BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (AFP) - Pencat Silat, the popular martial art used more than 400 years ago to ward off colonialism and piracy in the Malay archipelago, is regaining its glamour with keen competition expected in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games here.
The sport originated in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei but has caught on quickly in the rest of the region.
Silat is the generic term used to describe the martial art in most countries, but in Indonesia it is referred to as Pencak Silat, and in the other countries as "seni silat."
Known as a fierce Muslim art of war in the Malay archipelago in the 15th century, silat was used extensively to keep treason and colonialism at bay, experts say.
It is a comprehensive combat art covering all ranges from weapons to ground fighting. Because the art is all encompassing, it has been described as a "jack of all trades", experts say.
It incorporates the power of karate and Thai boxing with the sensitivity of kung fu and the locks and throws of jiu jitsu plus specialist additions not found in many other martial arts, according to the experts.
Brunei is banking on the sport to break its six-year gold drought at this 20th SEA games.
Apart from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Cambodia, the other competing nations in the games are Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
In the last SEA Games in Jakarta in 1997, only 20 gold medals in silat were up for grabs, with Indonesia sweeping 17 amid allegations of biased umpiring from participants, including Singapore and Malaysia.
But Indonesian officials hope such claims will not crop up again here.
Indonesia's assistant team manager Jan A. Pandey considered Brunei a "neutral" avenue for some explosive action without any claims of unfair judging. He had declined to reveal his team's medal target.
"Our silat exponents will give their best," he said.
Malaysian coach Chin Hajeed also said he hoped allegations of unfair judging would be a thing of the past.
"I believe that Brunei will be the best arena for pencat silat, and only the best silat exponents will win," he said. "I hope our silat exponents will win."
But Malaysia could face an uphill battle "because other countries like favourites Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam have strong teams."
In the last games, Malaysia only managed five silver and six bronze medals but are targeting five gold medals in silat here.
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