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Kenneth Yeung, 26, Muay Thai Head Coach
I grew up in Shek Kip Mei and later moved to Tseung Kwan O. I applied to many schools in the area but many rejected me. The one I finally changed to was a pretty bad one, and I was constantly bullied by my schoolmates.
You know how there are always one or two students in a class who are the leaders. People buy them snacks. People listen to them. No one disagrees with them and they would lead their pack to pick on certain students. And that person in my class chose me. He would make fun of me. Get all his friends to hit me.
I was skinny. I was tiny, physically. I was mostly frightened and upset. I didn’t dare fight back, because I was afraid they’d hurt me harder, and I was afraid my mom would scold me if something happened.
When I went to high school, the problems persisted. They kept bullying me. They excluded me and pranked me. In the mornings, we usually left our schoolbags in the courtyard. I would usually have a pack of drinks in the bag, and they’d stamp on my bag and cause the drink to spill. They would also tear my textbooks apart.
I tried telling my teachers, but it only made the bullying worse. They’d pretend to be nice in front of the teachers, but bullied me harder behind their backs. It wasn’t only me. They targeted all the quieter, smaller guys.
When I was about 16 years old, I decided to quit school. I was in form two. I was really unhappy. I mean, I only went back to school to sleep in class. Better to sleep at home, right?
My mother was a bit angry, but she understood that if I really didn’t want to learn, there was no point forcing me. After I quit, I spent most of my time playing video games and watching movies at home. I also did some really simple part-time jobs at restaurants, logistics or renovation, but I never managed to keep the same job for more than two days. I didn’t like them.
I was very shy. I didn’t like talking to people. Online chatting? That I was good at. My friends were mostly people I met in video games. Those people were who I bared my heart to. It was very happy. We talked about from things we did during the day to what upsets us. I felt like a piece of garbage, living off my mother. I also felt very insecure about my body. Every day, I felt ugly and felt like a fool.
I was going to get my hair cut. I looked up, and saw the logo of this boxing studio. I came up and saw a bunch of very fit men with lots of muscles. I really wanted to be like them, so I signed up for a class.
I was scared at first, because I was so shy. I only became more confident after competing in my first Thai boxing match, which was only three months after I joined. My teacher encouraged me to join because I came to the studio every single day, for at least six hours.
I really became infatuated with Thai boxing after my first match. I did not win my first match, but drew a tie! I considered it a win personally, especially since the opponent’s father was very well-known in Muay Thai. All the applause and cheering from the audience made me feel like I was good at something. I’d never had that feeling before.
There are currently five surgical screws on my face. I broke my nose once as well, that’s why it’s crooked. The good thing is that I no longer get nose bleeds. Even when I get hit, my nose doesn’t bleed.
To be honest, compared to football and basketball, Muay Thai is a safer sport. There are potentially more dangerous accidents in football, such as when someone’s foot hits yours. But in Muay Thai, everyone is well-prepared during a match. You understand what would lead to what injuries. There are mostly just bruises on your limbs and faces.
Muay Thai is actually like a performance. On the stage, the fighters are actors. Even if it hurts, you need to feign confidence. You cannot let your opponent know how hurt you are. If your opponent figures your weak spot, they will target that area.
At first, Muay Thai fighters had no subsidy from the government. It was tough. My teacher, who owned the studio, would give me a salary for teaching here. He treated me like his own son. He paid for all my clothes, transport and food. He told me that I am one of the few hardworking students he’s met over the years.
My most memorable moment? Every time I win a competition. They are all incredibly memorable. I still feel like crying every single time. Before a match, my teacher would train with me for months. It’s very tough for him too. He’s getting old now. Are there others who I can train with? Yes. But he knows me best and trains me best. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be winning any competition; I wouldn’t be where I am today.
My next goal is to become a better, stronger fighter, because I think I rely too much on my winning moves — my knees and legs —and that I need to develop better techniques, especially on the upper half of my body. I’m known in the field as “The Thunder Knees.” It’s my signature move.
Becoming a Muay Thai fighter actually made me a calmer person. I learned patience, and also how badly violence can hurt. So I don’t have the urge at all to get physical, even if I’m angry. I’m more willing to apologize for things.
Muay Thai changed my life. I’ve been practicing Muay Thai for 10 years now, and for the past decade, I’ve never taken a day off.