Friday, August 04, 2006

Preserving tradition


When 26-year-old Mohamad Nizam Mohamed Shapie was 11, his schoolmates and friends scrambled to sign up for taekwando or karate classes, both popular martial arts in Malaysia in the early 90s.

“But I wanted to try something different, like silat,” said Nizam.

An Asian martial art with roots in the Malay culture, silat’s history stretches back centuries in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is also widely practised in Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines.

There are many types and different schools of silat, but the four most popular and well-known silat schools in Malaysia are Silat Gayung Fatani, Silat Lincah, Silat Cekak Malaysia and Silat Gayung Malaysia.

“While cekak emphasises self-defence, gayung Malaysia and lincah on combat, gayung fatani focuses on defence and attack,” explained Nizam who follows the Gayung Fatani practice. During his secondary school years, Nizam stayed in a boarding school in Kajang. By luck, his dorm was just across from silat grandmaster Anuar Abdul Wahab’s house.

“On weekends, when my friends hung out in the city, I preferred to drop by Haji Anuar’s house to learn silat,” said Nizam.

Under the grandmaster’s tutelage, his passion for silat deepened and he started participating in national-level silat competitions. At the age of 17, he was helping his silat instructor teach younger students.

In 1997 and 2003, Nizam attended the World Silat Championships to observe the competitors. A biennial event, the World Championships sees the best participants from mostly Asia and Europe display their skills.

“I like to analyse and learn how the world-class silat participants compete,” said Nizam who dreams of taking part in the competition in three to four years’ time.

Nizam wants to see silat enjoy the same popularity as other martial arts. In 2002, together with a business partner, the genetic engineering graduate set up a silat centre, called Pusat Cemerlang Silat (PSC) in Kajang. Over the years, he has trained over 300 students, adults as well as kids. He also has students from Austria, France, Italy and other European countries.

“Karate and taekwando are very established here and wushu is also getting popular. But taekwando came from Korea while wushu originates from China,” said Nizam.

“Why isn’t silat as popular even though it’s a Malaysian tradition?”

Looks like this ambitious young man has big dreams for silat. And what better way to go about it than to start with the young.

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