Siti Rahmah M Nasir, 30, is the 2016 National Sportswoman of the Year. She started out doing taekwondo in 2008, “semua dekat (around) Kuala Terengganu,” after hearing her sister’s constant after-school chatter about how it employed chops and kicks.
Until then, Siti Rahmah had never played sports in her life: “Never jogging, never run, never skateboard, hockey, badminton; never touch.”
She demurs that at “12, 13, 14 years old” she was “quite bad”. But a few years later, she was selected for the national Sukma Games, which came as a shock. “My coach said I should go. So, I went, and then, suddenly, I won,” she says. She won a silver medal at 17 for Kedah; it was 2006.
At the next Sukma Games in Terengganu, Siti Rahmah wanted to win the gold for Terengganu, but she had trouble accepting the coaching methods. “They start to pukul-pukul (hit) I (me) if I was late and my weight wasn’t in. So, it’s a bit stress, and the coach was like, ‘More torture’. And then they started to slap me.”
So, Siti Rahmah switched to silat and got the call to join the Malaysia team.
At the 2009 Laos SEA Games, she took the bronze in the women’s 65-70kg category. “My mum macam sedih I kalah (was depressed over my loss).” So, she said to herself, “I don’t want to see my mum crying, I don’t want to see her sad. So, I worked harder.”
Siti Rahmah brought home a silver medal at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia. “That time, I thought I was ready, but I kalah (lost) for silver,” she says. She was crestfallen because she thought she had sacrificed a great deal to finish at the top of the podium. Her confidence also took a beating because she was booed by the notoriously vociferous crowd in Indonesia.
After taking a break, she made her comeback in 2012 and won a world title. “All I fight gila-gila (with crazy passion),” she says with a smile.
Some of Siti Rahmah’s medal highlights:
• She won the Kejohanan Pencak Silat Dunia kali ke-16 in Phuket, Thailand (2015).
• At the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, she won a silver medal in the Class F below 75kg category of the silat competition.
• At the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, she won a gold medal in the Class D below 65kg category of the silat competition.
• She was the gold medal winner in the Class E Puteri silat event in Hanoi in 2011.
Apart from the physical training, Siti Rahmah says that she takes a whole year to prepare for the SEA Games spiritually and mentally. “Training, of course, you have to do. I more jaga to sembahyang, jaga amalan (focus on prayers and conduct); how to talk to your coach, your attitude towards people, your coaches, your friends, how you build up yourself… You do good things for people, Allah will give you things. Whatever I have, is from Him. So, I pray more, doa more,” she says.
“It is not about ilmu-ilmu (esoteric arts),” she adds. “But you have to train hard so God will see, and then you have to make doa (pray). You have to pray, and then you have to leave it to Him. If you do, and you doa, He will listen.”
Siti Rahmah is also keen to put to rest the speculation that surrounds silat practitioners. “We train hard every day, every night. So, there’s no such thing as we ada ilmu (practise black arts); we don’t do that in the Malaysia team,” she stresses. “We really keluar peluh (sweat it out) and work for it to get gold. We’re really training hard, pagi, petang, malam (morning, evening and night); we sacrifice a lot of things, our families, our lives.”
“Silat represents us. It teaches us a lot about our budaya (culture). I’m sure orang silat—betul-betul silat (genuine silat exponents)—can protect themselves. They’re not just kicking [but] teaching you budaya, culture and religion.”
The Southeast Asian Games will take place between 19th and 30th August, 2017. The ASEAN Para Games will be held from 17th to 23rd September, 2017. This article was first published in Esquire Malaysia, August 2017.