Have we ever counted how many types of martial arts sports are from East Asia (China, Korea, Japan) and how many are from the Islamic World (Middle East)? In fact, we don't even know yet, what is the name of the martial arts sport ever studied by the Mujahid. What's certain is that, it's not Kung Fu, Karate, Kempo, Aikido, Iaido, Judo, Jiu Jitsu or Taekwando.
Whereas, Rasulullah had ordered that the Muslims children are to be taught the sports of swimming, horse riding and archery, which are the proverbial sports that can be used for survival, self defense, and of course jihad.
If we look at the history and culture of the Nusantara (Malay Archipelago - ed.), we will find a wide variety of traditional martial arts, i.e. “silat”. According to Sheikh Shamsuddin (2005) in the book, “The Malay Art of Self-Defense: Silat Seni Gayong” silat has been an open martial sciences since the beginning, that it had brought in those elements absorbed from the merchants or soldiers from India, China, Arabia, Turkey and others. The legend on the Malay Peninsula believes that Hang Tuah from the 14th century was the greatest silat fighter. The same thing happens in the Island of Java, which prides in Mas Karebet, alias Joko Tingkir alias Sultan Hadiwijaya who ruled in the Sultanate of Pajang.
The development and spread of silat began to be recorded historically when its spread was much influenced by the ulama's, along with the spread of Islam in the 14th century in the Nusantara. This historical record is assessed as authentic in the history of the development of silat, where its influence can still be seen today. At that time, silat had been taught together with religious studies in madrassa's. Silat then evolved from the mere science of martial arts and folk dance art, to become a part of the State defense education, to be used to confront the colonialists. Besides that, it also became a part of the spiritual trainings, because it had already been a tradition in the pesantrens (traditional Islamic boarding school – ed.), that the science of high-level silat was only awarded to the students who have khattam (completed) the books of advanced fiqh and tasawuf, and has proven to be able to withstand the turmoil of the nafs (carnal desires).
What happened and can still be provable in term of their traces in the various pesantrens in the Nusantara, has to be a reflection of the same tradition that could be evenly spreading in the Daulah Islam. It would not be possible for the Daulah Islam to have Mujahids, who are tough, while it does not have the 'wellspring', namely the religious students who practice the sports of the Mujahids. Thereby, silat or the like was developed in the Islamic world by the spirit of jihad, not the spirit of wanting to be famous in the arena of championship, let alone the mere spirit of obtaining material gains or revenge. However, when the aura of jihad is getting dimmer in the Islamic world, the same tradition was also getting dimmer.
Besides silat, a sport that is very related with jihad is the sport of strategy, namely Chess. Generally, chess is believed to have originated in India during the period of the Gupta Kingdom in the 6th century AD. Catur (chess in Indonesian – ed.) is derived from the word “caturaga”, which means the four divisions in the military, namely the infantry (= foot soldiers), cavalry (= horses), elephants, and panzers (= castle, battlements). This game then got popular in the territories of the Persian Empire in around the year 600 AD. When Persia was freed by the Islamic army, this game was then adopted as it was perceived as good for strategy training. The term “skak” (mate) was derived from the Persian word “Shah”, which means king. Of course, an army will not win if they only learn the strategies. However, when this science of strategy was taken up by the commanders of the Islamic army, plus the fact that they had the jasmaniyah preparedness –trained with silat- and the ruhiyah preparedness which was trained with taqarrub ilallah, they then became a very formidable forces.
In addition to the martial arts as a sport of jihad, swimming and horseback riding were also a shining sports in the long period of the Islamic Khilafah. The Islamic Khilafah built a lot of public bathhouses in enclosed buildings, where men-specific bathing places were totally separate from women-specific bathing places, with guards only from the same gender. With the result that the sports of swimming could be learned and enjoyed in a healthy way, without the risk of violating against the Shari'ah. Some of these remaining bathing places could still be seen until today in Cairo, Damascus or Istanbul. The model of a bathing place like this is called by the Europeans as the “Turkish Bath”.
The swimming skills of the Mujahids of Islam were proven in some battles in water, where they purposely crashed their ships onto the ships of the enemies, and jumped into the water a few minutes before the crash. Next, the vessel of the enemies, that was stuck with the vessel that hit it, was burnt using flamed arrows.
The same goes with horse riding. The attention paid on horses was special, because a horse has a variety of functions, either in peacetime or wartime. The centuries of attention thus produced the purebred called the “Arabian horse” known as one of the superior breeds in the world, capable of wading through the desert faster. But the superior breed would only be beneficial if the reins were handled by the rider who excels at it. Due to that, horseback riding ability at the basic level had once become one of the compulsory subjects to be mastered by an ibtidaiyah (elementary) student before being certified as 'passed'.
The significant decline in martial sports happened evenly worldwide (including in Europe) since the invention of firearms. When Europe, with their intelligence and evilness managed to colonize a wide range of countries in Asia, including a big part of the Islamic world, learning the arts of self-defense started to be banned systematically. The science of self-defense martial arts only experienced a “reincarnation” long after military colonizations ended, and the art of self-defense managed to be sterilized to become as merely a sport. The martial arts skill as a true ability to fight only remains in action movies, where in this case, films from Japan or China are indeed a step further, that they managed to make the martial arts of those countries famous and flourish around the world.
The same goes with the ability to swim in the Islamic world, it declined since the shar'ie public bathing places had gone. Besides the training swimmer athletes, the majority of people coming to the pool are just for fun, while, either we like it or not, seeing the awrah here and there. Meanwhile, since the invention of bicycles and motor vehicles, horse riding becomes something exclusive for the well-to-do's. Whereas, many other prospects could be learned from horse riding, that are not found on other vehicles.
[The Book: TSQ -Technoscience Spiritual Quotient-, Stories of Research and Science Development and Technology in The Islamic Civilization, pg. 27-31; Fahmi Amhar (Professor for Spatial Information Science at the National Coordinating Agency for Surveys & Mapping of Indonesia)]