When 29-year-old silat athlete Muhammad Iqbal Bin Abdul Rahman completed his routine in the men’s tunggal (single) final at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) on May 11, he knew that he had given an impressive performance.
Stretching precisely three minutes long, it was a masterful display of force, restraint, and grace showcased in multiple moments throughout his routine — the arc of the rattan tongkat (stick) cutting through the air in his hands; the golok ( machete) flying in a breathless whirl; the final leap that melded seamlessly into a seated stance as Iqbal concluded his segment.
Definitely worthy of a gold medal.
Even his coach, Artistic Coach Muhamad Hamdi concurred.
“He kept telling me, ‘You win! You win!’ But at that point in time, I didn’t want to tell myself that I had won because the official result was not out yet.”
So as the final scores were tabulated, Iqbal — embraced by the Singapore flag — returned to the arena, heart in his mouth, to await the results with his opponent, Thailand’s Ilyas Sadara.
The magic number Iqbal was gunning for had to be above Ilyas’ 9.930 — well within reach, considering his excellent performance, but he couldn’t bring himself to peek at the scoreboard.
With each passing minute, the tension in the stadium seemed to suffocate a bit more.
And then, the first sign of his victory: A crescendo of shouts erupting from his fellow Team Singapore silat athletes.
Just like the silence that gave way to resounding cheers, Iqbal’s tension gave out in a burst of raw emotions that left him kneeling in the arena, tears streaming down his face.
Sixth time’s the charm
Two weeks after that momentous win, he is able to pinpoint that exact emotion: relief.
“Finally, you know? After six tries….the gold medal is mine…I got flashbacks of me training for the longest time to achieve this goal,” he says.
Missing out on the gold medal for five SEA Games makes this win particularly poignant for Iqbal.
However, he’s quick to clarify that he doesn’t look back with regret at his past performances because he always gives his best at competitions.
“So even though I came close (those five years), I was satisfied with whatever I got. I always look forward to the next one.”
Sitting in Hall 4 of the OCBC Arena at the Sports Hub and fresh from a week-long break, Iqbal mulls over what could have possibly given him the 0.03 point edge over Ilyas.
“Probably my expression when I moved,” he says after a long pause. “I think that’s where I’m stronger.”
He’s probably right. During his routine, the commentator practically gushed over his “soulfulness” and the “inner strength” reflected in his eyes.
A self-professed “small and timid kid” in his younger days, Iqbal took on silat as a way to learn self-defence. A few years later, aged 10, he joined the national team and began to fall in love with the sport.
Interestingly though, it isn’t the sporting aspect that he likes the most about silat . It’s the community of athletes whom he’d spent the last 19 years with.
“Even the athletes and the coaches, even the staff, we’re quite closely bonded. They are family to me…we basically grew up together.”
At the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, Iqbal was the first to bring back a gold medal in the artistic category.
This was followed by another three gold medals won by his counterparts in the tanding (match) categories: Nurul Suhaila, Muhammad Hazim, and Sheik Farhan.
Adding in the three silver and four bronze medals also won by the Team Singapore silat athletes, it made for the “family’s” best-ever showing at a SEA Games.
It’s not like dancing: More than just grace and expression
Unlike the explosive bouts that athletes in the tanding categories engage in, Iqbal’s artistic silat solo routine is akin to a performance rather than a match.
“I mean for my category, most outsiders would think that it’s like dancing,” he chuckles.
But no, it’s not like dancing.
Artistic silat demands more than just grace and expression. It calls for explosive moves — like kicks and punches — that mimic the attack and defensive techniques of the Malay martial art. To achieve the physical strength and endurance required, Iqbal trains twice a day, five days a week.
That’s also the hardest part about being a professional, full-time athlete, he says — “discipline”.
“Because, I mean, not everyone can stay motivated throughout your whole career.
So to wake up every day and do the same thing all over again is not an easy thing to do. You have to keep telling yourself that you have to get up and train, train, and train.”
Sometimes the going gets tough.
Like in 2015, right before the SEA Games. That year, Singapore was the host and according to Iqbal, the training was so difficult, he contemplated giving up.
“I felt that I was burned out from all the training sessions and competitions. I felt like I needed a break.
At that point, I told myself that I had to rethink my choices. But I’m glad I didn't stop back then.”
If it wasn’t for his coach who reminded him of his goals, he wouldn’t have gone on to clinch the gold medals at the 2018 Silat World Championship and the 31st SEA Games.
In fact, at this very moment, he is preparing for his next challenge: Defending his gold medal at the Silat World Championships in July.
“I still have many more good years in me”
To an outsider, it’s a rather strange life: the constant training that a professional athlete undertakes, interspersed with moments of pure emotion, ranging from unadulterated joy to crushing anguish.
He knows this path that he has chosen is worlds away from that of his peers outside of the silat team, which he glimpses whenever he meets them on the weekends.
“Sometimes I do wonder what I would be doing if I’m not doing silat, ” he muses.
He does not have the answer to that — yet.
Perhaps chasing the goal of dominating on the world stage — first at the Silat World Championships and now at the SEA Games — has left him with not much space and time to think about life away from the arena .
In any case, he’s not in a hurry to do so.
“I think, at the moment, I don’t think I’m too old to continue. I don’t see myself doing other things just yet. I’m young, I’m still strong. And in terms of my category, I think I still have many more good years in me.”
At least five or seven years, maybe, he estimates.
“Seven years of defending your gold medals,” I add.
“That’s definitely the goal,” he replies with a laugh.
A mammoth task indeed but no doubt, he’s going to give it his all.
Quotes were edited for clarity. Top image credit: SportSG/Andy Chua, Joshua Lee.
- The best Mac games (August 2020)
- Why it's now or never in Neymar's quest for European glory
- Fulham return to Premier League promised land after play-off glory
- Fazal swings it Pakistan's way
- Yasir and Sarfraz: can we hear an ai hai hai?
- Danny Williams: Beating Mike Tyson was dream come true
- New on Netflix this week: ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’, ‘Project Power’ and more
- US Soccer stars 'confident' of winning gender discrimination lawsuit
- 70th Anniversary GP driver ratings
- LIVE ENG vs IRE 3rd ODI: Morgan's Ton; Willey's Late Cameo Power England to 328 vs Ireland
From the brink of giving up to SEA Games glory: Silat world champion Iqbal Abdul Rahman have 1286 words, post on mothership.sg at June 25, 2022. This is cached page on Asean News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.