13 March 2008

Silat Pulut blends graceful dance form and art of self defence

One may liken ‘silat pulut’, (a series of self defence moves stylised into a ceremonial dance for celebratory occasions performed to the strains of traditional instruments) as our very own version of capoeira – the Afro-Brazilian combination of martial art, game and dance.

For silat exponent Baharudin Ghani, 48, a Kelantanese who migrated here in 2000 to open a laundry business, the whole affair is one big exercise to remind the new generation of their roots. Baharudin pours lime water on a student's head to symbolise spiritual cleansing after a sparring.

Recently, a silat pulut graduation ceremony held at the Seri Samudra flats along Jalan Samudra Timur 1 in Batu Caves, revealed how the art of self defence can also present itself as a graceful dance form.The father of four, who is also the leader of a dikir barat troupe, also sees this as an opportunity to engage his community in some sort of activity. According to Baharudin, one must realise that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

Blowing his horn: Shafic Aminuddin playing the serunai to inspire the exponents.

“The core lesson taught here is how to control one’s emotions. Another important aspect that we want to impart is for the young to uphold values such as courage, discipline, fairness and to maintain harmony. If you notice, before every silat performance, the exponent will shake hands with the audience to seek their blessings,” he explained.

Baharudin added that after each bout, the exponents will hug each other as a sign that the confrontation in the arena has been forgotten and they will not hold grudges against each other.

Offerings: Bunga telur, yellow glutinous rice and roasted meats to give thanks for safety and goodwill within the arena.

In explaining how ‘silat pulut’ got its name, Baharudin surmises that it may be due to custom that requires the offering of yellow glutinous rice as gifts to the ‘pesilat’ (silat exponents) during the graduation ceremony.

Another influencing factor may have its links to the exponent feeding newlyweds or VIPs with sticky rice upon completing his steps.

But far from being a showy attraction at public events, Baharudin reveals the ‘silat pulut’ is in actual fact a sport that requires skill and agility. Though the soft movements may appear harmless and satirical, it hides an intricate game of steps and techniques that could be devastating when applied in combat.

Dwelling back into history, Baharudin reveals that the martial arts was developed as an avenue for practitioners in colonial times to fool others into believing that it was merely a harmless folk game.

Seeking blessings: The silat exponents must get the blessings of the audience before a sparring round.

At a time when the colonial masters were receiving opposition from Malay freedom fighters, silat teachers were cautious in letting these defence skills out in the open for fear that they may be used against them in times of battle. Thus, in order to preserve tradition, teachers disguised the steps as a dance form so that the art may live on.

Today, rather than teaching his students on how to engage in combat, ‘silat pulut’ has become an effective form of exercise to nurture body and soul. As for adult practitioners, not only have they found a way to de-stress but an opportunity to be the star of their own performance at weddings and VIP receptions.

By Grace Chen
Sourced from

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