Jemparingan is a kind of meditation-archery that is said to date back to the Mataram Sultanate in the 1600’s. With the dissolution of the Mataram Sultanate and the creation of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in the 1750’s, jemparingan became the domain of royal soldiers known as Prajurit Kraton, as well as the nobility. Starting in the 1960’s, jemparingan went public, and can now be practiced by anyone.
Right on the edge of Alun-Alun Kidul, a royal plaza famous for its twin banyan trees, is the village of Langenastran. Historically, Langenastran was a housing district for the Prajurit Kraton, and consequently had a great deal of jemparingan activity. Nowadays, it is a typical village with a typical demographic. However, there remains a sanggar jemparingan, known as Langenastro. I had the opportunity to visit Langenastro, learn about jemparingan from the veterans, and try it for myself.
Jemparingan is considered a separate discipline from the Javanese archery used for battle, or modern sport archery. The differences are both physical and philosophical. Physically, jemparingan is performed seated. The practitioner sits cross-legged, facing perpendicular to the target. This means the bow arm is held straight out to the side. The head is turned left to sight the arrow, and the bow string is released from the right cheek. The jemparing or bow is angled at a diagonal; it is too tall to hold vertical while seated.
The target, known as bandul, is a rather small white and red rubber stick, suspended by ropes at neck height. The lower white section of the bandul is called awak or body, and the small red section at the top is called sirah or head. This gives the impression that the bandul is a miniature human body, that is to be shot and killed. However, the philosophy of jemparingan says something quite different. As the director of Langenastro explained, the bandul is the archer’s own reflection. To hit the bandul is to kill one’s ego. The arena, the bow, the arrow, the bandul, are a physical manifestation of one’s internal ego struggle. In fact, in the old style, the jemparing was held parallel to the ground, and the bow string released from the heart. The Javanese word for archery, manah, is also the word for heart. Practitioners would often shoot with the eyes closed, or at night. The idea being, success in the battle against one’s ego requires heartfelt intention and will.
Equipment: The jemparing has a thick handle, carved from a single piece of hardwood. Each of the arms is a single piece of bamboo. Standing on-end, the jemparing should be as tall or slightly shorter than its user. They cannot be disassembled or folded, so carrying one around town is not particularly convenient. The arrows are also made from bamboo, with a 3-feather tail and a bullet nose. They should be slightly longer than the user’s extended arm. The jemparing is not an especially powerful bow, but then again it is not intended for use as a weapon. The bandul is set 30m away; it takes a clean and accurate technique to traverse the distance.
Practice: Although jemparingan is a spiritual exercise, it is also competitive. The standard format of a competitive meet is to shoot 20 sets, with 4 arrow per set. The white part of the bandul earns 1 point, while the small red part earns 3. After 20 sets, each participant’s points are totaled, and a winner is declared.
Personal observations: The posture of jemparingan is perfect for snapping the bow string right into the underside of the forearm. If it is correct, it is a near-miss. It requires a tricky rotation of the arm from the shoulder, while maintaining the hand’s position. There is also a natural tendency to lean back or twist when drawing the bow. The form, when practiced, is relaxed and elegant.
Jl. Langenastran Kidul
Gg. R. J. Noorhadi 18B
Kec. Kraton Yogyakarta
Telp. 0274 380 304
Open practice: most days 4pm-6pm, sometimes 8am-10am, but not if there is rain.