An Eagle Soars – THE STAR: Sunday August 8, 2004
The Star. August 8, 2004.
FOR a man who can cause a lot of damage with his bare hands, Raja Abdul Aziz Mohd Ali certainly has an unassuming air about him. He’s even uncomfortable being called a mahaguru, or grandmaster, of the silat style he teaches.
“‘Maha’ means godlike, and I am not like that!” said the 56-year-old in his affable manner during a chat at his house in Kampung Dusun Tua in Hulu Langat, Selangor.
Friends said the man had squirmed sheepishly when meeting them after they had read a magazine article that had bestowed the title on him. But the article wasn’t too far off the mark. Raja Aziz has, almost single-handedly, formalised and spread the teachings of Silat Kegayongan Acheh Helang Putih, an ancient style of fighting that belongs to his family. His is one of the most popular silat organisations in the country with a membership of about 35,000. Currently, there are Silat Helang Putih organisations in 10 states in Malaysia and one each in France and Canada.
In 2001, Raja Aziz was invited, along with 21 other grandmasters, to the residence of the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Wisma Perdana, Putrajaya, to give a pledge of loyalty to the Government.
That moment on March 10 when he took the pledge has spurred Raja Aziz to work even harder to propagate Silat Helang Putih. Not that he needs much encouragement. He’s been almost obsessed with taking this ancient “way of the warrior” nationwide and even worldwide. So focused has he been since he took up the art when he was 12 years old that his 10 older siblings all prophesied that he would angkat sampah (“carry garbage” – become a garbage collector) when he grew up!
According to legends handed down within the family, Silat Helang Putih was taught to an ancestor by a celestial warrior who, after committing an impropriety, had been cursed into taking the form of an eagle. The ancient form of Silat Helang Putih was a killing art, said Raja Aziz. The modern version is more moderate and can be safely demonstrated to the public. Students practice stylistic moves, and piercing shouts, screams and shrieks that are reminiscent of an eagle.
“If foreigners can appreciate silat, I do not see why we cannot make silat known to the world,” he said, referring to the two foreign students he has taught, Joseph J. Vanrooy and Ta’am Kamal, who are now teaching the art in Canada and France respectively.
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