Pencak Silat is a compound word. Pencak and Silat have the same meanings and are parts of the culture of Malay ethnic group people, that is, the ethnic group who are the native inhabitants in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.

The word Pencak is commonly used by the people in Java, Madura and Bali whereas the word Silat is commonly used by the people who live in the other regions of Indonesia as well as in the other Malay regions. The combination of the words Pencak and Silat into a compound word was made for the first time when an organization of the unity of Pencak perguruans and Silat perguruans in Indonesia was founded in Surakarta in 1948, which was called Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association), abbreviated as IPSI.  Since then, Pencak Silat has become the official term in Indonesia.  This term is also used by the perguruans in many different countries which teach Pencak and Silat derived from Indonesia.

In the international communities Pencak Silat has become the official term since the international federation organization was founded in Jakarta in 1980, which was called Persekutuan Pencak Silat Antarbangsa (the International Pencak Silat Federation), acronymed as PERSILAT. Nevertheless, people use the words Pencak and Silat separately as a single word due to the dialectic habit.

Nowadays there are approximately 820 perguruan or schools of Pencak Silat in Indonesia. Perguruan is a place where people get Pencak Silat education and training from the guru (teacher). Most of the perguruan were established and led by a person who understood deeply the value of Pencak Silat and whose attitude, behaviour and deeds were in accordance with that value. In Indonesia, there are 10 perguruan which had a historical role in the establishment and development of IPSI.
Those ten historical perguruan are:

1. Tapak Suci
2. Perisai Diri
3. Perisai Putih
4. PERPI (Persatuan Pencak Indonesia) Harimurti.
5. Phasadja Mataram
6. Persaudaraan Setia Hati
7. Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate
8. PPSI (Persatuan Pencak Seluruh Indonesia)
9. Nusantara
10. Putra Betawi.

Those around 820 perguruan teach various aliran of Pencak Silat. aliran or style of Pencak Silat is a unique practise of jurus which can be differentiated from the other ones. The literally meaning of aliran is stream of river coming from one source.