Saturday, July, 11th, 2009.
Vin, Lian and myself have travel down to Quantan near Kuala Lumpor to learn from Guru Azlan while Nigel Sutton is off to the UK for 10 days. Guru Azlan Ghanie teaches a form of silat called Melayu Lok Sembilan. Its main focus is on the kris weapon, a very symbolic weapon in Malaysia.
A kris knife, not all kris have wavy blades. The waves are called locks.
From what Nigel has told us Guru Azlans art involves a lot of low stances and precise slow movements and holding your breath while you do it. One of the most worrying things I heard is that Guru Azlan does not allow you to drink water during his training sessions. It worried me because when I train with Nigel Sutton I am permanently drenched in sweat which streams down my face. I can easily consume a liter of water in one go at break time. So the idea of going an entire training session without water isn’t plesent.
We took the sleeper bus from Penang island down to Kuala Lumpor. The seats were big and luxurious with plenty of space to stretch out. The only negative aspect was the air conditioning. It was icy cold the whole time. All my cloths were away in the buses hold and I was shivering in my t shirt and shorts. It was a cold 8 hour journey. I was glad whenever we stopped and I was able to go outside and warm up for a while. Malaysia is a funny place for air conditioning. In cinemas, shops and malls it’s just cranked right up.
We arrived in KL and completely missed our stop, mainly because we where asleep and also because the bus was so fast that when Vins alarm went off we had already arrived at the last stop. It was 5 o’clock in the morning and Lian rang Guru Azlan who came and picked us up. He arrived later and we shook his hand, touching our head onto his hand as I sign of respect.
The sun was still behind the world and Guru Azlan drove quickly out of the city and onto the almost deserted motorway. He spoke to us about his senaman tua classes. He described them as gentle health exercises. He told us how practicing these arts could cure leukemia and how some of his students had asthma before but now after practicing senaman tua they didn’t have it anymore. He opened a glove box and took out a kerambit knife. An evil little stealth knife which fits in your hand and comes out just by your little finger. Guru Azlan said that they are illegal in Malaysia and if your court with one you go to prison without trial.
a rather nice looking kerambit, often they are much more basic than these
The sun rose and I fell asleep. I felt a bit rude being in the front seat next to Guru Azlan and just Z ing away but the motion of the car was just too persuasive and I fell asleep. We drove for 7 hours and arrived at an airport were we greeted the other students from France who would be joining us in a resort to train. The group exited from arrivals looking jet lagged and grizzly. Guru Azlan said hello and we all shock hands. The group of about 15 people, both men and women all wearing black matching t shirts. They are a group from Africa I think but they look French and speak French. They are from a Harimau Silat school. Harimau meaning Tiger which is a Silat style from Indonesia.
They piled into their bus and went off to their own hotel to rest until tomorrow. Guru Azlan then took us to his mother’s house in Quantan. A large house with expensive looking furniture. The kitchen had a beautiful wooden table and when we arrived his mother and maid prepared a curry with fish, fruit and salad. I felt a little out of place. A scruffy looking foreigner who needed a shower after so much traveling. His Mother sat beside us and watched us smiling as we ate. ‘’ she says you should eat more, she enjoys watching you eat’’ Guru Azlan said with a grin.
So I did, I ate a fair amount. I am sure I could have eaten more but you must find the middle road between eating as much as you want and being a polite guest. Guru Azlans nieces and nephews were there as well and quietly sat in the living room. After lunch Guru Azlan left us in the living room and Lian, Vin and myself sat and watched TV. I was sitting on a rather knobble plush leather seat. There was a controller attached to the arm rest and being the little fiddler that I am I mashed a few buttons and to my initial shock and eventual pleasure my seat began to vibrate and the knobble bits round my back began to rotate and massage me. I was most pleased.
One of Guru Azlans Nephews came and sat beside me looking serious ‘’I think you’re in his chair’’ Lian said to me. ‘’ I don’t care” I said back. But soon the massage made me feel sick. I was over vibrated and I got up and let the child have his seat.
We left and took the final leg of our journey to the resort where we would stay and train. Out of the city and by the beach the resort was small but better than I had envisaged. Our rooms were big and clean and there was even a swimming pool outside. A big conference room where we would train and also a restaurant.
The next day we woke up at 6 30. Vin Lian and I walked to the beach. We practiced our Lian Padukan forms on the sand and have a swim in the sea. Vin and I taught Lian the forms at the same time. Lian will also be joining us in the 7 coffins test in a few weeks’ time and Nigel instructed Vin and I to teach his son the forms.
It was unique to practice on the beach. The sun rising, the sea making soothing noises. Sand between your toes, sand in your eye after you somehow manage to kick some up into the air and all over your face. We then had breakfasts at the hotel and had our introduction class from Guru Azlan with the other French students.
He looked a bit nervous at first. We were all gathered in one of the small conference rooms. We sat down. He started to tell again how he had helped people cure themselves of leukemia, asthma and back problems. As I watched one of the French people translate, I saw some very skeptical looks from the other students. He told a slightly overweight woman that with these exercises she could lose a kg in one lesson.
He then started to tell us about how this style of Silat Melayu Lok Sembilan comes from the Malaysian royal Palace. He showed us 1001 ways to put on a sarong. We were also taught how to shake hands properly. He taught us many other things that are ceremonial ways of entering a room who to greet and how.
We learnt a few locks and the secret way of how to get out of them, then we shock hands again to thank Guru Azlan for teaching us the secrets.
When Guru Azlan does the Silat tari with a kris knife or empty hands he has a controlled and crisp look. Not flashy but very precise and you could defiantly see this art coming from the palace. He had a stroke when he was younger and he is now 50 years old I think and he goes down so low on all the moves with control and style. Effortlessly moving from one technique to the other. Some of the locks he showed us were things that I had never seen before, tying up an opponent so that the whole body in immobilized. He told us that he had taught the police in Malaysia and he is still known for being able to get out of any lock or choke they apply on him.
We practice in the morning for a couple of hours. Along with the French group. We practice the lock 1 form. A short slow-moving form which can be done with a Kris knife or empty-handed. Nigel Sutton very kindly lent myself and Vin a Kris for this trip. The one I borrowed is a long knife with what I think is a bone scabbard. The blade is rusty and often I will find ants coming out of the hilt. Apparently it can be an advantage to have an old rusty Kris so that when you stab someone it breaks off inside them and they can die from the infection. Nigel Sutton points out that the Kris is in fact the last sort of weapon you should use in a real fight. Its real importance is symbolic.
During our training Guru Azlan teaches us some of the senaman tua exercises. They are simple movements like out stretching and twisting your arms many times. Done slowly and with intent these moves can be hard work in a unique way. You’re not out of breath and you’re not lifting anything heavy but you’re still tired. The senaman tua exercises involve deep breathing and it has many similarities with Chinese chi gong meditation. Guru Azlan would not want me to say this, he regularly stresses that seneman tua and his Silat Melayu Lok Sembilan are true Malaysian martial arts. He tells us that many Silat arts are not Malaysian because they have been influenced by China, Thailand and Indonesia.
Hand shaking is a well-practiced ritual during our lessons. At the beginning of the class, at the end, after learning a new move and after Guru Azlan has told us something new. We all line up and the last one turns in and begins to work his way up the line shaking everyone’s hand. You clasp and shake normally then flip it up like an arm wrestling stance, then you hold with both hands, then release, look into their eyes and touch your chest where your heart is.
It can take up to 10 minutes to complete a full round where everyone shakes everyone. There are a few of the French group who are so serious and when you shake their hand and look into their eyes you feel like you are seeing their deepest heart. It’s very personal, it can be draining and when it comes to shaking Lian and Vins hand we all find it hard to keep a straight face.
One of the unique training methods of Silat Melayu Lok Sembilan is holding your breath throughout the form. The first form can take about a minute to perform and with low stances and out stretched arms it can make you feel faint. I do not know the exact reason for this training method but it is very challenging.
The afternoon seems to be more hard work than the training. The endless driving around and sight seeing and going to restaurants eating great food and having drinks. none alcoholic ones of course because he is Muslim. We stay up well past midnight chatting with Guru Azlan.
We have been to see transformers 2, brought fruit and walked along the beach, went swimming in the sea which had little things which bit us. It reminded me of being in Sarah’s home town and being taken out to “play”. It’s done with such enthusiasm and gusto and it’s unrelenting so after we got back to train in the evening we were all very tired. Happy and full of amazing food but tired. Even Guru Azlan seemed a bit frazzled after 3 days of intense fun and exploring.