STORY // Teo Jing Ting
PHOTO // Kenneth Lin
My feet were pressed together under the scorching sun. My right arm was supporting my rifle at my hip and the trigger guard was pressed against my right shoulder. I stared past the audience. I hoped that I looked confident but in truth, I was a bundle of nerves.
The band started playing and the countdown began. I took a deep breath, and started my routine.
A wave of ambition
I've always thought that the SPDS was cool. Ever since I saw them perform at a Changing of Guard (COG) ceremony at the Istana two years ago, I have been enthralled by their sleek rifle moves and synchronised hand gestures that match the beat of the music.
I reported at Mowbray Camp excitedly and was introduced to my personal trainer, Corporal First Class (CFC) Ahmad Sukri. An SPDS member for more than a year, the 22-year-old has been in more than 10 performances.
My task: to learn five drills over three days of training. These were part of the 25-drill routine specially choreographed for the SPDS' performance at the COG ceremony which is held on the first Sunday of every month.
It's all in the details
"Peacock" was the first drill that I learnt. This series of moves consisted of lowering the 2.5kg rifle, banging its butt on the ground and swinging it up again. This was interjected with several hand movements, including twisting the rifle and sweeping my right hand vertically down the rifle's body.
This basic drill may have been easy to pick up, but mastering the precision needed was tough. Every angle had to be absolutely precise and every flick of the hand had to be smooth and swift.
This was also the reason potential SPDS members go through a one-month basic course. Only half of each batch of about 40 students are selected to train for another three months in the advanced course before qualifying as SPDS members.
In the three days I spent with the SPDS, I learnt four other moves: "Shoulder Slope", "Seagames", "Hornet" and "Tamil Pipa".
Just as I was about to ask CFC Sukri why I wasn't learning the cool stuff that involved rotating the rifle, he demonstrated the last and toughest drill for me - the "Tamil Pipa". This drill incorporated the same twisting but with two 180-degree rotations.
Despite my many aches, I pressed on. This move took me the longest to learn as it involved many different hand movements.
"It's all about muscle memory. You just need to keep practising the part that you're weak at, and the rest will come naturally," said CFC Sukri encouragingly.
Rifling with K-Pop
While the drills were rather similar, details like the different hand movements made them difficult to remember. Coupled with the counting of beats under my breath and the Korean pop music, I was all but ready to give up.
Yup, the SPDS practise with pop songs to train their ability to concentrate. It was really distracting as I just couldn't stop myself from humming along to the songs.
And then it was D-Day. I had been training just for this moment, and had even resorted to practising my routine with an umbrella at home for fear of forgetting the steps.
After watching me rehearse while counting to the beats and tune of the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band, CFC Sukri smiled and said: "You're ready."
He didn't know I was actually quaking with fear.
I took CFC Sukri's spot on the parade square. He stood opposite me, gave me a thumbs-up and got into position. He would be doing my routine with me in case I forgot a step.
You know the silence just before a performance starts? The pressure was immense. I was still running through the routine in my mind while trying to look cool and confident when the band started playing and the performance began.
I got past the first drill smoothly andmessed up the next.
CFC Sukri's eyes widened with horror. I froze for a second and was so guilt-stricken that I wanted to beat myself up for that mistake. But I had to carry on as the SPDS and the band continued performing and playing.
Fortunately, I had CFC Sukri to guide me. Without missing a beat, he continued the routine. I took his cue and finished my performance without further hiccups.
I may never do this again, but the next time I watch an SPDS performance, I will truly appreciate the effort and hours that they put in to pull off those smooth moves. Recalling and executing the drills is definitely challenging when all eyes are on you.
These guys sure are cool.
Learn the moves!
Peacock, Shoulder Slope & Hornet
The basic move for these three drills consist of lowering the rifle, banging its butt on the ground and swinging it up again.
Seagames & Tamil Pipa
These two drills involve twisting the rifle butt with your right palm and letting the rifle body fall onto your left palm. The move has to be done within half a count.