17 March 2006

Silat Kuntau Tekpi: A typical grading day

It is early morning and you wake up groggy, wondering where everyone has gone, suddenly realising you're the only one still under a blanket (which bore pretty much no protection anyway).

Cikgu Sani walks in and announces to everyone that you're awake, casually ordering you to take a bath. And irrespective of what anyone says, village bath water is no less cold in the morning than it is in the middle of the night.

After getting dressed, you notice that you're not the only one being graded today, even though your instructor made it seem that way. (Maybe it's because you're the only one from Kuala Lumpur while everyone else is either from the Port Dickson or Baling branch).

You mingle with the other students, all of whom are warming up and stretching. You, on the other hand have still yet to wake up and are trying to warm up your cold feet. The sudden shrieks and hollers, images of bodies being flung to the ground and the sound of popping joints fill you with fear. Then, you cringe even further when you realise that those kids were just practising!

They huddle together on the uneven cement floor of Pak Guru Zainol Abidin's house porch, which faces cikgu Sani's. Both porches are separated from each other by a small tract of earth, on which is parked cikgu Azhar's and cikgu Izat's cars. On Pak Guru's porch, the students shiver as one by one, they are called behind a tarp curtain surrounding the gelanggang. No one who hasn't sat for the test may enter.

You hear familiar sounds, screaming and popping and cracking and thudding, as if you've made them before, but more intense and frightening. You crack jokes with your newfound friends, making fun of the earlier guy who went in, but they don't go down well with the folks intent on aceing the grading.

Suddenly you realise, not only are you smelling the chickenshit you stepped in earlier, you actually ARE it. Suddenly... well, maybe not suddenly, you of course expected it, but it came as a shock nonetheless, your name is called out from behind the curtain. Nodding honourably to your testmates, you walk towards the curtain, the words wafting from behind you as you pass ... "city boy, gonna get thrashed, this'll be good".

You part the curtain. You try to lift the curtain. You work your way around the heavy tarp only to face your fellow students, their faces either gasping in amazement at your weakness or in horror at the severe beating you're going to receive. Many students have gone before you, and you know that they're grateful to be able to watch you go down. It doesn't help that cikgu Sani is playing the serunai hauntingly, while his youngest daughter plays the gong and his other students man the drums.

The gelanggang is all earth. Not a slab of cement, not a hint of tiles, or even a plank of wood. Those that have gone before you, are sitting in a corner, watching. The senior instructors sit on chairs behind a table with grading checklist sheets. You hope to God you studied everything needed to be studied.

The panel calls your name and you approach the table. They ask you to choose an envelope. Sensing your whole life flash before your eyes, you choose the least threatening one and open it. A slip was inside."Pancang Kerbau" & "Ular Sawa" it said. You nod respectfully and step backwards into position. Cikgu Azhar suddenly gets up. Wasn't he here also for his grading? Yeah, you remember. He's here for his red sash. You're here for your yellow. Since we probably don't want you to get hurt, so, yeah, let's get your own instructor to test you. (A collective "Damn" goes up from the crowd).

You get the signal from the panel and cikgu Azhar winds up. Wait a minute, which buah was th... and your lip splits just as you finish the thought. Wasn't he supposed to be the good cop? After picking themselves up off the floor, the panel allows you to try again. This time, cikgu Azhar let's one rip and you're prepared. Your hands slide effortlessly across his arm and you feel the tension.

You immediately snag backwards, his body now blasting uncontrollably towards you, his elbow bending from the slack. You pivot sharply to your left and bring his wrist up above and behind his head followed by his elbow. His stance now proudly disrupted by your oh-so-clever positioning of the static sweep, you feel him descend to the ground at twice the maximum velocity.

Your pride swells... that is, until you realise that you're going down just as fast. He's grabbed on to you for support! Timber!...Amazing. A perfect lock. And only some wounds to show for it. The next buah came naturally, after a minor dusting off and profuse apology to your instructor. The other guys just purse their lips, their entertainment not as promosing as it was made out to be.

Then, the collated marks are read out, and you made the top 25 (there were 25 testees). Happy but tired, you look forward to the lunch that was to follow the grading. But it was not to be. Now, it was cikgu Azhar's turn to be graded. And guess who has to be his partner?

(The story above contains untruths and polishings. Westerners may believe what they wish. Malaysians can pooh-pooh it and move on).

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

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