- Tung Shou Pin
All you need to know: NUS Silat
Not sure which clubs to join in the upcoming semester? In this series, we put together comprehensive masterposts for all you need to know about NUS's martial arts clubs. Stay tuned for more!
Hey NUS! Welcome to the fourth martial arts CCA in this series: NUS SILAT!
Remember, here’s what we have lined up: an introduction to the martial art; the training menu of the day; interviews with club members; and a short Q&A.
We hope this article can help you decide if silat is your cup of tea.
Generally, silat refers to the martial art indigenous to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. Opinions vary, and some argue that Indonesian silat differs from silat from SEA mainland (i.e. Malaysia, Singapore, southern Vietnam and Thailand): mainland silat supposedly has a lower stance and a different hand position. In any case, the difference is probably academic since lots of people use silat as a general term to mean fighting style (e.g. kung fu referring to many fighting styles).
The legendary origins of silat usually involve women who either observed animals fighting (sometimes a monkey fighting a tiger, or a tiger fighting a hawk) or using martial arts against an abusive husband or gang of thugs, so its exact origins are shrouded in myth. It is somewhat accepted that it arose from a cross-mixing of techniques from India (where all martial arts come from), China and Japan (by way of traders and piracy) and local fighting techniques.
Today, silat is widely practised as a martial art and is an important cultural treasure for the entire region. If I had to pick one aspect that stands out, I would say that silat’s special feature is its speed. After all, one theory as to the origin of the name “silat” comes from “sekilat” meaning “lightning fast” in Malay, which I feel is an accurate descriptor for the kicks and throws of silat practitioners. Generally training consists of both sparring and performances.
The club trainings are on Tuesdays and Thursdays (at MPSH 2) from 6.30pm to 9pm.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, MPSH 2 was being used for exams so training was moved to the area outside MPSH 6. The lighting was poor so the photo quality suffered. Sorry about that!
After a short warm-up (basic stretching), we did physical training at the track.
We slow jogged for a few rounds before adding “caterpillar” (the pair at the back sprints to the front, over and over) for about 20 minutes before stopping.
After that, we did agility drills. Although I had some trouble with those that I hadn’t tried before, everybody was really encouraging and I didn’t feel out of place because a lot of members were new to the drills as well. The seniors hopping through the drills like they were weightless was really cool. I might even try these on my own to get a little closer to that level!
For today’s training, we went over the basic fighting stance, some techniques techniques (3 kicks) then footwork.
First, the instructor made everyone get used to moving around while in the stance. It might be a bit tough for beginners because it’s lower than a normal fighting stance and you have to hold it for a while. It’s a good leg workout!
Next, the seniors demonstrated how to perform 3 kicks before letting everybody drill it.
We repeated the kicks several dozen times while the seniors walked around to instruct us. I was quite impressed that most of the class could throw the kicks competently because I’ve seen people in other martial arts who can’t throw a proper roundhouse kick even after a year.
After that, we did the kicks while moving. This was a bit challenging because you can’t just kick and walk - you have to maintain your low stance throughout the movement!
The last part of training was footwork practice. Since silat tournaments only allow attacks to the body, it’s not that hard to block. Therefore, apart from good technique, attacks must also be sudden and unpredictable, which requires cunning footwork. Thus, the instructor showed us 3 types of movements to advance, retreat and switch stances quickly.
I didn’t get to see any performance training or sparring training because it’s off-season for them, but the club has kindly provided some footage for me to use!
Sparring training seems similar to other contact sports like kickboxing or karate or MMA, perhaps with a greater focus on rule-specific techniques. It’s a mix of reaction drills and repetitive combination drilling to build muscle memory. The technique featured can be used against an aggressive opponent rushing you. You use your hands to guard, then a front kick to knock the wind out of him before launching 2 side kicks to really hurt him!
As you can see, performance training still has to be quite rigorous to get them up to the standard needed to perform in front of a crowd.
Q & A
1) What’s the timing like?
Trainings are on Mondays and Thursdays, from 6.30 to 9 o’clock.
2) Is there a steep learning curve?
I don’t think so. Silat techniques are more conventional (i.e. punch, kick, some takedowns) so they’re easier than throwing moves like judo or aikido. However, becoming comfortable with kicks might take longer since you might have to become more flexible or stable.
At any rate, you don’t have to worry about slowing down the class or looking like an idiot because the whole club starts over from basic techniques after every season and most new members are newcomers so everyone learns together.
3) How much money am I going to spend on it?
There is a membership fee for each semester, and you must purchase the uniform. Additionally, wearing spectacles is frowned upon for safety reasons so you might need to buy contact lenses if you can’t see without your glasses.
4) Is silat very tough?
The training I attended was a bit more strenuous than some of the other clubs I visited, but it was not too tough. Lots of the members did not have much training experience and some didn’t play much sports before joining silat. However, they could still keep up with the training.
This time, we did jogging, a bit of sprints and some agility drills and had plenty of rest time, so it was quite manageable. However, I’ve heard that other sessions involved lots of static exercises that were more muscle-intensive like push-ups, sit-ups, etc.
On the whole, I wouldn’t be too worried since you would progressively get better at it if you train regularly.
5) How much of my training is conditioning? How much time do I actually get to “play”?
Based off this one session I attended, we spent about 45 minutes doing some running and agility drills. From what I’ve heard, you might spend more or less time during other sessions, but generally the focus on physical training tapers off as the whole club gets fitter together and can devote training time to actual silat.
However, even at the start, the bulk of training time was spent on learning techniques (the basic moves), so it’s not like you’ll have to wait for a long time and endure boring training before you get to do anything fun. Anyway, even PT can be fun if you’ve got good company, as I learnt this time.
6) Is silat useful for self-defence?
In my opinion, silat is quite a powerful style. For one, silat looks really scary in movies like The Raid and action stars like Iko Uwais look so fierce for a reason.
When I spar with my friends with silat background, I usually have trouble because their techniques are so fast and go directly to my midsection. I think this is because the level of competition for silat is quite high since the athletes are particularly fit, so silat training has similarly evolved to become more strenuous (e.g. more strength training or sports-specific training like the agility drills) so athletes are even better. Furthermore, since you can only score by hitting the body area, there are only a few ways to do so. Therefore, athletes would train those techniques so much that they become especially lethal compared to someone who has trained more techniques less intensely.
If you train hard in these techniques, it’s enough to make you a decent fighter.
7) Is silat safe?
Yes. Obviously, the club takes all the basic safety measures like using thick mats and warming up and making you bring your water bottle with you so stupid accidents don’t happen.
But more importantly, I think the club training together in phases (instead of splitting training into seniors and juniors) helps a lot. First, there’s no pressure for newcomers to catch up faster. Second, ALL the seniors would be involved in training the newcomers and keeping them safe. Third, seniors get to enjoy an off-season to build back up so there’s less risk of overtraining.
Besides, the rules for silat are quite safe. While kicks and punches are full-power, you can’t target the head, groin or lower abdomen and you get to wear a body protector so you’ll be fine even if you do get hit. The fact that you have to stay in a specific stance and limiting the target area means that competitors have to focus on being fast and accurate, so they’re less likely to swing a wild attack like you might see in a full-contact sport with less rules (where brute force might be rewarded). This way, there’s less chance of you clashing limbs with your opponents or getting hit with an inadvertent foul.
8) Are my silat days going to be over once I graduate?
Nope! To my knowledge, besides the national body (Singapore Silat Federations) which organises tournaments, there are also other groups for you to continue your silat journey like Grasio Sport Silat School. Some of my working-adult friends still practise silat with various clubs, some even keeping up with training enough to stay in competition.
9) Can I take part in tournaments? Will I be able to get any fortune and glory even if I’m a newbie?
Yes! In fact, something really cool about NUS Silat is that they perform really well at the Tertiary Silat Championship even though almost all the members are newcomers. That goes to show that the training culture is pretty good since newcomers can build up their skills and physical prowess to go against more experienced opponents.
In terms of competitions, there are both “fighting” type tournaments (Tanding) and “performance” type tournaments (Tunggal, Ganda, Regu), so there’s still something for you whether you like fighting or not.
10) What’s the social life of the club like?
NUS Silat was definitely one of the higher-energy clubs I visited. In my book, if everybody is smiling during training, that’s a good sign! Everybody was encouraging each other during the agility drills (particularly when I was making mistakes) and I think the senior-junior relationship is quite strong because they’re really involved in the training process.
I should probably clarify that NUS Silat isn't a Malay-only club - there are a few non-Malays and everybody's in it to train hard and have a good time!
with Syasya, and Rasdyan (not pictured)
How long have you been doing silat?
Syasya: I started in year 1 sem 1. I joined silat because I wanted to try something different. I was in dance and cross country, and silat itself provided different opportunities and challenges, as well as a different skill set, unlike the other 2.
Rasdyan: I just joined silat a few months ago, after I found out about NUS silat upon entering uni. I decided to pick it up because I've always had an interest in the sport of martial arts. I did a different style of martial arts before this, but only for a short period of time. So I figured, maybe it was about time that I expose myself and learn something new.
Syasya: I stuck with it because it was a good way for me to build a habit of exercising within myself. I also foresee myself wanting to compete every year until I graduate. On top of that, the most important reason would be the people that I meet here. They are truly nice people and they are very helpful and welcoming.
What do you like about NUS silat?
Syasya: I like the training culture in NUS Silat. It’s a good mix of discipline and fun. As many of us are first-timers, the seniors are very encouraging, welcoming and helpful when we first start out. Our coach who used to train the national team trains us just like how he used to train his national athletes, thus we get quality and intensive training as well. External clubs tend to have people who have been training for a very long time. They are very big and a bit intimidating. NUS Silat is good for beginners who want to take silat seriously.
Rasdyan: One thing I like about NUS silat is the fact that they accept people regardless of their martial arts background. I notice that some people have doubts about trying out martial arts because they are worried that they don't have the necessary experience or skill set. However, here in NUS silat, most of us don't have prior experience in silat or other forms of martial arts. So there's nothing to worry about, as most of us start on an equal footing.
Besides that, the learning pace in NUS silat is neither too fast nor too slow. As for the
fundamentals, the seniors will spend about half of the training session to teach us the basic techniques step by step. And all the seniors are very friendly and approachable, so if there's something that we're unsure of, we can just approach one of them for help.
Would you recommend silat to an incoming freshman / other student?
Syasya: Yup! We get the feeling of being in a family and overcoming new fears through the means of a combat sport. I think silat would be good for those who are truly looking for a challenge and a welcoming environment to do so. Those who are looking to train seriously and have fun at the same time.
Rasdyan: Definitely. Of course by joining silat, you'll get to learn something new. Personally, I enjoy learning the silat techniques that were taught to us, especially the sweeping technique (sapuan). But there's more to NUS silat than just kicking paddings and sparring one another. What matters most is the team spirit within the NUS silat family itself.
Syasya: Even for those who are afraid of combat sport, we have the artistic side of silat where we perform sets and don’t require people to engage in combat. However, silat isn’t for those who do not like physical activity or getting tired, as well as people who are looking for a recreational CCA.
Do I have to be strong to do silat? Is it dangerous because I’ll have to do sparring?
Syasya: Every combat sport in dangerous in its own way. Our training is structured in a way that ensures that one’s foundations like stamina and strength are good before they are being taught more difficult skills. You don’t need to be strong, but you need to have the will to learn and to not give up. The journey will not be easy, but it will be extremely worthwhile.
Rasdyan: And just to clear the misconception and stereotype, silat is not just for the Malay community. Everyone is welcomed to join, regardless of race.
Syasya: Yup, we welcome all! We have had exchange students who fought for friendlies with NTU and joined our training throughout the entire sem. Last sem, as a team we sent off our pesilat Yuto back to Japan. Willem, an exchange student from Europe who joined us in AY18/19 Sem 1, recently came back for training as he was visiting his parents in Singapore for a bit. I think people might be intimidated by the majority malay ratio – given that this is a sport that originated from the Malay archipelago, but we truly welcome all and really try our best to make you feel at ease and at home.
What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Silat or is thinking about joining?
Rasdyan: I don't think I should be the one giving advice, since I am still a 'newbie' in silat. But, I guess to those who are considering to join silat, just come for one of our training sessions and try it out for yourself :)
Syasya: Don’t be too hard on yourself, and always start training with the mindset to learn something new every time. Everyone learns at different paces and has different strengths and weaknesses. Embrace yours and use them to your advantage. Also, it would also be good to strengthen your quads, hamstrings and glutes. There is a lot of leg action in silat so its best to strengthen these muscle groups.
Today’s training with NUS Silat really felt like combat “sports” training, especially since a lot of the members are quite athletic. The quickness drills improve your agility and make your techniques sharper and more powerful; and if what I hear is true, any athlete in the club is definitely going to be pretty tough after going through all the conditioning training. If you want to get stronger, give NUS Silat a try!
See you all next time for a look into NUS Taekwondo!
(To editor: I’m trying to copy something I saw them do!)