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 first of this two-part series, Red Sports finds out how Shakir got started in the sport, the many challenges he faced along the way and how he nearly quit a couple of years ago.
Here is his story.
Red Sports: Tell us more about yourself.
Shakir: I have been in the sport of Silat for 10 years and have represented Singapore for nearly eight years now. I have held the position of team captain since 2009 and have been to the SEA Games and World Championships three times in a row. Last year, I became world champion.
RS: When and how did you start participating in the sport of Silat?
Shakir: I joined this sport when I was 13 years old. Before that, I was chubby and very lazy. I did not like to do sporty stuff, so my father decided to send me for silat training as a form of exercise and for me to lose some weight. I joined a silat club in 2003 and my passion grew from there.
Every Saturday, I would look forward to the training. At the start, I did not know about the sport or the different kinds of competition. I simply joined just because it was fun. I never thought about being a national athlete, a team captain, much less a world champion!
RS: When did your goals start to shift toward national aspirations?
Shakir: After two years of practicing silat, there was a selection for the national squad. Mr Sheik Alau’ddin, who is the CEO of the Singapore Silat Federation and my grandmaster, asked me if I wanted to try out for it, and I thought, “Why not?” Eventually, I won the trial and got selected for the national squad.
RS: Throughout these 10 years of silat, what was your toughest challenge?
Shakir: 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.
Gaining weight was also a challenge. My coaches saw a potential for me to be successful in a larger category because of my speed and size so I had to gain weight. There was a time when I had to gain weight from 60 kg to 75 kg in one month! On top of that, it was the fasting month. I had to eat a lot and also take a lot of supplements that the association gave. I had to put on another 10 kg to hit my current weight of 85 kg, but the toughest was putting on the 15 kg in one month!
RS: Were there sacrifices that you had to make?
Shakir: One of the main sacrifices that I had to make is spending less 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 to 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: What kept you going despite all these challenges?
Shakir: My passion for the sport kept me going. I enjoy training, be it silat training or gym training. For me, all that I have done is not wasted. Everything I do, I enjoy it and I do it 100 percent.