How Martial Arts Changed My Life, by Eugene Tan

*Content warning: bullying, childhood trauma*

My childhood was one of strife. Bullies were a frequent encounter. Experiences of social isolation and ostracization started at a young age. These things were the norm. My everyday life. All it took was one fateful afternoon and everything changed.

It was during a regular lunch break, when I suddenly felt excruciating pain lacerate my arm and body. I looked up in horror to see my assailant holding a taser to my face. Crackles of electricity ran through my body as he assaulted me repeatedly during routine school lunch. I’ll never know his motivations, all I felt then was a sense of humiliation and helplessness. That path brought me to my journey in Martial Arts and self-discovery.

Martial arts brought a sense of meaning, wonderment and fulfilment to my life. It kept me away from vice and self-destructive behaviours. I was motivated; always hungry for more. It was no longer a method of self-defence. It became a way of life. I was introduced to foreign concepts of humility in defeat, honour, morality and unwavering integrity. Upholding myself according to these principles profoundly changed the way I view life.

My journey started in Kung Fu. However, my desire for more brought me to experience many more styles. To this date, I’ve studied: Wing Chun Kung Fu, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai/Thai Kickboxing. For me, the most rewarding was Muay Thai, also known as, the ‘Art of Eight Limbs’. One can use punches, elbows, kicks and knees to attack and defend. It’s a sport that requires much concentration, co-ordination and awareness of body and self. But it’s not just a sport. It’s an art steeped in Thai tradition and culture.

Muay Thai isn’t about fighting or violence. It’s a journey of self-improvement. The years of hard work cumulating into victory or defeat. It could be a night where two people face off in the ring, aiming to truly know what they’re made of in the most primal way possible. Or it could be the self-confidence one can gain alongside the experience of fitness, weight loss and spirituality. With it, the nature of honour and respect for one another is paramount. Before each battle, we perform a Ritual Dance known as the Wai Khru to pray for strength, humility in victory, and grace in defeat. This spiritual aspect of the sport coupled with harsh defeat taught me to never underestimate my opponent nor overestimate myself. But through all this, I’ve also forged life-long bonds of friendship and learnt from mentors all around the world.

Martial Arts has given me a family of like-minded individuals from all walks of life. I’ve learnt not to ‘judge a book by its cover’ in that, behind every individual,  lies a complex story of choices and decisions that has led to who the person is today. With that, I hope readers can find the fortitude to pursue their passions and dreams wholeheartedly, to find the drive to succeed in aspects of life.

Currently, my life revolves around honing my skills in and outside the ring. The battles will be long and hard, however through it - I find peace and calamity amidst the chaos.

Finally, I’d like to thank Sally Renouf and Amelia Zaraftis for their continued support, my Coach Gaz Rees for training me, and my Mom and Dad; without them I wouldn’t be here today. If anyone would like to take a chance at self-defence or fitness, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Chopper Muay Thai in Canberra.  The excellent World Champion Gaz Rees will train you and his family of students will welcome you.

Eugene Tan

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