World champion almost called it quits

23 March, 2013   Koh Yizhe

Muhammad Shakir training at the Singapore Silat Federation. (Photo by Les Tan/Red Sports)

By Koh Yizhe

In December 2012, Singapore’s Muhammad Shakir Bin Juanda was crowned world champion at the World Pencak Silat Championships in Chiang Rai, Thailand, after he came from behind to beat Vietnamese favourite, Le Si Kien, in the Class-I (85–90kg) category. He also took home the title of Best Athlete of the entire tournament.

The 24-year-old, who is also a South-East Asian (SEA) Games silver medalist, joined a list of successful silat champions who have done Singapore proud on the world stage.

Throughout these 10 years of silat, what was your toughest challenge?

I was the second pick to Mohd Zulfakar for a long time. Zulfakar was a SEA Games champion and also a world champion in 2002. We were in the C-Class (55-60 kg). I was his reserve in the Singapore team. In order to represent Singapore in the major games, I had to defeat him. At that point, I kept losing to him and it was very tough. I felt like giving up and I was thinking of quitting the sport. Every time there was a competition, I was in the second team and I endured it for three years. After three years, my break finally came. There was a trial for the 2007 SEA Games and Zulfakar was injured. I won the trial and I represented Singapore for the first time at a major games in 2007.

RS: Were there sacrifices that you had to make?

Shakir: One of the main sacrifices that I had to make is spending time with my family. I spend most of my time training and have very little time to sit down with my family to bond. I work at the Singapore Silat Federation and after 6 p.m., I will just stay and continue training. By the time I finish, it is already 10 p.m. and I’ll be tired by then so I do not have much time with my family or friends. There was no time to catch up with them or watch a movie together. Most of my time is spent here at the Singapore Silat Federation.

RS: Walk us through the tournament in Thailand. How did you feel each step of the way?

Shakir: The world championship is the biggest competition that the International Pencak Silat Association organises. It is held every two years and the best from every continent competes there. My first opponent was a tall, big Russian. He was like a Russian tank! At the weigh-in, I was like, “Wow!” when I saw he was 89 kg. I was the smallest there at only 85.5 kg. I knew I had to fight properly to stay injury-free because he would keep pushing me. During the match, I managed to get many points because he was not agile. I still had the speed from being from a lighter category and that was my advantage. He also lacked technique so that was how I managed to beat him.

In the second round, my opponent was a guy from the United Kingdom. He was a tall, bald, black man. I think he has a background in boxing because he punched a lot more. After the match, I couldn’t even stand straight because my chest was all red! I had to do a lot of recovery after that one.

My opponent in the semi-finals was a guy from the Netherlands. That is the top country in Europe and this was their top fighter. After the first round, I saw that I was losing then I told myself, “Shakir, you’re an Asian and silat is from Asia. You cannot lose to a European!” I had that mentality and that ego. Eventually, I won the second and third rounds. I suffered a lot of injures at that point. I had a sprained ankle, a bruised shin and a swollen shoulder from all the punching. Fortunately, there was one day of rest before the final. I just focused on recovery and did not do any training at all.

During the final, I had to fight the Vietnamese Le Si Kien, who is 1.9 metres plus, the tallest opponent in the competition. After the first round, I noticed my points were way behind on the big scoreboard, but I also saw my teammates and coaches supporting and cheering for me. I saw the Singapore flag waving high and I knew I just had to try my very best. I told myself, “Whatever it is, you must know you have done your best.”

I attacked and attacked in the second and third round without stopping after that. I saw some signs of fatigue from him in the second round and that encouraged me to keep on attacking. After the final bell, I knew I did my best. I didn’t know I won though the results were shown. I saw my coaches pumping their fists, but I didn’t know what happened. I was too tired! The referee raise my hand and I was just filled with emotions. It was the best moment ever and it simply cannot be described with words.

The above is an excerpt from a recent interview by RedSports with World Silat Champion Shakir. To access the full interview, visit this link here at RedSports