Getting more than a kick out of silat

Getting more than a kick out of silat
Ms Haziqah Haron, a silat exponent, executing a flying kick, more often seen when pesilats engage in choreographed fights.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

She might not look like the part, but Ms Haziqah Haron is into martial arts - specifically, the 22-year-old is a silat exponent who has taken part in numerous competitions.

It all started when she was 17 and in the first year of polytechnic. A silat senior encouraged her to try it out for a few weeks. After a few training sessions, her interest grew.

"The cultural aspect would be the main difference between silat and other martial arts. Silat allows me to learn not only about self-defence, but also about my culture," said Ms Haziqah, a food and human nutrition student at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

Practising silat also keeps her fit.

The training sessions - conducted two or three times a week, for up to three hours - are designed to maximise the practitioner's endurance, strength, agility and speed.

These factors are crucial, especially when one is facing off against an opponent.

Ms Haziqah usually competes once a year. Last year, she won two bronze medals at the National Pencak Silat Championship.

When a competition draws near, the number of training sessions increases to five or six times a week.

On days when there are no training sessions, she jogs and carries on with her own physical training to maintain or improve her stamina and fitness.

She does all this because silat is a demanding sport.

Besides kicking and punching, key moves include take-downs, which employ techniques such as scissor sweeps.

A pesilat (a person who practises silat) is expected to remain graceful even while trying to deliver punches to his opponent. Bunga-bunga - hand movements made by the pesilat while he is some distance away from his opponent - serve two purposes.

"Bunga-bunga can make our movements look more graceful - a reflection of the Malay culture, where grace is highly valued," said Ms Haziqah.

The moves might also be used to veil the pesilat's true intent, which could be to throw a punch, she said.

Meanwhile, pasang kuda-kuda, or stances, allow the pesilat to attack and defend effectively.

"From a particular pose or position, we can launch punches and kicks or execute blocks. Kuda-kuda also lower our centre of gravity, so we are more stable and less likely to fall," said Ms Haziqah, adding that such moves make silat different from other martial arts.

They are not easy to learn.

For Ms Haziqah, learning the scissor kick to take down an opponent was the most difficult part.

Bruises are common in silat as it is a contact sport. When Ms Haziqah first started practising silat, she sprained her elbow, she said.

There are two categories in silat - tanding (match) and seni (artistic). You can specialise in one, or both, as Ms Haziqah does.

Although silat is unique, it is also similar to other sports in that it teaches us discipline, perseverance and courage, she said.

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