How Love Transcends All
L'OFFICIEL Singapore|December 2021/January 2022
The festive season has always been held up as a symbol of the TRADITIONAL family structure. This year, we revisit the notion of family by putting the SPOTLIGHT on three diverse families, showing that despite their differences, these stories don’t need to be melodramatic or overwrought; they can be quotidian, too. A polyamorous single mother, a pair of national athlete sisters, and a married lesbian couple tell us about how love transcends all
Hillary Kang
SILAT CHAMPS Nurul Shafiqah & Nurul Suhaila ARE FAMILY FIRST, COMETITORS SECOND

As two similarly-aged sisters who compete in the same sport, the comparisons were inevitable. Surely either Nurul Suhaila or her elder sister Nurul Shafiqah – both decorated silat practitioners who started the sport together as youths – had some form of sibling rivalry going?

Not quite. There's nothing but love between the two siblings who finish each other's sentences and share a penchant for waffles and ice cream outside of the ring. When a recurrent knee injury forced Shafiqah to bow out of the sport some three years ago, it was Suhaila who was her pillar of support.

It took me a few months to really decide because we'd been doing silat together throughout our lives, says Shafiqah, 27. Later, when Suhaila won her first world title at the 2018 Pencak Silat World Championship, it was Shafiqah who was cheering the loudest in the stands.

The two sisters – who playfully admit they've shared a room for some two decades – have always had an easy camaraderie. This, despite being complete opposites – as Suhaila puts it. She's a hundred per cent introverted, but I'm more of an ambivert, says the 26-year-old. But even though you might have teammates, supporters, your family is different... You know that when she's cheering for you, when she's supporting you, she genuinely wants you to win.

You both started silat at a young age. What was it like growing up as both sisters and teammates?

Suhaila: I didn't adapt as fast as my sister – I felt like when she went into silat, she went in straight on. She immediately blended in; she was the more rugged one. I was the one hiding behind my mum, because I didn't wanna fight. (laughs)

Shafiqah: We were together a lot when we were younger – we would meet up almost every day to train, even on Saturdays, Sundays, sometimes. We've basically been doing silat together throughout our lives.

Suhaila: We slept on the same bed, too. That's why I had to move out! (laughs) We literally grew up in the same room for 26 years.

Shafiqah: And you'd keep wearing my clothes.

Suhaila: That was the case for you too!

Was training with your sister different compared to training with a teammate?

Suhaila: I feel like when we would mock-fight with each other, it's even worse than fighting with a friend. We are both combat silat fighters, but we used to compete also in the artistic category, so both of us would do choreographed fights where we'd use weapons on each other. And sometimes when we disagree – like when she'd tell me I'm too slow in a move, or I'd say she was too fast – we'd really fight. Shafiqah would go hard and I'd feel pain, and I'd go – 'Oh, you wanna do that now?' It's because she's older, she always wants to be right. (laughs)

Shafiqah: No! Maybe a bit. (laughs)

Suhaila: They used to laugh at us, because when we train, for example, like a three-minute performance – we'd always exit the mat different ways and cool down separately for a while. But we've never had a real, serious fight: It's always a thing, where you don't apologize, but the next day you ask: 'You wanna go get ice cream together?'

You were both a part of the national team around the same time and would compete in the same events. Was there ever any sort of rivalry between the two of you?

Suhaila: A lot of people assume we have a sort of rivalry, but we have none. Because really, if my sister is better than me, I'd be happy for her. In training, yes, we do want to beat each other because we're pushing each other. But when we're competing, and if I lose and she goes on, then I'm genuinely happy. There's no jealousy, there's no, 'Why couldn't that be me?' And it's so nice. Because although you have teammates, having your family with you is different: You know that when she's cheering for you, she genuinely wants you to win.

Shafiqah, you quit silat a few years ago. How did you make that decision, and how did your sister help you through that?

Shafiqah: I had to stop silat about three years ago, right after I graduated from university. I had injured my knee six, seven times by then... It took me a few months to really decide, because we'd been doing silat together since childhood. But back then, even though I was still injured, I'd still continue training – and my sister would always bring me ice, and she'd tell me: 'If you really cannot go on, then don't push yourself, because you might worsen your injury.'

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