Stick fighting that Indonesian way
20.08.2011 77 °F
When the the traditional "sport" of stick fighting takes control of the market place on Gilli Trawangan every Saturday afternoon the islands locals turn out for what is one of the most excited tings Ive ever seen.......
At first i was quite dubious because i wondered if it was an event that was aimed at the tourists, but how wrong was I !!!!!!!!
From the moment we entered we were greeted by traditional live music, where the air was filled with drums, whistles and flutes. Getting there early paid off as i was able to grab a bench and put it in a prime photography position next to the ropes of the boxing style ring. As the crowd increased, with more locals than tourists, we were told by a guy that it would be wise to move a few feet back as the fighters take it very very seriously and the fights can get quite aggressive. Needless to say as a big boxing and contact sport fan, i was quite excited already ! This guy became our well of knowledge as he kept us informed of what was going on and the rules and traditions of the sport (such as in most places you cant even marry unless you have won a stick fight).
As the rules were made up and agreed on (something that happens at each meeting) someone from each team makes himself known to want to fight and the other team finds someone that is of equal size and ability, making the fight fair and more entertaining. As the fighters are picked they prepare themselves in the traditional dress of a sarong and head band. Music continues to fill the air with whistles and repetitive drum beats providing an almost hypnotic sound bringing the fighters into a trance. As the ref blows his whistle the 2 fighters, armed with their fighting stick and shield, stalk each other around the ring, provoking each other into the first move with leg movements that resemble dance moves and almost cheeky gestures . Soon enough one man steps forward, raises his stick and goes for the kill.
A sickening whack echoes around us as the stick rebounds off the opponants raised shield. With a swift sideward motion a blow is returned only to meet a thud from a defensive block. Shields come together as the fighters look to use their strength and fight in close, but then a fighter sidesteps and produces a move that looks to be straight from a text book by dummying a high blow to the head but then whips the 1m long stick right accross his opponants rib cage and back. The blow couldnt be heard over all the chearing but watching the wounded fighter draw away to his corner, we could all feel it.......
The rules were simple, strike your opponent anywhere to score a point. Each fighter can pull out anytime they wish. First to 3 points.
Typically when a point is scored each fighter will rest while the crowd (if they deem the fight to be good or entertaining) throw money into the ring. This is then split between the 2 fighters
Each fight was more entertaining than the last. Strikes were landed, cuts were made on each of the fighters legs, arms, torsos and emotions sometimes boiled over past the refs whistle. But there was one fight that stood out over the rest......
We were told that some people get so excited and hyped up that they want to get in the ring and fight even though they are not scheduled to do so ! One guy that just so happend to get to this point was suprisingly the much older looking ref ! So all geared up with a younger but same sized opponent found the the fight started albeit a predictably little slower than the rest of them. But just as the crowd gets louder we find out that the ref is somewhat of a legend in the sport and highly respected...... and then it all kicks off !
Sticks were a blur as they whipped through the air and cracks echoed off the shields, then, quick as a flash, the first point was won........by the ref ! The crowed erupted and money rained into the ring. The crowd loved it and as the ref came from my side of the ring so did I !!! The next few points were are heated contest to say the least as the younger lad had a point to prove against the older, quicker and more cunning ref. That was until the final strike was landed, a good strike to the torso that could be felt by each and every one of the fighters and spectators. Covered in sweat, the ref raised his stick in jubilation and proved why he is so widely respected !
My first Indonesian stick fight was pure electric, hugely entertaining and defiantly one of my highlights of not only Gilli Trawangan but Indonesia so far! Im not ashamed to admit though its made it onto a list of sports that id rather watch than take part in !