Different variations of martial arts are present in every Asian country — it’s practically a part of our DNA.
While UFC has become a hit in the western world, Singapore-based ONE Championship has dominated Asia by showcasing their talented Asian athletes while also respecting the real tradition of martial arts and its values of integrity, discipline, respect, and humility.
MMA is often seen as a Westernized hybrid combat sport that incorporates various techniques from Muay Thai, karate, taekwondo, jujitsu, judo, and other disciplines. However, their modern training tactics are undeniably rooted in various Asian cultures.
It’s ironic to see how many Asian parents today are eager to encourage their children to learn sports such as golf or tennis but neglect introducing them to their own country’s martial arts.
Perhaps these parents are more inclined to push their children into golf due to it being a low-risk sport that is non-discriminatory towards various heights or strengths. Golf is, after all, a controlled and respectable game that can be played from childhood into adulthood. Another explanation, while slightly more superficial, could be its association with success and higher social status.
Regardless of their motives, families should realize that in comparison to golf, learning MMA could present a wider range of benefits such as becoming adept in self-defense and learning more about their Asian cultural backgrounds through martial arts.
“Martial arts, regardless of age or ability is something that will benefit you and it’s something that you can do with your family,” Jewels Lee, co-founder of United MMA & Fitness Center in Oahu, Hawaii, told NextShark.
The husband and wife duo both grew up training in taekwondo as children and even competed professionally across Canada before starting a family. Today, their passions in martial arts have inspired their four children who are continuing on the family legacy by competing in international MMA competitions across the globe.
I sat across from Ken and Jewels as they spoke with me in their family’s gym. Moments before, they had been training alongside their four children, demonstrating different martial arts strategies on the mats. As I heard the Lee family giggling and chatting amongst themselves in between lessons, it was like looking at any normal, close-knit Asian family like my own, despite the non-traditional choice in physical activity.
According to the pair, they began introducing their children to mixed martial arts for self-defense purposes. “If someone decides to make you the victim of the day, you’re really going to be toast if you don’t have some knowledge of self-defense,” Jewels told me.
“Definitely encourage children in martial arts, because that’s something that you can do as a child and as an adult.”
Jewels, who trains in MMA herself, stressed how useful this knowledge can be for just about anyone. “Sometimes, even as a parent, when you’re loading up groceries in the back of the car all alone in the dark, you need to be able to get home safe to your children.”
When Jewels stressed the importance of knowing self-defense, I recalled chatting with Angela’s husband, ONE Championship fighter Bruno Pucci earlier that morning. Bruno, who teaches at the United MMA gym alongside the Lee family, also told me, “People can only see us as MMA fighters but there are other aspects of the sport like confidence, self-defense, especially in the world as it is now,” he said echoing the Lees’ messages.
“One day when we have a family, it would give me the confidence to leave my child alone and know that they can defend themselves if something happens.”
It took me by surprise just how many families were present at the United MMA & Fitness Center — parents, children, siblings, all learning together. While so many of the male athletes appeared tough and brute from the outside, they showed a completely different side to themselves as soon as they left the mats to approach their children waiting excitedly for them on the sidelines.
This is exactly how Angela and Christian got involved in MMA: “At two years old, it’s just being on the mats doing stretches, it’s just fun time,” Ken said.
“They’d be on the side, stretching on the mats, thinking they’re like the big kids,” Jewels recalled.
While professional MMA fighting is certainly a non-traditional career route, it was clear from the way Ken and Jewels embraced their children that they couldn’t be more proud. “Typically in Asian culture, it’s all about education, education, education. Sometimes parents are just so narrow-minded that they don’t realize they have to let their children dream too,” Ken told me.
“And as parents, you’re not helping them by sheltering them every time they fall,” Jewels added. “It’s important to take a step back, let them fall, and then help them to rise back up.”
MMA certainly isn’t the typical tiger parent’s choice of physical activity, but the values it teaches are exactly what parents want for their children: honor, respect, integrity, and humility. And despite straying from the traditionally respected path, this sport has certainly changed the Lee family’s lives for the better, with the two siblings becoming world champions and continuing on the legacy of the family gym.
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