Monday, July 25, 2011

'Beginnings' by Michael Parry

The following is an extract from the first chapter of a book that Michael Parry was proposing to write on Jan de Jong (see previous blog).

A little over 300 kilometres north west of Kuala Lumpur, along a twisting road which winds itself lazily towards Malaysia's hill country, sits Taiping, a little town off the tourist track.


In October 1979, when the skies over Malaysia were heavy with impending rain, Jan de Jong and his wife Margaret were heading in the direction of Taiping. It wasn't actually their destination that hot and oppressive day. De Jong wasn't really sure precisely where he was going, but he was confident he was heading in the right direction.

His aim was a meeting with Meor Abdul Rahman, supreme head instructor of the Malaysian self-defence system known as Silat Seni Gayong. He knew that Rahman, a very fit man in his sixties, lived in Perak State, though the exact location was still a mystery to De Jong as he motored north.

De Jong is not the sort to meander on a journey. 'I like to travel fairly fast. I don't like turning back. If I am too late to stop at an eating place I might see at the last minute, I'd rather drive on a little slower and stop at the next place.'

When Margaret spotted a roadside settlement some distance out of Ipoh, her husband, foot to the floor, was well past the ramshackle huts by the time he had been told it might be a good place to take refreshments. De Jong put on the brakes and, contrary to his normal instincts, turned the car and headed back.

Cool drink in hand, De Jong wandered around the stalls, a scattering of lean-tos offering an assortment of arts and crafts. In one, he noticed a copper engraving on the wall. It was a reproduction of a picture he had seen before, a photo of Abdul Rahman with a leading member of the Malaysian Government.

The stall-holder, impressed with a visitor showing some knowledge of his compatriots, was happy to inform De Jong that the revered martial arts instructor lived in the village of Air Kuning, or Yellow Water, a little settlement on the outskirts of Taiping. To get there was easy, he explained, one merely had to take the dust road to the right, just before Taiping.

Back in the car, proceeding with that confident air of an experienced driver, De Jong missed the turning to Air Kuning but, to the amazement of his wife, continued into Taiping. As he sought out a rest house, Margaret asked him why, after taking the trouble to establish just where Abdul Rahman lived, he had driven past. The expense of the entire exercise was worrying her practical mind.

'I told her not to worry,' De Jong remembers. 'I knew subconsciously that I was doing the right thing without even thinking about it.'

It is not the easiest thing for a European to get into government rest houses. They are used a lot by travelling civil servants, but De Jong's knowledge of the language opened another door and he was soon enjoying a siesta. Later the De Jongs went for a meal, climbing to the first floor restaurant with its fine view of the lake garden.

The restaurant was almost empty and the waiter, happy to talk with a European who could converse easy in his own tongue, asked De Jong what he was doing in Taiping. 'I'm going to Air Kuning,' he was told. 'But why?' asked the waiter. 'Because I want to see Meor Abdul Rahman,' replied De Jong.

'Well, sir,' said the waiter, 'he is sitting here beside you.'

Turning, De Jong was amazed to see a little silver-haired man at an adjoining table looking at him with a pleased, though somewhat incredulous, expression. 'It is Allah's wish that we should meet,' he told De Jong, embracing him as an old friend. The Malaysian then explained that he had not visited the rest house for years and had only come that day for a business meeting.

It was the beginning of firm friendship, a fruitful one for De Jong who later became the first European to be awarded a certificate in Silate Seni Gayong from the skillful old master of the art.

So why should a man, who rarely deviates from his journey, turn around on a country road and then, fully instructed about his destination, choose to ignore those directions - and yet still reach his goal?

If you can follow De Jong's explanation, you are on your way to understanding the principles and philosophy of jujutsu.

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