By Koh Yizhe/Red Sports
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 medallist, joins a list of successful silat champions who have done Singapore proud on the world stage.
In the second of this two-part series, Shakir shares with Red Sports how he defeated four difficult opponents to claim Silat’s highest honour and his goals in the coming year.
RS: What is the experience of becoming world champion like?
Shakir: The feeling is overwhelming. Becoming a world champion is the highest of the sporting achievements and the road to victory is very tough. I had to sacrifice a lot, watch my diet and train a lot! Almost 6 times a week!
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.
Before the competition, my head coach had already set a target of gold for me. I was like, “Wow! He set such a high target for me!” I didn’t have much confidence in myself, but I told myself to think positively and continued training.
When I reached Thailand, I started feeling the vibe of the competition and the competitive atmosphere around me. I told myself, “My way to become a champion is on this path and this is my time.” I knew I had to think positively and take one step at a time.
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 bruise 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 I was way behind on points 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.
I was also shocked to receive the Best Athlete Award which is given to the top athlete of the entire competition. I think it was the determination and desire to win and the fighting spirit that won me the award.
RS: Now that you have achieved this goal, what’s next for Shakir?
Shakir: I learned a lot from the entire experience. It has boosted my confidence and I believe I can achieve more in the near future.
Now, I want to win the SEA Games gold. I have brought back bronze and silver for Singapore and the next thing to aim for is gold.
There are many more competitions to look forward to. I’ve got a whole new year ahead of me and what’s over is over. I was the world champion in 2012 and now, I’ve to look forward to the next competition which is the 2013 SEA Games. I will not remain on Cloud Nine.
RS: Do you have any words of wisdom to share for those hoping to be a world champion like you?
Shakir: For me, it’s simple: you must have the desire and determination and discipline; these three ‘Ds’. If you’re tired today and you tell yourself, “There’s always tomorrow”, you will not be successful. You can’t have that mentality if you want to be a champion. A champion is someone who is dedicated and sacrifices a lot to be successful at a sport.