30 November 2004

Evening Warrior

Though he may not come across as a health freak, Mohd Nadzrin Wahab’s brief at Whyfit Sport Adventure Sdn Bhd is to market health and fitness based team-building programmes for corporations.

But on certain nights of the week, he sheds his workwear for a dark blue tunic, loose pants and headgear and starts getting physical with a group of undergraduates. Nadzrin is an assistant instructor for Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Ustaz Hanafi Malaysia, a popular form of Melayu martial arts taught in many universities in the country.

He is currently helping out with the training sessions at the International Islamic University Malaysia Matriculation Centre, where he and seven others help instruct the undergraduates in silat techniques. During the twice weekly sessions, Nadzrin works under the supervision of instructor Mohd Azhar Mohd Ali.

“What we do basically, is to teach the syllabus and try to guide them as best as possible, so that they can reach the proper level of proficiency after six months. In universities, we have to stretch the programme longer because of the semester breaks and exams.”

He adds that to teach the technique, the student must experience for themselves the punches, parries and locks as shown by the instructor and his assistants before they try it out on their partners. Each assistant is in charge of about 10 students.

Nadzrin recalls that he developed an interest in silat early in his life. “I’ve been interested since I was a small boy. I naturally gravitated towards silat, even when there was a lot of Jackie Chan movies on TV. Naturally when I was much younger, I was really active. I liked to jump off the stairs, climb trees. I had way too much energy. And I’m also a fan of Spider-man,” he says.

His introduction to martial arts was when he was in primary school. At first, the school held only taekwondo classes. But when Nadzrin was in Standard Three, it offered silat classes as well.“I joined but I didn’t stay long. I wasn’t dedicated back then and the training was too strenuous for me at that point of time,” he explains.

Yet years later, he developed the dedication and discipline needed to learn the art. In 1994, during the long break after his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exams, his interest in the Malay martial arts was rekindled by the introduction of the Rakan Muda programme. “What happened was that I filled up a form for Rakan Wajadiri. We waited months for a reply. One fine day, a letter came from the ministry inviting us to a martial arts demonstration at the field near the old A&W in Petaling Jaya.”

On that day, exponents of 30 different martial arts movements demonstrated their hand-to-hand combat skills en masse on the field. It gave the new Rakan Muda members an opportunity to window shop and to weigh the merits of each form and style before joining up. But only one form caught Nadzrin’s attention.

“I saw this one style of silat, with about 15 people participating in the demo. There was one person at the centre standing erect and he was deflecting the attacks from the rest of the group. One by one his opponents fell. That caught my attention because this martial arts form shows its true capability,” he recalls.

This was his introduction to Persatuan Seni Silat Cekak Ustaz Hanafi Malaysia. Later, when he enrolled in the Matriculation Centre of the International Islamic University Malaysia, Nadzrin witnessed further Silat Cekak Hanafi demonstrations and fell in love with the art.

“The reason I chose Silat Cekak Hanafi was because of its unique characteristics. In this form of silat, minimal movement and minimal use of force can defeat an enemy. You do not use a lot of stamina. Since I’m naturally energetic and prefer high kicks and physical movements, I did not appreciate this until after studying this form of silat for a few months. In silat cekak, the kicks are never executed higher than the navel for safety considerations. And on another level, it shows a high regard for politeness and manners, even with your enemies.”

Silat cekak also stresses defence techniques over offence. “We don’t attack unless we’re attacked first. In fact, in Silat Cekak Hanafi, to go on the offensive is to open yourself to danger because you don’t know your enemy. He might very well be a black belt holder!"

“However, we are taught offensive techniques, but only as a necessity. Overall, you learn 99 per cent defence and just one per cent offence,” he says.

Nadzrin further explains that when you study the empty hand forms, you are already preparing yourself to use weapons in your defence strategy.

“You just need to modify it a little bit, but most of the time, you are taught empty hand techniques because you are assuming the worst case scenario, being attacked and not having any weapon. But you are prepared to face an armed opponent.”

The official weapon of the Silat Cekak Hanafi movement is the parang lading, a form of the traditional Melayu machete used by the warriors of old Kedah.

“In this form of silat, a parang lading is awarded to people who have done some service to the movement. The guru utama or lead instructor will select and award the weapon to deserving members. The uniqueness of this weapon is that it is held in a reverse grip position, meaning that it is a defensive weapon, not an offensive one.”

The Silat Cekak Hanafi philosophy states that you do not retreat, and you do not avoid blows by turning left or right. All attacks are countered with a forward movement.

Through his previous job as a writer and editor at SENI BELADIRI, a magazine dedicated to traditional Malaysian martial arts, he also became acquainted with many masters and instructors, which allowed him to appreciate other forms of silat, apart from what he practises.

“To me, silat is one of the last bastions of Melayu culture. Through silat, traditional Melayu values are transmitted, sometimes without people realising it.“Many of the masters inculcate moral values in their instruction. For example, Silat Cekak Hanafi places great emphasis on truthfulness, keeping promises and respect for parents and teachers.”

Has he ever had to put his silat skills to the test?“Thank God, no and I hope I never will. My personal view is that in any combat situation, there will be only two outcomes — you will either get hurt or your opponents will — I don’t think we should harm another human being. But if push comes to shove...”

Sourced from New Straits Times

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