Calm deflection

Photo credit: Michelle Yang

I’ve always wished that I had trained in martial arts when I was younger. All that strength, agility and physical intuition was so attractive. There’s a junior Taekwondo group that trains at the playground near my block and they always look like they’re having so much fun in their dobok, tumbling around like bears.
I tried my hand at Aikido a while back, and all that forward and backward rolling did me good, even though my stiff back paid dearly for it the following morning. I love the philosophy of Aikido, which is centred in calm deflection. It doesn’t matter how small you are, because it’s about rerouting the aggressor’s energy back to them. Just recently, I went for a foundational Silat workshop which focused on somatic movement. I am unfamiliar with the world of somatic movement, but the idea of using intentional body movements as a means to regulate our mental health is intriguing. Our bodies hold a lot—trauma, stress, anxiety, just to name a few—and conditioning it regularly seems wise in the long run. 

Silat is fascinating. It combines martial arts with malay dance, and embraces the same approach of deflection. The result is complex graceful gestures with the intention to distract and disarm your opponent. Instead of focusing on form, our instructor Hafeez told us to focus on our intentions behind each movement. How do you give a gift to someone? How do you put on a bracelet? Throw a fishing net into the sea and coil it back? Paint your name? Many Silat movements are adopted from traditional malay practices, such as the warrior’s walk, which mirrors padi farmers navigating the waterlogged soil. The session felt like a ritual, and the drumming of the brilliant Riduan Zalani brought both groundedness and transcendence to the entire experience. 

My favourite movement was the harvest, where we would stretch, palms skyward, propped on one leg. It reminded me of dances exalting the rain. That’s how I want to feel, as we inch towards open skies.  


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