13 June 2007

How Much Is Silat Worth?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend once who said that the biggest difference between traditional silat and modern silat is that traditional silat doesn't ask you to pay anything to study it, but modern silat does.

He says that this corrupts the authenticity, the keaslian of silat. However, he concedes that the guru also needs his livelihood and should take a token, but not too much. Problem is, how much is too much?

I know Silat Serimau Hitam in Perak charges RM0.50 a month, Silat Kuntau Tekpi in certain areas charges RM4.00 a month and Silat Melayu Keris Lok 9 charges RM50 a month.
Is there anything wrong with making a living out of silat? Meaning, actually getting good income from teaching. There are many karate and taekwondo masters who have become quite rich just by establishing schools all over the place.

In Malaysia, because the late Datuk Meor started the trend of teaching silat through an organisation, everyone else followed suit. However, in the West, most martial arts styles are taught as part of a private business entity.We've started doing something similar, but I wonder, how many people will actually allow that this will tarnish the authenticity of silat?

Financial Contradiction?

University students gripe over RM10.00 a month for 16 hours of quality training but have no qualms spending RM100 on smokes or phone bills.

It seems as if the accessibility of silat is making them take the arts for granted. "Bila dah jadi kacang putih, mana-mana pun boleh jumpa". Spending RM10 a day is no longer a problem, in fact RM50 a day, on practically nothing.Strangely, there are traditional arts out there who maintain their authenticity, but have started charging an arm and a leg. The effect? More and more students flock to their door, not minding how much they have to pay. Three examples: gurus Jak Othman, Azlan Ghanie and Dahlan Karim.

Guru Jak started the seminar routine on a large scale in Malaysia, mostly because this is how the Westerners prefer to do it, since they have to travel long distances and sacrifice time to learn. The result? They often go home satisfied and they practise what they learnt well, because they had sacrificed so much for it.

Guru Azlan originally gave away his knowledge for free (and in fact, for people who show real enthusiasm, he still does this) but people just came and left almost immediately. Since his time as a publisher and researcher was being taken up by these sporadic training freebies, his income started to suffer, and then he decided to do it more professionally and actually charged more than what a normal Taekwondo class would charge. The result? He has a strong following among many martial artists who have no qualms about paying to know what he knows. (Of course, having his own martial arts magazine helps, too)

Guru Dahlan too originally charged a small sum, but eventually saw the logic of holding out. Now, Setiabakti has become a well known style (thanks in part to his consistent articles in a local magazine) and students from all over Malaysia come for his classes and seminars.Happily, these masters have comparatively less financial stress than many of the other silat masters I've met, who have taken quite readily to joining multi-level marketing schemes, dubious investment 'opportunities' and commission-taking to keep their heads above water.

Ikhlas vs Money
If 'sincerity' (ajar biar ikhlas) is an issue with this, then I personally believe, it's difficult to be sincere in teaching silat when your wife and children are suffering from hunger.

The reality is, the Melayu society is one of contradictions. On the one hand, they will pay through the nose for state of the art medical procedures for their ailments, but won't pay 'traditional' masters their due.

This attitude is based on the Melayu's so-called understanding of 'sincerity' in Islam. They think that by not paying a master for his services, or only a small fee, they are helping him to be 'ikhlas'. The fault, in my opinion, belongs to both master and student/ customer.

There are masters who have attained perfection in their Ikhlas and will accept gifts, money and others for their services, but will not ask for them. These people are no longer attached to the world, receive sustenance by other means and suffer no worry whatsoever.

There are masters who are still trying to perfect their Ikhlas, and most all will say this, even if they're already in the first category. They will never accept payment or money, or sometimes only accept gifts for their family, etc. But most find it either offensive or embarrassing that you even offered it to them.

And then, there are those who pretend to attain Ikhlas (or really believe that they are trying) but the evil in their souls keep jumping out whenever someone gives them less than they expect. "Wah, so little, ah...?" their hearts cry.

Because Melayu culture has long been entwined with Islam, the general concensus is that since Islam is sacred, Melayu culture too is sacred and cannot be bartered with money. This stems from the idea that money and wealth is evil. (That's a whole discussion on its own). The second player in this scenario is the student/ customer of such masters. Since the Melayu have encountered all three types of masters above, they naturally want to 'help'. So, you hear things like "He doesn't like to receive a lot of money" and end up giving the old man a couple of ringgit and a packet of biscuits for his time and effort.

My solution, for students/ customers: Ikhlas is a matter between the master and Allah. Leave out of it. Pay the man what he is worth.And for the masters: If you want to be appreciated for your effort, then tell your students/ customers how much you expect to be compensated for the time they are taking away from your family, whom you are supporting. Time that could be better spent looking for ways to keep them in rice and clothes.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

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