With powerhouses Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia fielding full squads for the 5thSouth-east Asian Pencak Silat Championships, local silat exponents are aware that the tournament, held at the Toa Payoh Sports Hall today and tomorrow, will be a South-east Asia (SEA) Games dress rehearsal.
The SEA Games will be held in Singapore from June 5 to 16.
For reigning men's Class F (70kg-75kg) SEA Games champion Alfian Juma'en, the time for competing for experience is long past.
"Opportunities to compete among the best don't come easily," said the 18-year-old, who will be competing in his pet category this weekend. "Of course I'm going to aim for gold."
Alfian, who was awarded the inaugural Sports Excellence scholarship in 2013 together with teammates Iqbal Abdul Rahman and Shakir Juanda, added: "Since it's a pre-SEA Games event, we must be prepared to win, and we will have to challenge the best if we want to win."
The trio are expected to deliver good results at the meet, but they are handling the pressure well.
"I don't feel any stress," said Iqbal, who clinched the silver medal in the men's artistic singles category during the 16th World Pencak Silat Championships in January.
"It's a competition that will give me a chance to perform my best before the SEA Games, so there's no stress."
Echoing his sentiments, Alfian added: "Of course there's pressure, but we'll take it as motivation and make sure we train hard so that we become faster and stronger."
Singapore Silat Federation (Persisi) chief Sheik Alau'ddin reckons the Singapore team have two hurdles to overcome - poor mental strength and lack of experience.
Citing the Vietnamese contingent as the biggest threat, the two-time SEA Games gold medallist told The New Paper: "Vietnam are strong, and our athletes get intimidated and anxious when facing them.
"But I've told them that it's up to them to push themselves and keep going until the final gong sounds."
While Sheik is concerned about how his charges will face the threat posed by their formidable South-east Asian rivals, his son, Ferdous, remains undaunted.
The 19-year-old, who was defeated by Vietnam's Hoang Vu in the preliminary round of this year's World Championships, admits he "used to be scared" of stronger opponents.
"But there's no more mental block, because I've had my 'first try' against him and I've been working on my weaknesses," said Ferdous, who will be competing in the men's artistic doubles and Class E (65kg-70kg) categories this weekend.
"I've also asked my teammates to simulate my opponent's moves against me, so that I get better practice."
Alfian, who also fell to another Vietnamese - Tran Dinh Nam - in the quarter-finals of the World Championship, is itching for another showdown.
He said: "I took too long to adapt to the match back then, but now I feel more prepared mentally.
"I want to get the win back."
This article was first published on Apr4, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.