WE ARE turning into a society keen to fight, to vent our frustrations via combat sports.
Anything seems to be up for grabs, battering or bruising — from boxing to mixed martial arts to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Fight gyms seem to be popping up all over the place. We duck and weave as we take on four fight gym owners to find out their bruising stories for the love of sport.
In a battle of wits using one’s feet and fists, Robert Yap opts for cultural pureness when it comes to Muay Thai.
Robert Yap likens Muay Thai to “playing chess with your fists”.
“It isn’t a battle of strength, or who can kick faster, it’s a battle of wits,” adds the head trainer and director of Chowraiooi Muay Thai.
Having learned his craft in Thailand in his formative years, he is passionate in his quest to create a name for Singapore in the international Muay Thai scene.
He describes himself as a “troubled youth” who found martial arts an avenue to use his energies in a constructive way. “When I was a teenager, I was always angry.”
His mother was unable to control him, so Yap found himself on the road to Thailand with his machinist father.
At the age of 16, his father put him in a Muay Thai gym in the hopes that it would serve as an outlet for his anger and teenage angst.
A stranger in a strange land, Yap says that the culture shock and language differences didn’t help his integration, but meeting other students at the gym really gave him the kick in the chin he needed.
Yap recounts the story of how an eight-year-old boy taught him determination.
“He didn’t have shoes, his parents were living far away in the villages. All he knew was Muay Thai. It was all or nothing for him.”
Even though Yap was twice his age, he was astounded that he couldn’t even come close to matching the younger boy’s commitment or intensity in training. “I was actually learning from this boy, this is something different, it’s a whole new level.”
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Watching the coaches and trainers at work also spurred Yap to adopt what he considers the “traditional Thai approach” to Muay Thai training at his own gym.
Thai Way Or No Way!
“We follow the Thai way or we don’t do it at all. Otherwise, you’re diluting the art.”
He expects his competitive students to have absolute commitment, much like the commitment he shows as a coach.
He says that in the weeks leading up to the fight, he demands that the fighters spend the whole day in the gym under his supervision. Beginning training early in the day, eating all their meals there and also spending their nights there so that they are not influenced by distractions outside. While he does not enforce such rules on his personal training or casual gym clients, he still maintains a similarly strict regimen during his one-hour sessions.
By following the Thai training methodologies as closely as he can, Yap hopes that he can foster a better understanding of what Muay Thai is not only as a combative form but also as a cultural marker for Thai heritage.