Silat boss Sheik wielding sword for thang ta

SINGAPORE - Silat master Sheik Alauddin has a new fight on his hands - to get another martial art, thang ta, approved as a South-east Asia Games sport by 2019.

While it may seem surprising that the 45-year-old would want to promote a rival to his own code, the former world silat champion (1990, 1994) said: "I thought, why not?

"Apart from silat, which is popular in South-east Asia, I thought of accepting a new challenge to promote thang ta, which is totally new to this region."

The martial art, which is from Manipur in India, dates back to the 17th century.

Sheik, who is also chief executive of the Singapore Silat Federation, had his interest piqued a year ago when the World Thang Ta Federation contacted him via e-mail.

"There are 3,000 fighters spread over 70 silat centres around Singapore," he said.

"As both martial arts rely on a lot of kicking, there is a pool of talented fighters to begin with.

"Thang ta will be another outlet for them to express their love for martial arts."

In thang ta, rivals square off with weapons like swords and spears or use their bare hands over two three-minute rounds.

There is also an artistic event where competitors dance with a sword and are judged on rhythm, steps, hand gestures and body movements.

Protection is provided by a head guard, chest guard and, in some categories, a leather shield.

In April, Sheik led seven silat exponents and three officials to Manipur, where the 2nd Asian Thang Ta Championships were held. The officials wanted to learn about refereeing the sport.

The Singaporean fighters - after a one-day crash course - were put to the test in a circle-shaped arena. And they did well enough to earn two golds when Amsyar Hanif (below 75kg) and Sheik's son Ferdous (below 70kg) won their respective weight classes.

At 21, Amsyar was the oldest in the group. Used to relying only on his bare hands and getting up close to trap his opponents since the age of 14, he had to get over the culture shock of facing someone with a sword.

He recalled: "Fighting with weapons is new but I can kick well due to my silat background.

"There was some fear initially as the opponent came at me with the sword but I psyched myself up to take him head-on. I've signed up for this and I don't want to chicken out."

Boosted by the success of their Manipur adventure, Sheik went on to register the Singapore Thang Ta Federation with the Registry of Societies (ROS) on April 17 as a national sports association.

He is now waiting for a reply from ROS.

Currently, he is training a pioneer batch of enthusiasts on Sundays from 12.30pm to 6.30pm at Jalan Besar Community Club.

Given that the martial art was a demonstration sport at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Sheik is optimistic that SEA Games arenas will reverberate with the sound of clashing swords and shields one day.

"Myanmar and Malaysia already have teams," he noted.

"The South-east Asian Federation was also set up in April. Thang ta might not make it in time to be a competitive sport in the 2015 SEA Games but 2019 is a realistic target."

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