It's make or break

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am


Andrew Wong Kee got a black belt in karate at 11 years old. At 13, he became a competitive rugby player, and by 15, he had a New Zealand amateur boxing title under his belt.

Now 34, the Samoan-Chinese believes these early childhood achievements and his 'Polynesian warrior spirit' give him the competitive edge in his latest physical challenge: Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

He describes the aim of the sport as 'submitting your opponent into defeat by choking them, putting them to sleep or breaking a limb'. Broken arms, he says, are a common injury, as male bravado often gets in the way of the imminent need for submission.

But despite its brutal nature, Wong Kee explains that BJJ has noble roots as a way of empowering the 'little guy to beat the big guy'.

BJJ is a Brazilian twist on the Japanese martial arts of judo and jiu-jitsu. The story goes that a Brazilian student of a martial arts prodigy developed the fighting style during the early 20th century to overcome all other forms of martial arts, no matter the size of the opponent.

However, it was not until the mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championships during the 1990s - in which BJJ-trained fighters captured the early titles - that the discipline finally earned respect in the world of martial arts. These days, almost every UFC fighter is trained in the BJJ style to some extent.

Wong Kee recently won the bronze medal in the BJJ World Championships in Abu Dhabi in the 82kg blue belt category. When he's not travelling for competitions or training, he's running JABMMA Studios in Central, training the next generation of Hong Kong's corporate fighters.

How is BJJ different from other sports?

BJJ allows you to go 100 per cent every time until you tap out. It's the ultimate workout requiring strength and endurance. You use and connect with your whole body, rather than doing linear or isolated movements, as you may do in a gym. You build a strong body and an even stronger mind. It also develops strong ties among your brothers in your dojo (training place).

Can anyone do BJJ?

It's definitely not for everyone. Your opponent is literally trying to break your arm. If you're not strong enough to begin with, both in your body and mind, you will get hurt. You need to practise, understand the technique and learn. Having said that, anyone can enjoy the benefits of BJJ. It's a really good way to release some steam.

What made you switch to the sport?

I changed from boxing to preserve my looks and my brain cells. Jokes aside, I am now hooked on the sport. The irony is that BJJ has given me 'cauliflower ears' (swollen ears due to trauma) and I often get grazes over my eyes. But I think that gives me more of a rugged look, so I'm happy with that.

What's your favourite body part?

My ears (or at least they used to be). I look at them every morning, and they are a reminder of all the hard work that I put into the sport.

Is there anything that most people don't know about you?

I love to learn. After obtaining my diploma of sport in New Zealand, I went on to become a certified and registered Trigenics practitioner, a method to instantly improve the strength and length of a muscle by manipulating the nervous system.

I am also certified in Poliquin strength and conditioning. I have travelled overseas twice this year for martial arts-specific education and training, including 'Training for Warriors' certification and training with a world-leading MMA trainer, Marv Marinovich. I also practise activated isolated stretching, which I learned after training with its creator, Aaron Mattes.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Put simply, I love what I do. That's the advice I would give to anyone: find something that you love, and everything else will follow.

Of all of your achievements, what is your greatest so far?

Developing JABMMA Studio from a one-man band into a great team. Everyone who has come in contact with JAB over the years knows our ethos for training hard and the passion we have for fitness. This year five members of JAB's staff are going to the world championships in their respective sports. We all train and learn from each other daily, and JAB breeds a passion for training hard and smart.