Join a martial art class that combines breathing techniques with Balinese wisdom, and takes place in a pit of mud...
A 5 foot 4 inch tall man with a muscular body, dressed in a red shirt and loose black pants overlaid with a checkered sarong and a Balinese udeng head dress led seven foreign guests and four local apprentices who wore the same outfit. Standing in a low stance, they were slapping their own thighs and beating their chests while shouting, “Sing kenken... Sing kenken... Cang katos... Cang katos,’ similar to the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand when they do their Haka dance, which looks intimidating indeed.
They were all joining a martial art class named Mepantigan under a thatched roof of an alfresco hall in the Green School in Sibang, their chants and shouts bringing the afternoon in the area to life, as there were almost no sounds but the screaming cicadas. Their chant was actually self-suggestive, as the words meant, “I’m okay... I’m fine... I’m strong... I’m tough.’
Founded in 2002 by a Balinese man named Putu Witsen, a martial art enthusiast and practitioner as well as a Taekwondo medalist during his heyday, Mepantigan is derived from a Balinese term “Pantig’ that means to overthrow the opponent. And I was excited to be seeing Mepantigan firsthand, from the very beginning all the way until the participants plunge into the mud, the main arena of this martial art.
Before they get into the mud the participants must learn a proper techniques on how to attack, to pin down their opponents and to fall safely. “The class also includes Balinese culture, as we teach the participants about the Baris stance that is an up-right stance with hands open wide and fierce eyes, just like the dancers in the Baris dance,’ explained the charismatic 40-yea-rold Putu Witsen. “We also teach the ‘Ngigel’, which consists of moving side to side, another movement in Balinese dance.’
The participants then stood in circle in the mud arena that was surrounded by a seating area made of aged cinderblocks and wild grass, resembling the great Roman coliseum, but only in a smaller scale and designed with a Balinese style. Then one of them stepped to the center, followed by one of the apprentices – both of them were already covered in mud, from torso and limbs to face. They grabbed each other by the shoulder and swing side to side, aiming to tip their opponent off balance. They tried to tackle each other by feet and body before they both fell into the mud, causing mud to splash up to two meters high. But when they stood back on their feet, both were laughing and tapping each other as a friendly sign of no hard feelings. Then they headed to the bamboo shower at the corner of the arena to clean themselves up. It was so fun to watch!
“I used to be a Taekwondo athlete for years, collecting medals from competitions, but then I thought, ‘Why am I doing this for Taekwondo?’’ explained Witsen when asked about why he founded Mepantigan. Taekwondo is considered as a foreign style, so fueled by curiosity Witsen started to try other martial arts that are originally from Indonesia such as Pencak Silat, Judo and Aikido. After learning all of those martial arts he found that all of them have one element in common – harmony. But when he created Mepantigan, he added the core essence of Bali, like the dancing movements as well as the local wisdom of respecting others, deities and nature.
The Mud Pool
Witsen also incorporates a natural element as the media of this martial art. Before mud, the martial art was done on sand. “We were dressed in loin cloths and soaked in pure coconut oil, then we wrestled on the beach with gamelan music playing. It was unique already, but sand got sticky on our bodies,’ he added. So in 2006 he perfected Mepantigan by using mud.
The mud pool is not just for the sake of fun but also to help the participants connect with nature and to show respect towards Mother Earth, which in Bali is represented by Dewi Sri, the Goddess of rice. Using mud also makes this activity one of a kind. “Both foreigners and locals love this martial art, and plenty of TV programs have come to spread the news. Another highlight is that kids who used to play with gadgets all the time now love playing in the mud, which reconnects them with nature,’ explained Witsen, who also says that the use of mud in this martial art is to represent that rice, the staple food of the Balinese, grows in mud.
“This is the kind of martial art that has an entertaining element. It also helps the participants to be grateful for a well-balanced life, which helps them achieve a positive attitude. This kind of harmony can connect us as human beings with God, other human beings and our surrounding environment,’ he explained, referring how Mepantigan is close to the Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana, a domino effect for a harmonious and balanced life, which is the goal of the Balinese people.
Jalan Pasekan No.1, Pondok
Batu Alam No. 30, Banjar Tubuh, Batubulan