The bitter and the sweet. The seven coffins come to an end


I was in dread as Nigel Sutton took us round to the garden area where there is a punch bag and a metal training dummy. I envisaged a grueling set of fights or standing in the sun all day long.

“Cut the grass”. Nigel told us and he walked away. Vin, Lian and I exchanged looks and quickly set about the grass with scissors from the kitchen. After an easy grass cutting Nigel informed us that our last test lay outside the training center.

This also made me scared. Could we be going to fight? It was the morning now and being out of the Zhong ding training center for the first time in days was quiet refreshing. We walked towards the café and instantly I knew what we were going to do ‘’we are going to drink aren’t we?’’ I said possibly quiet hysterical. Nigel didn’t say anything. Instead of fighting we went to the bar and Nigel ordered us each a pint of strong black sugarless coffee and a big can of 12% beer.
Before we drank Nigel explained the coffee represents the bitterness and hardship of training and the beer represented the sweetness of reward from hard work. So we had to drink the coffee first before the beer. With these two powerful drugs inside me I felt sick with the caffeine but soothed by the beer.
After this we went back to the Zhong Ding training center and Nigel told us that the 7 coffins was over and that we had a few days rest until our ordeal with Guru Zainal Abidin and his students which would then be followed by on all night Khatami grading. The ordeal was not specified but it would involve Thai boxing and Silat fighting as well. Guru Zainal teaches Silat Tua and Krabi Krabong as well as white tiger Thai boxing. We have never met Guru Zainal before but from what Nigel says he is a very serious martial artist. His students also like fighting a lot. In training and on the street.

The next couple of days Vin and I rested as Nigel and Lian had gone back to the condo. We had to prepare something’s for the Khatami grading. Nigel Sutton gave us a list of things for the ceremony. We needed:
A holy book. Vin and I went to a nearbye town and bought two Qurans.

One knife. I bought a machete.

5, 4 inch nails which I thought was strange, Vin and I went to a hardware shop and got the nails.

7 limes and honey, we got them from the supermarket.

Shoes, a sarong, T shirt and hat. We got them all from a cloths shop nearby.

7 different kinds of flower petals. We were quiet resourceful on this one and went out onto the road side and picked some flower and then went to a town to buy a few more kinds. We took all the petals off and stored them in the fridge.

Lastly we had to give 7:50 ringet in coin form. Nigel Sutton informed us that he had to give 750 ringet when he did his Khatami so I was glad our amount was much less.

We didn’t know why we needed all these things and it was a little like being in a computer game trying to get everything. I was very relieved when we had done so and I could relax a little although the Khatami and ordeal was playing on my mind.

The anticipation was brutal, I had diarrhea for 3 days before and on the day Guru Zainal arrived for the ordeal I could barely eat.

The 7 coffins, my Khatami grading


I am not allowed to talk about exactly what happened during the 7 coffins. Because half the test as I have found out is not knowing what’s going to happen, so on the off chance that someone other than my dear Mum is reading this blog and they happen to be someone who wants to do the 7 coffins Khatami I will not spoil it all for you. The 7 coffins is a grading for the Lian padukan Silat. It is the comparable to getting a black belt. It is a culmination of having learnt the syllabus of the martial art and having what you know pressure tested. People may think that it would take years to get up to black belt status and how have I been able to do it in 3 months?

 

On one hand Silat is not the same as Karate. On the other hand I have been practicing various martial arts since I was 14 years old and I do not have to spend so much time practicing basics as a complete novice would have to. I know how to punch and kick with reasonable technique and I can learn forms at a quicker pace than someone who has never done so before.

 

On top of that and I think most importantly it’s not about how many years you have been studying a martial art but how many hours. You could have been doing Karate for 5 years and still be a novice if you only went to one class a week and did no practice in between. You could have studied Silat for a month intensively and your body and mind would have made a leaping improvement if you worked hard. I have been practicing roughly 7 hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 months. If you do the mathematics how many years does that add up to for someone who only practices an hour or two a week? All I can be bothered to work out is one day of hard training is like doing two months of one hour a week.

 
What I can say it that the 7 coffins is meant to span 7 days, each day you are meant to focus on one of the secret deadly vital points of the body. There is nothing secret about the 7 vital points. Just think of the 7 places that you would least like to be hit and your probably right on. We did not do it for 7 days. We condensed it into 4 days. Yet again I am not allowed to say how long we trained every day but just imagine going to work and doing 7 full days in the space of 4.

We got very little sleep. Being woken up at any time, day or night with no more than 4 hours sleep at a time. In fact 4 hours was a holiday amount of time during the 7 coffins. Lian, Vin and myself were required to perform each of the Lian padukan forms 100 times each. This was not such a mission with the basic sets which take under a minute to perform but as we worked our way through the forms and into the ones which took over a minute things dragged. We would spend hours and hour’s continually repeating the forms. Entering a trance where our minds no longer were needed and the body with its reflex and memory took over.

 

Thankfully for a few days there was a storm. The rain beat down heavily on the metal roof of the training area and cooled us, Nigel Sutton said this was a good omen for us. Other times the weather was steaming hot. Depending on what we were doing we had to change into different uniforms. Sometimes in our full black gi, other times in our green Tai chi t shirts and finally into our white Tai chi t shirts. It didn’t matter either way as they were all permanently wet. No time to wash them and no time to dry them either. Alongside repeating forms for hours we did well over 150 fights each throughout the 4 days. The fighting was bare knuckled and on the mats so we could take each other down full speed. Not hitting full power to the face but everywhere else was allowed, we would take each other to the mats or batter each other out of the arena. We practiced striking the venerable areas of the body over and over.

 

We had to meditate for very long periods of time, once for so long in the kneeling position that we could not walk for a couple of minutes. We lay there in pain waiting for the blood to slowly comeback to our legs. Standing meditation with surprise repeated attacks which have left my legs and chest bruised still after a week.  I was in the standing post stance hoping that I would not feel faint again when Nigel Sutton came into view and kicked and punched me.

 

There was alot more but I cannot talk about it. I had a lot of bruises on my chest and cut lips and a painful head from a skillful elbow from Vin. The worse thing was the sleep deprivation, by the 3rd day it was hellish. During the night time Vin, Lian and myself took it in shifts to stay awake. One person would stay awake for 4 hours continually training while the other slept beside him outside in the training area. Things became distorted and magical during this time.

You are in the dark, you have not slept properly for days and you have been doing rigorous exercise over that time. I remember when it was my time to train and I was running over the Lian padukan forms again and I fell asleep while I was standing, I didn’t notice because I immediately started dreaming that I was doing the forms. I woke up suddenly as I began to lose balance.

 

Even the short time when I was allowed to rest was almost useless as I was so on edge that I found it hard to sleep, my dreams were like I was awake and when I was awake I was in a dream. Nigel Sutton gave us a permanent assignment which meant that none of us could relax at any time; we had to constantly be on guard and to look for opportunities to attack each other’s backs. Even when we could eat we had to be alert. Sometimes when we were napping Nigel would wake us up and we would have to run quickly to a door or gate with weapons and stand with the weapons in out stretched arms until he tells us to relax.

Meeting Antonio Graceffo in Kuala Lumpur


A few days after our demonstration in Kuala Lumpur and Vin, Lian and myself are now staying with Guru Azlan in his house. We train with him daily as he conducts his many classes around Kuala Lumpur. One lesson took place in a squash court in an airport. Guru Azlan told us to teach the class and even though all the students there had been practicing Seniman tua Silat for longer than us we still taught.

All this exposure to teaching has made me more confident in a classroom. I am not as nervous as when I first started teaching. Another class was held in Guru Azlan’s office/ Galanggang (training hall). Most of his dedicated students were there and we practiced for hours. Even though it was the evening it was still humid and hot. We went over locks and stick striking drills. We were introduced to some of the more advanced forms of Guru Azlan’s Silat and we practiced with the kris knife.

Guru Azlan told me to apply any lock to him and I put him in a decent head lock and he managed in quiet a relaxed manner to get free. I was impressed. I was not so impressed when he tried to show us how to make your arms longer. He pulled his shoulders back and lined his arms out in front so they were the same length. Then he moved one shoulder forward and so it looked like one of his arms was longer than the other.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4utnjmTY0b8&feature=player_embedded click on this link to see the video

The training was more intense to what we have been used to with Guru Azlan and after a few hours of training I was beyond parched. You must remember that Guru Azlan doesn’t allow drinking in his class. So after the class Vin and I frantically walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking for water. It was surprisingly hard to find. Most of the street vendors where selling food and only soft drink which would have done little to hydrate us. Thankfully we found a shop which sold big bottles of water. We got one each and I think we pretty much drained the 2 liters in one go.

The next day Guru Azlan took us to a huge mall where he said he was meeting a man called Antonio Graceffo who wanted to shoot a video of one of his classes. We met Antonion in a small restaurant beside one of the malls many supermarkets. We sat and chatted for a while. Antonio comes from America but has spent many years in Asian studying martial arts.

After a sit down Guru Azlan took us to the malls gym where the lesson would take place. Here is the video which Antonio Graceffo took of the lesson. Occasionally you can see Vin and myself in the back ground practicing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtKdqKAlkQk  Click on this link to see video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qRZwAnX7ZU&feature=relmfu click on this link to see the video

So after a few days of training with Guru Azlan and pushing the boundaries of dehydration Vin, Lian and myself took the overnight bus back to Penang island to continue our training at the Zhong Ding center.

Our Khatami grading is coming very soon. Next week we will start the 7 coffins training. Nigel Sutton has had a novel idea that instead of doing the 7 coffins over 7 days we will condense them in to 4 days. This will mean almost none stop training with only a few hours left for napping and eating.

Nigel has also told us that before the Khatami that Guru Zainal Abidin one of Nigel Suttons Silat teacher will be visiting the Zhong Ding training center with a large group of his students to fight us. Vin is also doing a grading for Krabi krabong so he will have to do sword fighting. I will have some Thai boxing fights and Silat fights as well. It’s all quiet vague now but on my next post I will be able to tell you more. Next week the 7 coffins begin.

Teaching a Silat seminar in Kuala Lumpur


After the demo was over we helped Guru Azlan out in one of his seminars. It was only a few minutes’ walk from the mall. The seminar was held in a theatre. In the lobby there was a stair case leading up to different door. Through one of these doors and on a big stage a Silat seminar was taking place.

 

It turned out that it wasn’t actually Guru Azlans seminar. As we walked in we saw an elderly Malay man on the stage showing a few people some moves with the sai weapon. There was about 30 students most of them were dispersed and talking or looking around in a confused manner. It would seem that Guru Azlan was asked to rescue this failing class.

 

As we watched the class for a moment by the seats surrounding the stage one of the old Silat Guru’s students came up to Lian and myself and told us with utter seriousness that the old master was 135 years old. I could not help myself and I had a little laugh and Told Lian that they should contact the Guinness book of world records. I was in no mood to indulge in Guru worshiping that day.

This sort of lying where a martial arts master is turned into a god like person is not only found in Malaysia. I have found over the years of studying Taiji that there are teachers who claim to have special powers. For instance to be able to use their chi energy to throw someone across the room or even to control their body’s with telekinesis. I don’t find this sort of god making unusual from the point of view of the person telling the lies but I do find it fascinating that so many people go along with it. I think it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes.

 

‘’the bigger the lie, the more it will be believed’’ (Joseph Goebbels)

 

Maybe that why religion has done so well.

 

 

It’s the same with corrupt governments, there is a view that we are the poor abused who are controlled and exploited by a faceless devil. But didn’t we as people allow our world to be as it is? I am not proud that I am English and that our past is so shameful and full of blood shed but wouldn’t any other country have done the same if they had the means at that time?

We are our own worst enemy and we either encourage or simply do not fight against those who which to control and cheat us. We are those people as well. If you were given the opportunity to become successful by cheating or using others are you sure you would turn it away?

 

‘’Let the people have no cunning and no greed
so those who scheme will not dare to meddle’’

 

 

(From the Tao Te Ching, Derek Lin translation, chapter 3)

 

 

On top of being tired and hot I was also in very smelly wet old Silat uniform. Seeing as we had done the demo 2 days in a row. My cloths had been left in a plastic bag to fester and rot over night then the next day I had to put them on again. There was no time to wash them and dry them.

On top of being tired and hot I was also in very smelly wet old Silat uniform. Seeing as we had done the demo 2 days in a row. My cloths had been left in a plastic bag to fester and rot over night then the next day I had to put them on again. There was no time to wash them and dry them.

Soon Guru Azlan beckoned myself Vin and Lian up to the stage and he organized the students into rows and we began to teach them the Lok 1 form from Guru Azlans Silat. I enjoyed teaching even though a few of the Malay people did give me funny looks as if to say ‘’why is a white person teaching me a Malay person my own native martial art?’’

Tai chi demonstration in Kuala Lumpur


straight sword demonstration

Nigel and Lian Sutton attacking Vin who demostrates his iron shirt skills

Next Vin and I changed into our green Zhong Ding taiji t shirts and performed push hands and a sword sparring demonstration. Vin also performed a 5 ancestors straight sword form. Nigel and Fong also performed. Next Vin showed off his new Nei gong skills which he has been practicing religiously for 100 days.

 

First Vin walked out and Min Sutton as well. She punched him repeatedly in the stomach, when this had no effect she came and got me. I went up to Vin and punched him several times as hard as I could also to no avail so I went off stage to get Nigel Sutton. He came and began to punch Vin as hard as he could, not only in the stomach but also the throat, at the same time Lian Sutton snuck up behind Vin and punched him in the back.

 

Although this sequence was all stage the punches where not. I punched Vin as hard as I could and so did everyone else. Vin just stood there and took it without any outwards sign of pain.

 

After this demonstration we thought it was all over but Guru Azlan asked Vin and I to help him teach a Silat seminar nearby. I wasn’t worried about that but I was worried about my black gi. I had been wearing it two days in a row and it had dried sweat twice revived in it. It was now wet and stunk to high heaven. Of course Vin and I agreed to help and we put our sweaty old uniforms back on. The smell was terrible. As we walked to the hall where the seminar was taking place I hoped that Guru Azlan would take one whiff and turn us away.

Min Sutton punching Vin

 

Silat Melayu demonstration in Kuala Lumpur


 

After the Lian Padukan demonstration Vin and I put our sarongs on. Very kindly two of the Harimau group from Malacca had given us their sarongs. Next was our demonstration with Guru Azlans students. We had not prepared for this either but for some reason I was not nurves now. We went on stage again and performed the Lok 3 form with the other Silat Melayu students.

After we had performed we asked Guru Azlan what he thought ‘’ It was good but you guys were wairing shoes’’ He pointed out with a hint of disappointment. Indeed my running shoes didn’t quiet match with my traditional sarong and black gi.

one of Guru Azlans students performing a sai form at the Kuala Lumpur demonstration

PART15 Martial arts demonstration in Kuala Lumpur


After our short trip to the mountain we got a bus back to Kuala Lumpur.  The plan was to perform a Taiji demonstration and a Lock 9 demonstration with Guru Azlans students. When we arrived at the small mall where we would be performing we saw that a large crowd had formed around the entrance. Already there were Silat groups demonstrating. Also a group of Indians performing their native martial art Kalarippayattu. In my opinion their demonstration topped all the others, especially one staged sword fight with the use of the urumi a flexible whip like sword.

These two warriors danced and sprung lightly as they attacked and defended. Even though it was a staged performance they were going full speed and power.

 

Nigel Sutton stood by us and we watched the performances. We also saw a group of Lian Padukan students getting ready for their demonstration. Nigel told Vin and I to go and change so we could join in. A wave of fear washed over me as I panicked. We didn’t know what the Lian padukan troop were going to perform.

For those of you who are interested here is a link to a blog about Lian Padukan, it has a more in depth post about its history

 

We changed into our black gi and got behind the other students and marched onto the stage area.

 

Nigel Sutton far right, myself and Vin at back of Lian padukan group

Lian padukan form demonstration

Nigel Sutton said in a very stern voice just before we went on “don’t make any mistakes”. So we went on with only a rough idea of the program and managed to keep up and stay in sync with the other students.

myself trying to see what Vin was doing with the eyes in the back of my head

far right, Tim, Vin, Nigel Sutton, ?

After some of the forms we partnered up and I saw the other students practicing sparring. Vin and I pared up and took it in turns to beat each other to the ground. Both of us getting into the performance spirit and striking one another quickly and aggressively.

 

Sparring demonstration

myself giving Vin a much deserved thrashing!

Vin giving me a compleatly undeserved thrashing!

 

After the sparring which left me red faced and sweaty a few students took the center and performed some of the longer forms. While Vin, myself the other students stood back and watched. Soon Vin and I were called up to the center and the teacher gestured us to start. Vin was in front of me and I followed his movements. After a few moves I suddenly realized that I didn’t know which form Vin was doing. I panicked he was about to turn around which would mean I would also have to turn around. At that time I honestly thought the world was going to end. He turned and I had to look over my shoulder to try and follow his movements. My face felt like it was on fire I was so embarrassed, I didn’t manage to follow Vin and I cobbled together a form of my own. I just did some random moves and finished the form with Vin feeling like a prize lemon.

“I am really sorry that I made those mistakes” I apologized to Nigel Sutton after we had finished

 

“What mistakes?” Nigel said. He had not really noticed and when I looked back on a video which Min Sutton had taken, it didn’t look as bad as it felt. I remember my old drama teacher at school used to tell us ‘’ the audience doesn’t know your lines so if you mess up just pretend that nothing’s wrong, the worst thing you can do is to freeze’’

 

I just hoped that our next two demonstrations would go better.