Word on the street has it that the silat tradition of mandi minyak or 'hot-oil bath' practised by silat exponents is a scam.
Underneath the layer of oil, as the story has it, is water. Water and oil don’t mix and each has a different boiling temperature. So, when you heat up a water and oil concoction in a big wok, the water, which boils first, gives the illusion that the oil is a bubbling hot liquid that would scald.
“That's what we thought!” said Khairun Lamb. “But Justin (Ong) and I, we were at the site of the ceremony since beginning, and it was all oil, all the way, and it was really, really scalding hot! That’s just one of the things that surprised us when we were making the documentary.”
Khairun is the director of photography and co producer for a team commissioned by National Geographic Channel to do a documentary on the traditional Malaysian martial art of silat. The result is Fight Masters: Silat, set to be premiered this Merdeka Day on the National Geographic Channel.
The documentary follows American silat exponent Joel Champ who has been studying martial arts since he was seven, as he gets his next stripe in his belt — stripe being a level in silat.
The 32-year-old US Navy dry land sailor and master-at-arms fell in love with silat some 15 odd-years ago.
“In silat, it is said that the student doesn't search for the master. The master will seek the student, only when he is ready,” said producer and director Justin Ong.
“Joel was approached by Cikgu Sam — Tan Sri SM Salim's son - in the States and he never looked back, discarding all other forms of martial arts in favour of silat. Joel is in fact the highest-graded silat exponent in the western world.
“However, his training was a bit soft,” said Khairun. “He was practicing in air-conditioned gyms, and had paddings on the floor.
“He wanted to experience what it was like in the birthplace of silat, so we didn't spare him anything. It would have cheated him if we did.”
Then, Khairun added, with a mischievous grin on his face, “And this look he had when it was revealed that traditional silat practice only has sand to fall onto, and training is done outdoors, in the sweltering heat and torturous humidity.”
The project began when silat was chosen as one of the martial arts to be featured on Fight Masters.
“We went on a pitching process to National Geographic and the production company commissioned by them,” said Ong. “Then, a three-month research and two weeks of shooting, and then six to eight months of post- production. We made changes after changes when we discovered new things about silat. Overall, it took a year. And it wasn't easy. Every single line had to be verified by at least two sources.”
That's how stringent the standards are for National Geographic documentaries. And yet, it was a golden opportunity for Ong and for Khairun who even though has done numerous work for international networks such as NHK, Discovery Channel, ABC News, Al-Jazeera, Channel News Asia, has yet to do something about Malaysia.
“I wanted to do this because I have done so many things for other countries,” said Khairun. “I thought it was time I got involved with something for Malaysia.
“Doing this documentary basically taught us a lot about silat,” said Ong. “It was a martial arts that was developed for its practical uses, so we don't see any flying kicks or stylish moves. Everything has its use. Everything is effective. Even spitting at someone's face is a move that could determine the outcome of a fight.
“We also inserted a lot of CGI to show the scientific effects of some silat moves and the force of the blow. We were very lucky as Cikgu Sam convinced the masters in Malaysia to reveal some of their closely-guarded secrets and the moves they rarely show outsiders. We then put some experts to the task of taking a medical and physical explanation why it works that way. It's the science behind the art,” said Khairun.
“It's silat as you've never seen before!” interjected Ong.
However, the team does concede that the sheer scope of the documentary was narrowed down somewhat as the story of silat could not be encapsulated in just one documentary.
“We only have 47 minutes, and it’s jam-packed with as much information as we can,” said Khairun. “So it’s more of an introduction to silat. We covered Silat Gayung as it is the most established, and there are many other schools and styles out there.”
All the more reason, then, to give these guys another chance to cover silat again. This time, perhaps a whole series?
• Fight Masters: Silat will be shown on National Geographic Channel at 9pm on Merdeka Day, Aug 31 (premiere), Sept 11 and Sept 15.
By Amir Hafizi
Sourced from http://www.mmail.com.my/content/11702-silat’s-biggest-secrets-finally-revealed