JAKARTA (JP): Japan is widely known for its traditional martial arts which includes karate, judo, aikido and jiu jitsu. So the presence of Japanese fighters at the 2000 Pencak Silat World Championships surprised many people.
It was even more surprising when Japanese Mamiko Hirota reached the semifinals of the women's B (50kgs-55kgs) class and secured the bronze medal, its sole medal at the event.
How did pencak silat gain popularity in Japan? It was the hard work of three Indonesian coaches sent by the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association (IPSI) to Japan to promote the sport.
"I introduced pencak silat to Japan in 1996 with Yuli Purwanto and Jaja. Currently there are 15 active members and about 50 graduates," Susilo, who is the Japanese team's pencak silat coach, told The Jakarta Post at the sidelines of the championships at the Pencak Silat Center in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah on Sunday.
"We launched several campaigns to introduce pencak silat to the Japanese public, including holding demonstrations in universities and a TV interview with our ambassador."
Susilo -- who had earlier introduced the sport in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam -- established pencak silat schools at Tokyo's Washington University and the Tokodai Institute of Technology.
He urged the International Pencak Silat Federation (Persilat) to hold more official events to develop the sport in Japan.
"Persilat should approach Japan's National Sport Council to establish a national pencak silat team. To support them, Persilat can send more coaches to train the team," he said.
"So far, Persilat has yet to officially call the Japanese council to set up a national team. But I'm sure they have heard of us."
Susilo said it was important to approach prospective countries as pencak silat had been recognized as an Asian sport and had the chance to be staged in the quadrennial Asian Games.
Japan sent four fighters to the championships. They were Naohiro Shimade in the men's D (60kgs-65kgs) class, Akiko Asami in the women's A (45kgs-50kgs) class, Mamiko Hirota in the women's B (50kgs-55kgs) class and Kyoko Soda in the women's martial arts single.
Hirota, who clinched a bronze, failed to overcome the eventual champion Nguyen Ngoc Anh of Vietnam in the semifinals.
In her quarterfinals, Hirota outclassed Anita Musadi of Singapore with her throwing technics, a clear influence of Japan's own judo.
"Actually, Mamiko was a judoka before she learnt pencak silat about one and a half years ago. Despite having good throwing skills, she still has to improve her punching and kicking skills," said Susilo.
"But her judo experience is very useful as she is mentally tough. She had no difficulties in the championships."
Susilo said Japan failed to send more fighters as they could not take leave from work.
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