College of DuPage Faculty Member Works to Create National Martial Arts Team

By: Mike McKissack

Silat Article Image

College of DuPage Computer Information Systems Co-Coordinator Sheikh “Sam” Shamsuddin is not only a master in the digital realm of Computer Information Systems, he also is a master in the physical and spiritual realm of martial arts.

For more than 45 years, Shamsuddin has trained in silat, which is a class of martial arts from Southeast Asia typically practiced in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of the Philippines, the southern part of Thailand and Vietnam. While the art includes hundreds of different styles, silat forms are complete fighting systems that incorporate strikes, kicks, grappling, throwing and weapons. It is known for its dynamism and fluidity of motion.

Shamsuddin – who in 2005 published through North Atlantic Books “The Malay Art of Self-Defense: Silat Seni Gayong,” the only English language book on Malaysian silat – first introduced the martial art to DuPage County that same year through two Malay silat classes in COD’s Physical Education program.

“COD is the only college in the nation that offers silat classes and the only place in Illinois that silat classes are offered,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to create one team: Team USA, which can compete against countries worldwide.”

Shamsuddin and COD are starting to make that impact. Athletes trained at COD competed this past summer for the first time against more than 60 athletes from 15 states during the 2019 USA Pencak Silat National Championship in Loveland, Colorado. Coached by Shamsuddin with assistance from his senior students Joel Champ and David Krzyzewski, members of the team earned first, second and third place and qualified to compete in the 2020 International Silat Championship in Malaysia.

Team members consisted of COD students and faculty, including Siddique Ahmad, Kyle Keen, Jessica Ponce and John Trygstad, as well as adjunct coach Champ, adjunct coach and COD HVACR program student Krzyzewski and COD Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems Steve Santello.  

Krzyzewski began training with Shamsuddin at COD in 2008 after hearing about the class from a coworker. He has also studied Brazilian jujitsu and Tai boxing and he currently teaches a weekly silat class at COD. He took first place in his division during the competition and said he learned a lot during the event.

“You have to be patient,” he said. “It’s important not to go into the competition with expectations. As in any other sport, almost anything can happen. I just tried to keep calm and to keep the team calm.”

Santello began training in silat with Shamsuddin in 2017 because he was looking for a physical activity with which to engage. That his and Shamsuddin’s offices are located adjacent to each other also helped inspire him to start his training. He said he is thrilled with the opportunity to train with his coworker.

 The national championship in Loveland was Santello’s first opportunity to compete since beginning his training. He said he was pleased with his performance and that he learned a lot during his matches.

“The competition really forces you to learn how to adapt to different fighting styles and approaches while you are in combat,” he said. “Sam is so close to the source of the art. He’s a great resource here at COD.”

Shamsuddin started teaching silat in his native Malaysia in high schools, colleges and private training centers in Kuala Lumpur. He started the United States Gayong Federation (USGF), a non-profit organization affiliated with Gayong organizations in Malaysia and Singapore, dedicated to promoting, developing and teaching Malaysian Silat with emphasis on Silat Seni Gayong. He serves as the Director of Wasit and Juri Development at the United States Sport Silat Association (USSSA) and hopes to create new classes aimed at training additional judges to oversee competitions in the growing sport. He also hopes to start a sport silat class, focusing particularly on the sport elements of the art, without the traditional spiritual and cultural elements.

Shamsuddin said he is grateful for the support he has found at COD and particularly to the P.E. Center for the opportunity to share his knowledge and skill. He is passionate about spreading silat to as many people as possible and bringing more attention to both the sport and the art.

He has done much to support growth of the art and plans to continue on that path. Shamsuddin and the team are currently seeking sponsors which will enable them to be the first team ever to represent the U.S. at the International Silat Championship in Shamsuddin’s native Malaysia.

“The art is not well-known in the U.S.,” he said. “As a big country, the U.S. is perfectly situated to carry a lead role in making silat an Olympic sport.”

View photos of COD’s Malay silat class in action.

The Physical Education program at College of DuPage offers single-credit Malay Silat I and Malay Silat II classes, which incorporate defensive principles, self-awareness, skill and sensitivity training. Music, a form of dance and the philosophy of the art are included in the curriculum.