SINGAPORE: For this upcoming 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, I have set my sights on a gold medal for the silat community and for Singapore.
As a form of martial arts, silat has a long heritage. Dating to before the 13th century and originating from the Malay Archipelago, silat has over 150 styles recognised in Indonesia and is practised across the globe. Every pesilat (silat exponent) walks a different sporting path, and my silat journey has been made smoother with the help of different people along the way.
Yet, as a sport, silat is not as well-known compared to football, swimming or badminton. In fact, pencak silat has yet to be introduced into the Olympic Games. Not many pathways have been set for pesilats to follow. Although silat is a competitive sport within the region, it still lacks attention on the world stage.
EASY TO GET GOLD?
The sport's lower profile may result in some people dismissing it, saying: “Not that hard to get a gold medal in silat, right?” But the sport has many skilled exponents with a fine line separating winners from losers.
Competition is tough. Singapore’s main competitors include Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, with countries like France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands also vying for trophies.
Hearing such remarks from people who say these things can be disheartening to some, but I choose to see them as harmless, cynical expressions. In a way, they are not wrong – athletes, practising silat or otherwise, are not preoccupied with how hard their training is, but how much is necessary to excel in the sport.
So there is some truth in that feeling that it should not be hard to get gold, once you set your mind on it.
Yet, to train three hours, two to three times each day, and for six times each week, does anyone really think this is easy? Juggling between studies and training can be especially difficult, but with discipline, the choice to focus on training and do well in the sport in spite of the challenges is clear.
SUPPORT FROM SINGAPOREANS IMPORTANT TO TEAM SINGAPORE
Beyond discipline, the support of Singaporeans is important to all Team Singapore athletes. And I think doing well in silat will generate more support from Singaporeans.
Perhaps more public exposure to silat and our training will help showcase the hard work behind the glory. People who might feel that getting a gold in silat is easy are welcome to come train with us.
Yet, at the end of the day, I choose not to be affected by those who say it is easy to get a gold in silat. I choose to focus on my own journey. Silat has endured through the ages, and I am proud to be representing Singapore in silat.
Silat will now be an official sport at the 2018 Asian Games, so I am confident that the sport will continue to grow in popularity, and receive the recognition it deserves one day.
WHAT ALSO KEEPS ME FOCUSED IS A GOOD SILAT MENTOR
I count myself lucky to have Mr Sheik Alau’ddin or Uncle Sheikh as I call him, as my coach and mentor. He has been my guiding light who keeps me focused on the destination.
Uncle Sheik himself is an accomplished silat exponent and his achievements were hard won. He holds the most admirable record in Singapore’s history to date, with two World Silat Championship titles and a four-time SEA Games Gold medal record under his belt.
In 1990, he won Singapore’s first silat gold medal at the World Championships in Netherlands after coming up against many highly skilled exponents.
EXPERIENCE THAT WINNING FEELING
I will never forget the moment when I won the gold at the 2015 SEA Games, and they played the Singapore national anthem and raised the Singapore flag at the venue. It was hard not to be emotional. It was a surreal and uplifting experience to achieve what I set out to do.
Immediately after the ceremony, I told myself I want to experience that winning feeling again.
So my next immediate goal is the 2017 SEA Games. If I stay focused in this journey, no matter what people say, I know I stand a good chance of bringing back another medal for my loved ones - and for Singapore.
This is what a gold in silat truly means to me, for it is so much more than bringing home a medal for myself.
Silat exponent Muhammad Nur Alfian Juma'en will be representing Singapore at the SEA Games in August.