The story behind the making of Fight Masters: Silat goes back to 2007 when various filmmakers were pitching ideas to National Geographic Channel which was looking for a good story to produce in conjunction with Malaysia’s 50th Merdeka celebrations.
Silat did not make the cut then and so videographer Khairun Lamb of Creative Nation Sdn Bhd decided to find a more interesting angle involving this Melayu art of self-defence.
He roped in Justin Ong of GS Productions Sdn Bhd, whom Khairun had worked with previously, to help direct, produce and write the script before approaching National Geographic Channel again.
The new pitch was about American Navy Master at Arms Joel Champ who had studied silat under the guidance of one Cikgu Sam.
"We had this idea of having a foreigner who had studied silat to be flown down to Malaysia," explained Ong. "That’s when we started doing research. We didn’t want some random guy. We needed someone with some recognition in the silat world."
Then, they came to hear of Cikgu Sam (real name Sheikh Shamsuddin Salim) who heads the US branch of the Silat Seni Gayong Federation (the headquarters is located in Ulu Langat, Ampang).
"We found out that his best student was Joel Champ who was in the navy. Joel was interesting because of his long association with martial arts and had been training under Cikgu Sam for over a decade," said Ong.
Khairun, who is an exponent in taekwando and karate, said he had the option of taking up silat when he was young but he could never grasp its bunga movements.
"I like aggressive sport and never viewed silat as aggressive. It looked a lot like dancing around. I still had that perception when pitching the story [to National Geographic Channel]."
He only realised its true deadly nature when shooting started. "Through the view finder, I could feel the pain. If it were me, I would have been screaming. Now, I have a totally different perception of silat and I will not take it lightly," said Khairun.
He is very sure Fight Masters: Silat would be an eye-opener to viewers. "It was definitely an eye-opener for me," he pointed out.
It is understood that silat exponents are generally very private by nature and do not belong to big organisations which actively recruit people. It took some convincing to get local members of the Silat Seni Gayong Federation to allow the production team to shoot Joel’s progress for 14 days.
However, the fact that Cikgu Sam is highly respected opened doors for the team.
The entire shoot took place in December last year at the federation’s premises in Ulu Langat. Champ had taken leave to do the documentary and until the last minute, the production team was not sure he would show up.
Ong described Cikgu Sam as an unassuming man who is a lot shorter than his six-foot-tall student. "It was like looking at Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Cikgu Sam would walk and Joel would walk quietly behind him," joked Ong.
For the first time, motion capture technology and 3D animation were used to analyse how deadly the silat blows were. "This has never been done before and silat itself has never been under scientific scrutiny."
This technology showed how each silat strike could affect the body, and hence, centuries of claims related to the martial art may finally be proven right.
While Fight Masters: Silat was a standalone show aired yesterday on Merdeka Day, it will be shown as part of the Fight Master series abroad.
This is the first of two new made-in-Malaysia full-high-definition documentaries under the Malaysia to the World 2 (MTTW2) partnership with Finas, and the third National Geographic production in Malaysia.
The MTTW2 follows the highly-successful first initiative that witnessed the premiere of two acclaimed National Geographic documentaries – Becoming a King (2007) and Smart Tunnel (2008).
Both documentaries were shot and produced in HD by National Geographic Channel and local filmmakers GS Productions and Creative Nation.
By S. Indra Sathiabalan
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