, Malang, and Jambi) and overseas (Australia,Germany, South Africa, and USA). He dreamed of Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri to spread all over the world and be able to hold a world championship event.
Muhammad Sufiyono was highly dedication to pencak silat. He made sure that money collected from the members were prioritized to develop the school. If a student was not able to pay, he insisted to pay for them and reimburse their transportation cost, but with the condition that the student would be able to open up the school in his/her area. He maximizes the profit of the school not for himself, but for the organization that he loved. If he saw any of his instructors wearing a bad uniform for practice, he immediately will get money from the treasurer in order to provide him/her with a new uniform. His dedication was also shown when he would bring his wife and kids on the weekend to go to Al-Azhar so he can teach and practice. Thereafter they would go together for refreshments and sight-seeing. In terms of technique development for the school, he did not hesitate to invite other masters from any other martial arts to teach and practice together with his students or even asked them to join Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri school. Later on, this would enrich pencak silat Al-Azhar. Another character that we can remember about Muhammad Sufiyono was that he was very disciplined. No matter how late he would go to sleep, he woke up in early in the morning to performed his prayer on time. When he was younger, he would often come to practice early and he was always on time. Presently, it is Muhammad Sufiyono's example, and the example of all the founders (Ismail Fadhilah and others) that forged the path in order to soon achieve a "Golden Age" for Al-Azhar Seni Bela Diri.