Learning Silat ‘At the age of twelve I started to practice several Pencak Silat styles in the surroundings of Soerabaja and Djember like P.S Matjanan, P.S Monjet, P.S Dero Semo (Wonokromo) and the Pukulan-styles of Djakarta and Bogor, like Tjimandi and Serak, which I was teached in by my father. An old friend of mine taught me Kuntao’
The sounds of drums ‘We trained in small attics or outside in the neighbourhood. I still remember those Saturday nights. It was warm, clammy, you could hear the drums role from far. The only thing you had to do is follow the sound of it and you end up at a training. I trained about three times a week. In the weekend I asked other teachers to educate me, which wasn’t easy because of the closed character of Pencak Silat. Each style was different and kept secret carefully. I was unsatisfiable, wanted to study more and more styles, meet guru’s and gather information about the art of Pencak Silat. At a sudden moment, I just couldn’t stop.’
Holland In 1958 bapak de Thomis, his wife and kids moved to Holland. De Thomis chose to offer them a future in Europe. After spending two weeks in a guesthouse in Amsterdam, the Thomis family ended up in a guesthouse in Hoogeveen. Henri started to work as a ‘mechanic’ at the local transport company in Groningen (GVB), after fours years he became a prison warder and afterwards an employee of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Police Department in which he also acted as an advisor for the Dutch and Danish policeforce and as an interpreter for a Dutch court.
Bongkot is born Henri de Thomis didn’t started teaching silat immediately. ‘I started to practise judo and jiu jitsu. And met mr. Bregonje and his karate style which shows quiet a few similar techniques to silat. I succeeded in obtaining the 1st dan (masterdegree) in Kyokushinkai Karate in the school of mr. Bluming. After that I started teaching silat.’
Bongkot in the basement De Thomis started to give silat lessons to his sons Huub, Louis, Eugene and Raoul in their home’s basement. The boys brought some friends and soon the room became too small. De Thomis started teaching silat in karateschool Bregonje. ‘10 students became 20, 20 grew to 40 and so on.’ Eight Bongkot schools were raised in the following years. From Dutch schools in Assen, Hoogezand, Meppel, Dokkum, Leeuwarden and Marum to European extensions in Schoten-Belgium, Hamburg-Germany and Vienna-Austria. De Thomis also became chairman of the technical commission of Europe’s Pencak Silat Association (BPSI).
Bongkot Combinatie Having experience with karate championships, de Thomis decided to enter the ring with his Pencak Silat team. ‘I needed more real combat experience for my students, besides the cultural and traditional forms we already were training.’ Success was on his way. The ‘Bongkot Combinatie’ gained much respect in hard fights against the established class of the Dutch martial arts world.
Ruthless De Thomis brothers and their team booked success after success. Son Raoul made furore as a ruthless karateka and even earned his place in the Dutch national selection of ’74-’75. Sometimes De Thomis barely dared to see his son fighting. ‘So hard, it hurts you eyes.’ Especially his sons couldn’t bear the often depriciatory way other people talked about silat. They wanted to show the world that silat was more than ‘elegant dancing’. ‘Originally, Pencak Silat isn’t meant to be used as a sport.’ But to give the youth an opportunity to release their eager to practise their skills, de Thomis gave them access to martial arts championships. 'I prefer them proving their skills on the field instead of somewhere else.’
International approval De Thomis’ silat style was acknowledged as an own style by the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association. Representatives of the Indonesian Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia visited the school, followed its lessons, checked the documentary and studied its graduation system. ‘They valuated this aliran (style) as an attractive European one. ‘Bapak Djunaidi called it the Bongkot of Pencak which i had bundled; Bongkot meaning ‘the roots, the stem’; the skills of combat.’ De Thomis was entitled Kepala Guru Pelatih by the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association (IPSI).