Putting Silat on the World Map

18 April 2017

With OneSilat, the future of silat appears to be on a solid stage.

Anyone who grew up watching P Ramlee’s Pendekar Bujang Lapok would remember the scenes where the three protagonists learn from Pendekar Mustar, the silat guru. Especially funny was when they were told to meditate quietly and brush off any disturbances as cobaan (a trial or test), which they did so well that they even ignored the kidnapping of the guru’s daughter!

For the uninitiated, silat is a self-defence martial art form believed to have originated in the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos and the Malay Peninsula. There are many varieties and schools (perguruan) of silat, and while the form has been popularly portrayed as having slow, dance-like movements, the martial art form usually emphasises strikes, throws, and weapon usage among others.

Today, one cannot ignore the rising interest among Malaysians in self-defence art forms – silat included – driven mainly by an increase in the number of mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions.

In light of this, silat, once considered an old-fashioned sport targeting a niche crowd, has found a new breath of life through its own pendekar (champion): OneSilat.

Spearheaded by its president, Datuk Megat Zulkarnain Omardin, OneSilat has been presenting silat for a new generation of self-defence enthusiasts. “We can’t deny that silat began in the Malay archipelago and the Nusantara,” he explains. “The abundance of martial art forms coming from abroad has made us think about the need to protect silat’s identity. At the same time, we need to see silat as possessing high commercial value that can attract the interest of the youth.”

Since 2015, silat exponents from across the globe have been coming to Malaysia for the OneSilat World Championship. The most recent edition that took place on 1 April saw ten finalists from six countries battle it out at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Stadium.

But how did the idea behind OneSilat come to be?

“Some friends and I agreed that we needed some kind of value-add in order to bring silat to a more commercial platform, with sound and lighting elements that can attract a wider audience,” shares Datuk Megat. “So even though its presentation is more modern, at the same time the word ‘silat’ is used so that the martial art form can be promoted the world over.”

In terms of education and training, silat has its fair share of challenges and misconceptions (recall the comedic antics in Pendekar Bujang Lapok). A common misconception involves the practice of ancient rituals such as bathing in hot oil (known as mandi minyak, in which silat fighters rub boiling hot oil all over their bodies to build strength and confidence), calling forth spirits, and entering trance-like states before a fight. But this isn’t normally the case in formal silat training today.

While Datuk Megat acknowledges that there are a few bad apples who give silat a less-than-shiny reputation, PESAKA (Malaysian National Silat Federation), the umbrella organisation for silat in Malaysia which is also headed by Datuk Megat, has measures in place to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

“We have 464 perguruan [schools] silat under PESAKA, many of which have existed in this country for decades,” he says. “These schools have played a big role in developing the youth in this country. Even if there are a few [teachers] who do not teach the right things, we have already put in place corrective measures [to deal with them].”

These few bad apples aside, the teaching of silat in this country is headed in a direction that’s set to place the art form on the world stage. Datuk Megat believes that with the “One School, One Silat” programme, all schools in Malaysia will soon have a silat club of their own.

“As silat practitioners and aficionados, we at OneSilat will continue to give our very best so that silat will not only be relevant for all time but also so that it coincides with the tastes of our youth today,” says Datuk Megat. “This is something that we will continue to consider from time to time, without sacrificing the essential identity of silat.”

By Myra Mahyuddin
Video by Teoh Eng Hooi

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